By Lisa Altobelli
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This tractor helped the Patriots beat the Dolphins back in 1982.
For 22 years the story of the Snowplow Game has held a special place in the hearts of Patriots fans. On Dec. 12, 1982, a frigid day at Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., the Patriots and the Dolphins were tied 0-0 with 4:45 left when the Pats called time before attempting a 33-yard field goal. Suddenly a tractor with a broom attached (though it has gone into NFL lore as a "plow" the appendage was actually a sweeper, which was effective on artificial turf) chugged onto the snow-covered field and cleared a four-foot-wide swath leading up to where Matt Cavanaugh was to hold for kicker John Smith. (The tractor was driven by Mark Henderson, a convicted burglar out of prison on a work-release program and working on the Pats' grounds crew.) Smith drilled the ball just over the crossbar, and New England won 3-0 over the protests of Dolphins coach Don Shula, who was on the NFL's competition committee. The next spring the league ruled that refs could not let groundskeepers clear snow before a kick.
The broom was retired when the Pats switched from turf to grass in 1991, but it made a heralded reappearance at New England's final regular-season game at the old stadium, in 2001. Henderson, who was released from prison in the early '80s, got a standing ovation when he drove the tractor and broom onto the field to reenact the '82 scene. The Patriots use the same tractor to tow things like tarps and watercoolers, but the broom (reunited with the tractor, rests in a storage room in the bowels of Gillette Stadium. "No one had the heart to get rid of it," says Jim Nolan, the vice president of operations for Gillette Stadium. "To us it's a historical artifact."
Issue date: January 10, 2005