It was a rewarding day for Grogan, who has endured some booing from Patriot fans this season. When New England threw away those two early games, losing to Washington and Baltimore on touchdowns scored via a fumble return and a kickoff return, Grogan, who was passing poorly, became the scapegoat. After the Colt game one fan poured beer on him. "That just makes me play harder," Grogan said last week. "I don't care for being booed. I want to prove myself to the people here."
Grogan has a strong but sometimes erratic arm that commands attention in the AFC East, a quarterback's division. Buffalo's Joe Ferguson, the league's second-ranked passer this season, New York's much ballyhooed Richard Todd, Baltimore's Bert Jones and Griese can all hit a bird in the eye at 50 yards. But Grogan all too often hits defenders in the hands at much shorter range. In three and a half seasons he has thrown 74 interceptions. "Sometimes Steve's a little overconfident in the strength of his arm," admits Fairbanks. "He takes unnecessary chances which result in his high interception total."
Nevertheless, to the Patriots and to other teams in the league Grogan is "the man" in New England. "Steve may not have the polish or the glamor that surrounds quarterbacks like Stabler, Todd or Griese," says Guard John Hannah, "but he's our leader, our motivator. When we need big plays, he comes up with them." Frequently those big plays are runs—his own, which Fairbanks, flouting accepted NFL coaching dogma, encourages. "I've always believed in trying to take advantage of the abilities your players have," he says, "and Steve is a threat as a runner."
Those who view Grogan and his occasionally errant passes as a liability to the Patriots overlook the obvious—all things considered, he is a quality quarterback. In 1975 Fairbanks saw enough in the rookie from Kansas State to trade away the disappointing Jim Plunkett. In 1976, Grogan's first full year as a starter, the Patriots improved their record from 3-11 to 11-3. That season Grogan passed for almost 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns, ran for 12 more to set an NFL record and led the league's quarterbacks with 397 yards rushing.
That is superb production for any quarterback, much less a second-year man who a year earlier as a fifth-round draft choice had admitted, "All I hoped to do was stay around long enough to make a strong enough impression so that when I got cut I might be able to catch on with somebody else." This wasn't defeatism, just realism. After all, Grogan had been selected after such notable quarterbacks as Mike Franckowiak and Gary Sheide. Obviously he has survived, probably because his temperament is ideally suited to the sort of pressure the Patriots are currently thriving on. "If we're way ahead, it's not as exciting as if the game is close and I know I've got to produce," he says. "That's the excitement—what this game is all about."
In New England that's what might be called a superpatriotic attitude.