NFL

Meet John Smith, the English Teacher-Turned-Patriots Standout Kicker

The thought of John Smith drilling field goals may incite some bad memories for Patriots fans.

It’s not that Smith was a lousy kicker. Far from it, in fact, and the Patriots named him to their 1970s all-decade team. Unfortunately for Patriots fans, Smith is a reminder of how bad the team was before Tom Brady and Bill Belichick began their run of dominance.

If nothing else, John Smith has one of the most unique stories in New England Patriots history.

John Smith played 10 seasons with the New England Patriots

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Born in England, John Smith was a fine kicker for New England from 1974-83. He drilled 67% of his field goals — not great, but he was good for the occasional long kick.

Smith earned Pro Bowl honors in 1980, the year New England went 10-6 and made the playoffs. He also led the league in scoring twice.

Unfortunately for Smith, New England only had three winning seasons in his nine seasons.

For comparison, New England has won double-digit games every year since 2003. Having kickers like Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostowski during that stretch certainly helped.

Smith had a unique path to reaching the NFL

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John Smith’s journey to the NFL is arguably far more interesting than any of his kicks.

Smith was born in England. The idea of a foreign-born specialist isn’t anything new for football fans who have watched the trend of Australian punters like Seattle’s Michael Dickson reach the NFL.

The 1970s were a different time, though. Smith attended King Alfred’s College (now known as the University of Winchester) between 1968 and 1961 in hopes of becoming a teacher.

Smith spent a year teaching in England before he moved to the United States. Although he’d never played American football before, Smith was extremely familiar with European football, or soccer.

Smith approached the Patriots about a tryout. He spent the 1973 season in the Atlantic Coast Football League, a minor league that paid players a base salary of $100 per game, before he joined the Patriots.

Smith is best known for his role in the Snow Plow Game

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A decade after he entered the United States, John Smith fully realized how strange the country could be on Sunday, Dec. 12, 1982.

The Patriots hosted Don Shula and the rival Dolphins during a snowstorm. The AstroTurf at New England’s Schaefer Stadium was already a mess because of heavy rain the night before.

With 4:45 left in the fourth quarter and the game scoreless, Patriots coach Ron Meyer told snowplow operator Mark Henderson to clear a field on the spot. The ground crew was allowed to use a snowplow that day to clear the yard markers.

Smith drilled the 33-yard field goal. New England made a defensive stand on the next drive and won 3-0.

Famously, Mark Henderson was a convict on work release. A convict and an English kicker teamed up for an improbable and bizarre victory.

To paraphrase New York Yankees radio announcer John Sterling, that’s American football, Suzyn.

All stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference