Sure, the New England Patriots have been accused of bending the rules a little bit, but this one of off the charts. Bill Belichick wasn’t even involved when the Patriots turned to Mark Henderson, a prisoner doing time for burglary, to help pull out a victory in the final few minutes.
Patriots vs. Dolphins, Dec. 1982
The weather was brutal at Schafer Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on Dec. 12, 1982, when the New England Patriots were hosting the Miami Dolphins in a late-season battle. Snow had been falling all day and footing on the field was a major problem.
Through three quarters, neither team had scored. The teams had attempted field goals, but neither was able to put one through the uprights in blizzard-like conditions. Moving the ball was a chore all game. The Patriots had a golden opportunity earlier in the game when they got inside the 5-yard line. Patriots kicker John Smith was a little late getting on the field and his kick hit off the back of a lineman and the game stayed scoreless.
With less than five minutes remaining, the Patriots were able to bring the ball down to the Miami 16-yard line. New England coach Ron Meyer called a time out to make a decision whether to go on fourth down or make an attempt at another risky field goal. during the time out, Meyer was looking around. Enter Mark Henderson, a prisoner out on work release after being convicted on a burglary charge.
Mark Henderson saves the day for the New England Patriots
Because the weather was so bad during the game, a snowplow would clear the yard lines every so often so the players knew where they exactly were on the field. With 4:45 remaining in a scoreless game and with his team on the Dolphins 16-yard line, Patriots coach Ron Meyer opted for the field-goal attempt and a little assistance from the snowplow. Meyer caught the eye of the snowplow driver, 24-yard-old inmate Mark Henderson, who knew exactly what to do.
“‘Get out there and do something,’” Henderson said Meyer told him. “I knew exactly what he meant, so I jumped on the tractor and proceeded to go out on the 20-yard line, where I was supposed to be. Then Matt Cavanaugh, the backup quarterback who was the holder, saw me coming and started clapping his hands. He said, ‘All right! Follow me.’ He showed me the spot he wanted cleared. I just swerved over to the 23-yard line with my tractor, switched on the PTO [power take-off, which starts the brush spinning], and scraped the snow off the AstroTurf.’’
John Smith kicked the ball through the uprights for the lone score of the game as the Patriots won 3-0. Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula went crazy on the sideline, protesting the ploy. “I wanted to go out there and punch him out,’’ Shula said years later. “In retrospect, I should have laid down in front of the snowplow.”
Henderson told to stay quiet
After the game, Mark Henderson was swarmed by the media, but he was told by then-owner Patrick Sullivan to not speak to the press. “After the game, [owner] Patrick Sullivan told me not to talk to the media,” Henderson recalled in 2002. “Less than five minutes later, I had 14 reporters surrounding me. I was still on the tractor, and I tried to go up the ramp, but it was icy and the tractor wheels kept slipping.”
The rules of the game regarding the clearing of snow have since changed, all because of a convict named Mark Henderson. “I guess there’s a couple [or] three pages in the NFL rule book named after me,” said Henderson.
Henderson served out the rest of his sentence and went into the construction business. Years later, the Patriots invited him back to the stadium where he met current owner Robert Kraft and they relived the unusual moment.