Patriots' top plays: Snow Plow Game

AP Photo/Mike Kullen

This is the first of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. In the next two days, we’ll feature: Adam Vinatieri's game-winning 48-yard field goal to beat Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI and Vinatieri's kick to tie the AFC divisional-round playoff "Tuck Rule" game against the Raiders during the 2001 postseason. Please vote for your choice as the Patriots' most memorable play.

Score: Patriots 3, Dolphins 0

Date: Dec. 12, 1982. Site: Schaefer Stadium

There is a reason a John Deere tractor hangs from the New England Patriots Hall of Fame, and it’s because it reminds fans of one of the most unforgettable moments in team history.

Unlike some other Patriots memorable plays that were part of Super Bowl championships in 2001, 2003 and 2004, Mark Henderson’s clean sweep of a snowy field takes us back to an earlier time in Patriots history when the franchise was more of a plucky underdog.

Stan Grossfeld of the Boston Globe masterfully recreated the moment in a 2010 story, noting that a heavy storm had dumped so much snow on the region that the club offered a free ticket and $10 to anyone who would help shovel out seats before the game. When was the last time fans got paid to attend a game?

Before an announced crowd of 25,716 in frigid conditions, the teams were in a scoreless game with just less than five minutes remaining. The Patriots had the ball at the Dolphins’ 16-yard line and head coach Ron Meyer called for kicker John Smith to attempt a 33-yard field goal.

Enter Henderson, who was operating the John Deere tractor as part of a work-release program at a local prison, to sweep a clean spot for Smith to make the kick and send the Patriots to victory.

Henderson’s picture was flashed on the scoreboard as he was celebrated as a local hero. Of course, Dolphins coach Don Shula didn’t see it that way and helped pass a rule the following year that made such an act illegal. Patriots guard and Pro Football Hall of Famer John Hannah had his own viewpoint on the impact of Henderson’s sweep.

The Patriots brought Henderson back to celebrate the final regular-season game in their old stadium in 2001, and made the tractor a big part of its Hall of Fame, which opened in 2008.