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On This Date in Sports December 12, 1982: Snow Job

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The New England Patriots beat the Miami Dolphins 3-0 on a snowy day in Foxboro, in which conditions were poor all game at Schaefer Stadium. Finally, late in the fourth quarter, the Patriots scored the game's only points on a 33-yard field goal by John Smith after a snowplow cleared the field. The field was a sheet of ice from a freezing rain the night before while it snowed throughout the game.

With the season reduced to nine games due to a two-month strike, every game in the 1982 season took on added importance. Heading into the sixth game of the season, the Miami Dolphins coached by Don Shula were sitting in a strong position at 5-1, while the New England Patriots led by Ron Meyer faced a must-win at home, holding a 2-3 record. The weather was the story of the game, as freezing rain on Saturday turned Schaefer Stadium into a skating rink, which got even worse when it snowed throughout the game on Sunday. Before the game, a snowplow was employed to help clear the yard markers during timeouts.

None of the measures taken to make the field more playable worked as the two teams slipped throughout the game and were unable to get anything going on offense. The game was scoreless late into the fourth quarter, as each team tired and missed a field goal earlier in the game. With 4:45 left, the Patriots prepared to set up another field goal attempt by John Smith. This time, coach Ron Meyer called timeout and singled over to the snowplow driver to come on the field and clear a path for the kick to be made. The kick was good as Don Shula, and the Dolphins fumed. The Patriots would win the game 3-0, with the plow cleared field goal being the game’s only points. After the game, Don Shula filed a protest with the NFL, citing the “unfair act.” NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle agreed that the snowplow gave New England an unfair advantage but refused to reverse the result, stating it would create too strong of precedent.

As the story of the snowplow became national news, the driver of the plow became part of the story as Mark Henderson was serving a prison sentence for burglary at the time of the game, getting to work the sideline as part of a work-release program. The Patriots would award Henderson a game ball for his efforts as the famous John Deere plow he drove now resides in the Patriots Hall of Fame.

Both the Dolphins and Patriots would make the eight-team NFL Playoff tournament, with the Dolphins finishing 6-2, while the Patriots finished 5-4. As fate would have it, they would meet in the first round of the AFC Playoffs in the Orange Bowl; this time, the Dolphins won 28-13 on the way to playing in Super Bowl XVII, which they lost to the Washington Redskins 27-17.