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The "Snow Plow Game"

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Overview 

The December 12, 1982 Snow Plow Game between the New England Patriots (2-3-0) and Miami Dolphins (4-1-0) took place in Foxboro, Massachusetts at Schaefer Stadium (renamed “Foxboro Stadium” in 1983). The crowd in attendance numbered 25,716 despite the freezing temperatures. The final score would prove to be a cause for controversy as a snow plow was brought in to  clear a spot for the Patriots kicker John Smith.

Snow plow game

Photo credit:  AP Photo/Mike Kullen

Snow plow game stats

A 33-Yard Field Goal Game Changer Controversy

The field conditions began to deteriorate the night before the event as heavy rains soaked the Astroturf and temperatures dropped below freezing. As game time approached, a snowstorm moved in covering the already frozen field. Snow plows were brought in to aid in clearing markers. The game officials created an “emergency ground rule” that allowed referees to call a time out to have snow plows remove snow covering markers on the field. The teams struggled to score points with several failed plays and field goal attempts leading to a tie of 0-0 going into the 4th quarter. 

Patriots head coach Ron Meyer would then make what would be a controversial call for snow plow driver Mark Henderson to clear a spot for field goal kicker John Smith to make a 33-yard field goal attempt. Smith made the field goal, winning the game for the Patriots and scoring the only three points of the entire game.  Dolphins head coach Don Shula protested this move saying it was the “most unfair act ever perpetrated in NFL History”. Henderson was later presented with the game ball from Meyer.  When asked about how he felt about his participation in the controversial call, Henderson (formerly convicted on burglary charges) was quoted saying, “What are they going to do, throw me in jail?”

Snow plow game ball

Photo credit:  Boston Herald/John Wilcox

Snow plow game plow

Photo credit:  patriots.com

The Weather That Made the Story

Thunderstorms brought heavy rain the night before the game. As temperatures fell below freezing overnight into the 20’s, the nearly saturated Astroturf field became ice. That was followed up on game day by a December nor’easter. Precipitable water values, which are a measure of how much moisture is in the atmosphere, of 1.5 inches provided plenty of moisture for heavy snow development .as the nor’easter moved along the Atlantic Coast. The temperature at game time was 26 degrees with winds at 16 mph. The wind chill was 14 degrees, making for very cold conditions for players and spectators.

Snow plow game weather chart

200 millibar heights at 7am EST showing a trof of low pressure moving in from the west.

Snow plow game weather chart

1000 millibar heights, inches of precipitable water, and precipitable water standard anomalies at 7am EST.

 

Additional Information and Photo Sources: Pro Players Insider, Patriots.com, WxEdge, Boston Herald. Pro-Football-Reference.com


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