In National Football League lore, the Snowplow Game was a regular-season game played between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots on December 12, 1982, at Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The stadium's snowplow operator, Mark Henderson, cleared a spot on the snowy field specifically for New England kicker John Smith so he could kick the game-winning field goal to give the Patriots a 3–0 win.
The night before this game, heavy rains had soaked the AstroTurf surface at New England's Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The field froze over, and conditions were made significantly worse as a snowstorm hit during the game. As a result, an emergency ground rule was put into play where the officials could call time-out and allow the ground crew to use a snowplow to clear the yard markers. Despite this rule, the ground crew could not plow often enough to keep the field clear. The two teams remained scoreless late into the fourth quarter. With 4:45 left to go in the game and on-field conditions worsening, Patriots coach Ron Meyer motioned to snowplow operator Mark Henderson to clear a spot on the field specifically for placekicker John Smith. According to Meyer, it was quarterback Steve Grogan who suggested asking Henderson to clear the field for the kick. As Henderson recalled years later, "I saw Coach Meyer running to me, shouting and pointing to the field. I kind of knew what he was trying to say, so I got on the tractor and drove onto the field." At first, no one had thought it suspicious, assuming that the plow would go straight across, and allow for a more accurate measurement (which turned out to be 33 yards). Instead, the plow veered left, directly in front of the goal post, giving Smith a clean spot from which to kick. Matt Cavanaugh held for the kick, which was successful.
On the following drive by the Miami Dolphins, linebacker Don Blackmon picked off Dolphins quarterback David Woodley. The Patriots won the game by the final score of 3–0. The game ball was awarded to all-pro linebacker Steve Nelson, who subsequently donated it to his alma mater, North Dakota State University. Henderson also received a game ball from a grateful Meyer after the game.
Dolphins coach Don Shula, angry with the move and believing it to be against the league rules, pointed out that the league's unfair act clause allowed the league to overturn the game result. He met with NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle several days later concerning his protest, and although Rozelle agreed with Shula that the use of the plow gave the Patriots an unfair advantage, he said that he had never reversed the result of a game and was not going to start doing so for any reason.
Aftermath and legacy
Both teams would make the playoffs, with the Patriots finishing 7th in the AFC, and the Dolphins finishing 2nd (the normal division-oriented playoff format was scrapped due to the player's strike that shortened the 1982 season), but the Dolphins would exact revenge, eliminating the Patriots by a score of 28-13, en route to the Dolphins' reaching Super Bowl XVII.
The following year, the NFL banned the use of snowplows on the field during a game. In a 2007 interview for an NFL Network segment about the game, Shula recalled protesting the act under Rule 17 (the unfair act clause), which allows the league commissioner to overturn the results of a game if an event extraordinarily outside the realms of accepted practice, such as "non-participant interference," has an effect on the outcome of a game. Commissioner Pete Rozelle responded that, while he agreed wholeheartedly, without a rule explicitly barring such use of the plow, there was nothing he could do. Ron Meyer, who was also interviewed, said that he didn't see why it was such a controversy at the time, saying, "The only thing I could see (the Dolphins) arguing about was 'unfair competitive advantage'." The incident is commemorated with an interactive exhibit at the Hall at Patriot Place within the Patriots' current home, Gillette Stadium. The plow itself, a John Deere Model 314 tractor with sweeper attached, hangs from the ceiling at the exhibit.