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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #66: Steve Grogan

With the aging and likely departure of Tom Brady, Patriots fans are looking around the league and thinking that the age of the pocket passer is over and a new age is dawning. An age of uber-mobile double threats, guys who can dance and juke and then flick the ball 70 yards downfield or tuck it and get to the second level on foot. Patrick Mahomes. Lamar Jackson. Russell Wilson.

Flash backward 45 years, and a guy like that actually showed up in Foxboro. A rookie in 1975 (my rookie year too, as a human), Steve Grogan came to the NFL in the fifth round out of Kansas State. He took the starting QB job away from Jim Plunkett (who would go win two rings as the spectator/QB of the Raiders) and promptly became a quarterback who could run in a league where that was rare. In his second year in the NFL he ran for almost 400 yards and 12 scores, a record that stood until 2011. He surpassed 500 yards on the ground in 1978, on a team that rushed for 3,156, a record until the Ravens broke it last season. Grogan ran for 2,176 yards and 35 TDs in his sixteen year career.

He could throw it, too - his 26,886 yards and 182 touchdowns through the air were team records until Drew Bledsoe broke the yardage record and then TB12 completely rewrote the whole book. (Brady has thrown for nearly three times the yardage and touchdowns of Grogan. Who was pretty good.) Grogan was at the helm of some good to decent Patriots teams, though they never could get past the Steelers or Raiders or referees in the late 70s, and the 1980s were full of Browns or Broncos or Dolphins in the way. He had a winning record as a starter (75-60) and yet could never fully convince the team brass that he was the man to lead the team under center. Shiny objects like Matt Cavanaugh and Tony Eason and Marc Wilson (even Doug Flutie) rolled through Foxboro and took playing time away from the second (maybe third) best QB in team history. Should have started him in Super Bowl XX, Ray. I bet he could have kept the thing within thirty.

The funny thing is, I remember Steve Grogan as this shambling veteran, balding and slow, though he was only 37 in his final year (six years younger than eternally young Tom). He had this surfboard of a back brace to protect his chronically injured neck, and he was always banged up from the years of abuse he took from his scrambles. When they took up the old Foxboro Stadium turf to replace it with grass in the 1990s, he said "let me know if you find any pieces of me in there." And yet he was tough as nails, this guy. He'd take these wicked shots from linebackers and then get up in their face, lecturing guys nearly half his age with a scolding pointed finger. We loved this guy.

When I think of the old uniforms, the bright red with the Pat Patriot (best logo ever) on the helmet, this is the guy I remember.

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