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Alumni Spotlight: Larry Garron

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Larry Garron.

If you've never heard of Larry Garron, it's not your fault.

When he arrived from the Midwest in the summer of 1960, on special invitation from original Boston Patriots coach Lou Saban, he did so quietly, and the five-time AFL All-Star and AFL Hall-of-Famer is still as humble and soft-spoken as the dusty stacks in the Patriots archives purport he was then.

The 6-foot, 192-pound Garron had played for Saban at Western Illinois, leading the team to three consecutive NAIA Conference championships, and although he intended to go on to medical school, Saban convinced him to play in Boston.

"We were the last team in the league to develop," said Garron. "[The other teams] said we were a rag-a-muffin team, not knowing that in our minds we wanted to be as good as anyone out there."

Another of the original AFL teams was the Buffalo Bills, and the Patriots-Bills rivalry was born immediately.

"It was always rough," said Garron, recalling the early AFL matchups between the two teams. "Not only on the field but off the field. I remember the locker room; we always got nervous when we went there, because kids would break into the locker room and take things."

The fans in the stands weren't any warmer to the upstart Patriots, who beat the Bills in Buffalo in the first-ever AFL preseason exhibition.

"Sitting on the bench on the field, the spectators were right behind you," said Garron. "Lou Saban told us to keep our helmets on, but we didn't know why."

"All of the sudden we had beer bottles flying out of the stands at us, and we were going 'Ok. Now we know what he was talking about.'"

In the Patriots 1961 home meeting with the Bills, Garron raced 85 yards for a touchdown on a draw play. That dash remains the longest rushing play in Patriots history. He totaled 116 yards on 10 carries in that game, forging an 11.6-yard rushing average that was a Patriots single-game record when he retired. And that average didn't even include his 80-plus-yard kickoff return that day.
By 1962, Saban, Garron's former college and Patriots coach, had taken over as the head coach of the Bills. The move fueled the rivalry. Garron ran back a Buffalo kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown that season. In 1963, the Pats made the playoffs for the first time, with help from 750 yards rushing and 418 yard receiving from Garron. The Patriots traveled to Buffalo to take on the Bills in the AFL Divisional playoff, the franchise's first playoff game.

"They knew everything we were going to do," said Garron of that game. "Of course Ronnie [Burton] was there and they were focusing on him. Coach [Mike] Holovak said, 'Ok, let's refocus.' They started throwing passes to me. I did something that the guys always used to laugh about. They said, 'Why are you using baseball cleats?' I used them for better traction. That helped me in the game. I had traction and the [other] guys were all slipping all over the place. That was one of the key elements."

The Patriots won the game 26-8 to advance to the AFL Championship.

"It was big for several reasons," said Garron. "We had always been the doormat for just about everybody out there. We came in that particular game and it was close and they were in our conference. They wanted to be the biggest in the East. We did the little things that they didn't expect. We passed more than running, and it was to our advantage."

Garron caught 59- and 17-yard passes in that game, both of which set up field goals. Later, he was voted the team's MVP for his performance that season.

Under Saban, the Bills won consecutive AFL Championships in the next two years. The rivalry has been playing out ever since.

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