In 1982, a local newspaper reporter asked Patriots linebacker Steve King about his greatest memory as a Patriot. King was retiring after a nine-year career spent entirely with the Patriots. He didn't respond with an individual accolade or a personal goal met. It wasn't the 1974 season,when he first earned a starting role. It wasn't his only interception, which came from the hands of "Broadway" Joe Namath.
"What I'll remember most," responded King, "was the 1976 season (11-3), when we turned it around after that 1975 disaster (3-11)."
The NFL tackling machine turned insurance broker still hasn't forgotten.
"We were playing without a collective bargaining agreement in '75, coming off the '74 season," he explained.
Along with the rest of the league, the Patriots players had planned to strike in 1974, picketing at training camp while trying to gain free agency rights from the NFL owners. The owners believed they could win in court, refusing to bargain.The strike lasted 42 days, but a large number of veteran players crossed the picket lines, and the union movement crumbled. The players held out as long as they could, fighting for rights NFL players would later gain. However, they had no choice but to return to work after the final preseason game.
"In '75, we really didn't go in before the season opener until the Friday night before we played on Sunday," said King. "We stepped out that year and had a lot of injuries, and it cost us. 3-11 is a long season. The following year,we lost our opening game, and the coaches came down pretty hard on us.
"The guys got together in a teammeeting without the coaches, and we all made a commitment. There was a great chemistry on that team.We went on to go 11-3, got theWild Card and came within a couple of plays of beating the Raiders, who were the Super Bowl Champions that year. If we beat Oakland in that game, I'mconvinced we would have won the Super Bowl, because we'd already beaten Pittsburgh, who would have been our next opponents. Oakland took them apart.The Super Bowl was against the Vikings, and I believe the way the Raiders ran the ball on the Vikings--and we were the strongest running team in the league that year with (Sam) "Bam" Cunningham, Andy Johnson and Don Calhoun--we would have run all over the Vikings."
King went on to play another five seasons with the Patriots, appearing in 108 career games with 39 starts. He was a flexible outside linebacker, capable of rushing the passer from the weak side and holding his own against a tight end on the strong side. Additionally, he was a major contributor on special teams, taking a mental approach akin to that of current Patriots linebacker Larry Izzo.
"Not everybody can start. You've got to understand that, first of all," said King. "I felt like there were times I should have been starting instead of someone else, and I think that's the competitive nature of a football player. But, ultimately,my allegiance is tomy teammates. Larry knows his role on that team. But at the same time, they can put him out there (at linebacker) without worrying about him making mistakes. He's a veteran."
King is a businessman now. He and his wife, Cathy, have two grown children, Tyler and Angelee. He's an avid fisherman who can't wait for the Bass Pro Shops to open in November as part of the first phase of the Patriot Place development. Rather than pulling guards and sprinting kick returners, his only taregets now are the small and large mouth bass near Belgrade, Maine. But he still remembers what it's like to be a team player.
"You can get all the individual awards in the world, but winning the Super Bowl was my goal. Of course I never won one, but I think Belichick's Patriots teams are prime examples. The players are willing to sacrifice their egos, their individual accomplishments. They'll do whatever it takes to win."
And he certainly hasn't forgotten how close the Pats came to winning it all in 1976.
"I truly believe, and even Gene Upshaw said it one time--whoever won that (Raiders) game was going to go on to win the Super Bowl that year."