When Pete Brock arrived in New England as one of the team's first-round picks in 1976, the center worried how he would be received. For the previous five seasons, Bill Lenkaitishad held down the starting center job and did so quite effectively, and now a rookie was there to ostensibly take his place.
Brock explained that he wasted his time worrying.
"I was a No. 1 draft pick and he was the incumbent center when I came in and fortunately for him they found a lot of uses for me and he had a great career even then," Brock explained. "There was never any animosity between us. He was always so helpful."
Lenkaitis died Aug. 27 at the age of 70, and judging from the number of teammates that came from far and wide to attend his funeral services Thursday morning, Brock wasn't the only one who felt that way. John Hannahand Shelby Jordan, two players who were part of the offensive line with Lenkaitis, came in from Alabama and California, respectively. Steve Grogan, Steve Nelson, Tim Fox, Tom Neville, Lennie St. Jean, Randy Vataha (who served as a pall bearer) and Steve King were among the dozen-plus Patriots alumni on hand.
Lenkaitis played for New England from 1971-81, starting 119 of his 151 games with the team. During his NFL offseasons, he earned his dental degree from the University of Tennessee and became the team dentist while he was still an active player. Following his career, he continued to serve as the team dentist for a number of years in addition to managing his own dental practice in Foxborough.
After a stellar career at Penn State, Lenkaitis was drafted in the second round by San Diego in 1968. He spent three seasons there before coming to New England, where he would become part of one of the most legendary units in history.
In 1978, Leon Gray, Hannah, Lenkaitis, Sam Adams and Jordan paved the way for the Patriots to rush for a league-record 3,165 yards as a team. Brock was right there next to him, splitting time with his mentor as the Patriots won the AFC East for the first time in franchise history.
"He was there to help all the time," Brock continued. "We split time for while – he played the first and third quarters and I played the second and fourth. He had a wonderful post-playing career with a successful dental practice. It's too bad. Just a great man."
"Bill centered one of the greatest offensive lines, not just in franchise history, but in NFL history," said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraftin a statement released by the team. "As a season-ticket holder during his playing days, I was a fan of the player he was on the field. But, in my 22 years of ownership, I became an even bigger fan of the person he was off the field. He was a big man with an even bigger personality and a huge heart.
"As a Patriots alumnus, he remained active in our communities and regularly volunteered to support our Foundation's many initiatives. He was a great Patriots ambassador and he will be missed. We extend our sincerest condolences to his family, friends and former teammates."