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Top 10 Most Memorable Games in Foxboro: #10

One of these days a bright young author will do some research and string together a complete history book of Foxboro Stadium. Aside from filtering through the many moments deserving of mention, his biggest problem may be convincing various bookstore owners that the work indeed belongs on the non-fiction shelf.

It would be tough to imagine a venue in any sport that has endured more bizarre happenings in such a short period of time as Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium has in its 30 years. With the 2001 season representing the last hurrah for the concrete palace many New Englanders have loved to hate over the years, Patriots Football Weekly decided to do the impossible: select a top 10 most memorable games in the stadium’s history.

The decisions weren’t easy and represent only one man’s opinion. In some cases, the games became just as memorable for their impact off the field as for what they actually meant in the grand scheme of things football-wise. Some interestingly blended both, and that was the case with the No. 10 selection.
The Patriots and Buffalo Bills hooked up in Foxborough on Dec. 10, 1978, for the final home game of a very successful campaign for the locals. New England badly needed a victory to clinch its first-ever AFC East Division title, and with the prospects of a road encounter in their personal house of horrors — the Miami Orange Bowl — on the horizon, the urgency to get the job done against the struggling Bills was in the forefront of everyone’s mind.

The Patriots of that era were among the most talented groups the franchise has ever fielded. Just two years earlier, New England shocked the NFL by reversing their 1975 record of 3-11 and rolled to an 11-3 finish and a Wild Card berth. That season finished with a bitterly disappointing 24-21 loss at Oakland, but the prospects for the future appeared bright with such young stars as quarterback Steve Grogan, offensive linemen John Hannah and Leon Gray, cornerbacks Mike Haynes and Ray Clayborn and gifted receivers such as Stanley Morgan and Howard Cosell’s “All-World Tight End” Russ Francis.

But their 9-5 mark in 1977 left an “unfinished business” feeling in everyone’s mind as the’78 season got underway. And the Patriots had the added burden of trying to erase the horrific image of the Red Sox monumental collapse that September from the minds of their fans.

“We worked really hard to get back where we all felt we should be after the ’76 season,” center Peter Brock said. “Things didn’t go quite the way we’d expected in 1977 and everyone was real focused throughout that ’78 season. We had a chance to do something no other Patriots team ever had and that was all anyone was concerned with going into that game.”

As was the Patriots tendency against inferior competition in those days, the team came out sluggishly on a cold and windy afternoon and trailed 10-7 at the half. A 28-yard touchdown run by Roland Hooks and a Tom Dempsey field goal provided the offense for the visitors, while a 4-yard touchdown run by Sam Cunningham capped a 14-play drive midway through the second quarter for New England.
The Patriots lost three fumbles in the game — one by Cunningham and two by Horace Ivory — and continued to allow the 4-10 Bills to hang around. A 32-yard touchdown run by Terry Miller early in the third completed an 80-yard drive and suddenly the Patriots celebration was in serious jeopardy.

But New England’s ground-oriented attack finally was able to hold onto the ball and Grogan got his unit in gear. “During the latter stages of the 1978 season, [Head Coach] Chuck [Fairbanks] started giving me a lot more freedom,” Grogan recalled. “Instead of calling every play, he would simply say whether he wanted a run or a pass. From there, it was up to me what we ran. I would look at the defense and make decisions as I went and sometimes we were able to make some plays.”

The 1978 Patriots set an NFL record by rushing for 3,165 yards. They averaged nearly 200 yards per game and 4.7 yards a carry on 671 attempts. They had a stable of capable runners and generally got each of them involved. Cunningham led the group with 768 yards, but Ivory (693), Andy Johnson (675), Don Calhoun (391) and Grogan (539) all had to be respected.

On this day, it was Ivory and Cunningham that did the damage. Ivory led the way with 91 yards on 16 carries while Cunningham added 76 on 19 tries. All together the Patriots rushed 51 times for 249 yards, numbers Bill Belichick could only dream about today given the team’s lack of ground production.

Grogan began the comeback with a 4-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter and Ivory’s 20-yard jaunt early in the fourth gave the Patriots a 21-17 lead. But Buffalo wouldn’t go away, retaking the lead on a 21-yard pass from Joe Ferguson to Frank Lewis with less than five minutes to go.
The Bills had possession with less than two minutes left but were backed up on their own goal line and prepared to punt. Rusty Jackson, under the advice of first-year coach Chuck Knox, took the snap and ran out of the end zone to bring the Patriots within one at 24-23. The ensuing free kick left the Patriots at Buffalo’s 47 with 1:43 left, more than enough time for Grogan to move the team into field goal range.

But the concern was a nagging hamstring injury to the normally reliable John Smith, who missed most of the second half of the 1978 season. The Patriots auditioned several kickers before settling on a youngster named David Posey, who hadn’t fared well in his limited time with the team.

“David Posey,” Brock said as he searched for a picture. “He was a real quiet kid, I remember that. And I remember that he struggled for us, but he made the one that counted.”
He connected on just 9-of-19 field goals going into the game and already missed his only attempt — a 42-yarder that fell short. Now he had the team’s fortunes on his shoulders as he lined up a 21-yard attempt with just eight seconds remaining. Posey made the kick to give the Patriots a 26-24 win and sent many of the 59,927 in attendance sprinting onto the field.

This is where Patriots history differs from that of virtually any other team. Amid the celebration, a fan stepped on Harold Jackson’s foot, breaking the wide receiver’s toe and placing his status in doubt for the playoff game against Houston three weeks later. (Check out No. 6 in this series for more on that).

“I really don’t remember a whole lot about that game,” Grogan said. “Even as you’re telling me about David Posey, I really only vaguely remember him. But I do remember the crowd breaking Harold Jackson’s toe in the stampede afterwards. And I remember how that effected us as we prepared for the Houston game.”

Only in Foxborough.

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