As the Patriots prepare to close a chapter in franchise history with the final regular season game at Foxboro Stadium Saturday, the organization renewed ties with the past Friday, bringing in several former players and team officials for a tour of the new CMGI Field.
It was a who's-who of Patriots alum, with more than a dozen greats checking out the new digs. To a man, the group was thoroughly impressed with the top-notch features that the team's future home will have. Each also took the time to thank Owner Robert Kraft for making them a part of such a big weekend.
In addition to seeing the new stadium, the former team members will be a part of halftime ceremonies Saturday. They have been up for a weekend of events, and being a part of the show, which comes at a key moment for the current team.
"The guys are going to be very excited and should be happy with what Mr. Kraft has done for them," safety Fred Marion said. "This place just exemplifies what he is about. He is about winning and giving the guys every opportunity he possibly can to contribute to their success. To have a stadium and facility like this is just first class.
"This means a lot, simply because the game goes on, but the camaraderie lasts forever. Just seeing these guys and taking off right from where you left them, you can embrace the fun and reminiscing. Just to be remembered and honored in this way, to have us represent the Patriots, even though we don't play, we know we will always be Patriots."
Also on hand with Marion were fellow defensive backs Mike Haynes and Raymond Clayborn; Coach Raymond Berry; tight ends Russ Francis, Ben Coates and Marv Cook; linebackers Johnny Rembert and Vincent Brown; fullback Mosi Tatupu; offensive linemen Bill Lenkaitis and Lenny St. Jean; wide receiver Stanley Morgan; kicker John Smith and General Manager Patrick Sullivan.
"The fact is that this is a reunion of people that will never happen again," said Berry, who coached the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 1985. "Once you get past a moment like this, people are scattered all over. To be able to see some of the great players that I spent so many years with has been a great experience.
"From time to time you think back to the opportunity you had to be here and the be associated with the tremendous athletes we had here. It was a very special experience. We tried to give the fans their moneys worth, and I think we got that accomplished. At this particular stage in life, I think you appreciate more fully the opportunity to play together and accomplish so much together. That is probably the key memory you have."
Francis made sure to give a tip of the cap to the Patriots fans who have supported the team over the years. He said their passion is a major reason for the franchise to be able to turn the corner towards a state-of-the-art stadium like CMGI Field.
"It is a tribute to the Patriots' fans, because no matter what you say about the Sullivan family building this team, coaches like Raymond Berry and players like Stanley Morgan and Ben Coates, it is the fans who really built this place," Francis said. "I was here earlier talking with [scouting consultant] Bucko Kilroy about 10 years of sellouts, and that just doesn't happen in most places. It was a very special experience playing here, and it has been magnified 100 times this weekend."
There was little question as to the part of the tour that most impressed linebacker Vincent Brown. Well known for his sculpted frame and workout habits, Brown was wowed by the sight of the 7,000-square foot room that will be New England's weight room.
"It has anything every player or athlete could ever want to have," Brown said. "Can you imagine having that much space and all the equipment? There will be no excuses and no complaints. The team will be able to attract any high-caliber athlete. It's just awesome."
There is no comparison between the new place and the facilities Brown had to work with during his days with the team. Now, instead of players wishing for something else, Brown thinks the weight room alone will be attractive to potential free agents down the road.
"When we were at Foxboro Stadium, a part of you wondered what it was like being on another team with better facilities," Brown said. "You read about and see the first-class facilities of other teams. Now the Patriots have the state-of-the-art place. There probably won't be anybody in the league who can compare to what they have going on right now."
Plow driver on hand
If there is one game that sticks out more than any other in Foxboro Stadium history, it may well be the infamous "Snow Plow" game on Dec. 12, 1982. New England beat Miami 3-0 on a 33-yard John Smith field goal made possible when stadium worker Mark Henderson used his plow to clear a patch for Smith to kick from.
Henderson, who worked for the stadium for two seasons, was also in town for the special weekend. He will handle the coin-flipping chores for Saturday's game. At the stadium with his son, Henderson recalled the details of the unique moment forever etched in Patriots history.
"It was definitely [Head Coach Ron] Meyer's call," Henderson said. "If you watch the video tape, you see him looking everywhere during the whole timeout and he was looking for me. He said, 'Get on that thing, go out there and do something.'
"[Quarterback] Matt Cavanaugh was the holder, and he clapped his hands and said, 'Follow me.' I just put the thing in drive and followed him. I went down the 20-yard line where I was lined up, and I just curved over when he pointed to where he wanted me to go. I put down the blade and that was it."
At the time, Henderson did not think the moment would have such a lasting impact.
"I didn't think anything of it until I saw a tractor going across the DiamondVision, and underneath [the tractor] it said, 'Henderson,'" he said. "Everybody in the whole stadium was yelling my name. Everything kind of went a little bit blurry. It was fantastic, and I think I knew I was a celebrity then."
A victory expected
All those on hand showed their allegiance remained true to New England, with everyone predicting victory over Miami. Marion said this is a fun time of year for players, because a run at the postseason is hard to come by. While he said it's true players need to focus on the task at hand against the Dolphins, the players have surely thought beyond.
"The postseason is most definitely in your mind," Marion said. "This is what you play for. These guys control their own destiny at this point, and from there you can only take it one game at a time. If they win against the Dolphins tomorrow, which I know they will, they can move on to the next game. They can control their own fate, and that is the best position to be in. You don't want to go into the end of the season having to hope for someone else to win or lose for you to get in. Right now they hold the cards, and that is a great feeling. I know the guys are excited."