How A Snowplow Changed NFL Rules Forever

The NFL, needless to say, is one of the world's biggest sporting endeavors. According to NBC Sports, viewership is on the up too. The 2021 season attracted 17.1 million people on average. The biggest game, unsurprisingly, was the Cowboys and Raiders Thanksgiving match, which a stunning 40.8 million people reportedly tuned into.

Naturally, football fans come in various distinct flavors. Some will watch matches regularly but aren't able to catch every single one their team plays. Those who are truly committed, of course, wouldn't dream of missing any. Then there are those casual enthusiasts who tune in only to specific games. There are surely many of these in the Thanksgiving game audiences; a time to digest enormous meals and watch football whether you usually would or not.

The latter strategy is a solid one too. After all, some games amount to little more than the television show equivalent of a filler episode, while others can have a huge impact on the whole world of a given sport. These iconic and sometimes notorious matches go down in sporting history. One NFL game involving an errant snowplow had a huge impact, and the game would never be quite the same again.

The snow-free field goal

As the NFL reports, the so-called Snowplow Game took place in 1982. It was a regular-season game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins. The bitterly cold and snow-laden day, while nothing new to the residents and players of New England, actually gave the team the winning opportunity. It all took place in perhaps the most controversial fashion the game has ever seen.

The match saw precious little action for most of its duration, remaining tied at a riveting zero apiece until the fourth quarter. Everything changed in moments at the Schaefer Stadium (now the Foxboro Stadium), however, when a snowplow was ordered onto the pitch by the Patriots' coach Ron Meyer. Meyer's team had a field goal to shoot for, one that would have been far more difficult to pull off considering the treacherous conditions. A hasty plowing later, the kick was a success and the Patriots were victorious.

Snow cannot be cleared for field goal attempts anymore

This incident, needless to say, remains controversial. According to ESPN, Mark Henderson, who had been driving the plow, was charged only with keeping the snow away from the yard markers, prior to this. Miami's Don Shula reportedly cited this as an unfair act, which, per NFL Football Operations, is listed in the rulebook as something "the commissioner deems so extraordinarily unfair or outside the accepted tactics encountered in professional football that such action has a major effect on the result of the game."

Pete Rozelle was commissioner at the time, ESPN goes on, and could reportedly do nothing because snowplows were not mentioned in the rules of the game. After this season, however, they would become so. Whether the plowing did itself indirectly and irrefutably cause New England's win is impossible to say, but it allowed for an advantage that teams would not have from this match on.

As NFL Football Operations demonstrates, the NFL rulebook retains an oddly specific note in the non-player fouls section. It reads, "it is impermissible for the grounds crew or other team personnel to clear away snow for a Try kick, field goal, punt, or kickoff."