FAIRFIELD — As the coaches gathered for the Central Maine Football Camp introduced themselves to the young players gathered for the start of Saturday morning’s session, two coaches hung back. After everyone else had said his name, they finally stepped forward.
Steve King, former linebacker for the New England Patriots. Steve Grogan, former quarterback for the New England Patriots.
Each of the campers was born long after King and Grogan had retired, but at the sound of the Patriots name, the campers perked up. King and Grogan were guys their fathers and grandfathers cheered for on Sunday afternoons, but still, they’re Patriots.
“The kids don’t know who we are, but they know we played for the Patriots. We get a little more respect, maybe, because of that,” Grogan said. “What I tell young guys like these high school kids out here helping is, they’re more of a role model to these kids than we are because these kids see those high school kids every day. They’re so cool, because they know them, they see them, they watch them play. They probably listen to them more than they do us.”
Grogan and King will coach at the camp through its completion Tuesday night. The camp is held at Bill Donahue Field, in the Richard McGee Athletic Complex.
When you remember Steve Grogan, you probably remember the neck roll. What kind of quarterback where’s a neck roll?
The toughest kind.
Grogan played 16 seasons with the New England Patriots. He’s in the Patriots Hall of Fame, and only Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe have more passing yards in team history than Grogan. He was a running threat before quarterbacks like Randall Cunningham and Michael Vick made running quarterbacks hip.
Grogan ran for 2,176 yards in his career, averaging a very respectable 4.9 yards per carry. He embraces his tough guy legacy.
“I just tried to be a football player like everybody else on the team. I had great respect for guys like Steve King and Steve Nelson that were playing on defense and taking hits on every play. I figured, just because I’m a quarterback, I don’t have to, as John Hannah would say, ‘wear a dress,’ ” Grogan said. “At the same time, I’m happy to be known for that, but I’d also like to be known as a guy that was a pretty good quarterback, too.”
A special teams captain with the Patriots, King played nine season with New England, King called the 1976 Patriots the most talented team for which he played. That team lost a close playoff game at Oakland when Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton was flagged for a controversial roughing the passer penalty on the Raiders’ Ken Stabler.
“When we played our best, we were better than anybody else. We had a series of things that went wrong in that playoff game in Oakland, culminating in that penalty, roughing the passer when Sugar Bear came in on Stabler,” King said. “You’re not going to get every call, and ultimately, you’ve got to win despite that.”
One of the reasons that Patriots defense was so good, King said, was they played against future Hall-of-Famer Hannah every day in practice.
“Nobody intimidated me because I’d seen the best in practice,” King said.
The Patriots are going through a rough spell, reputation-wise. Former tight end Aaron Hernandez is sitting in jail, awaiting trial on a murder charge. Cornerback Alphonso Dennard was recently arrested in Nebraska on suspicion of driving under the influence, which may violate the probation he received earlier this year after being convicted of assaulting a police officer.
The Patriots of Grogan and King had their own problems. Days after New England lost Super Bowl XX to the Chicago Bears, head coach Raymond Berry lamented illegal drug use by his team. Prior to the AFC championship game that season, wide receiver Irving Fryar had two finger cut by his wife in domestic incident.
Head coach Chuck Fairbanks was dismissed before the final regular season game in 1978, after he accepted the head coaching job at the University of Colorado. Fairbanks was reinstated for the Patriots playoff game against the Houston Oilers, but the damage was done, and the team exited the postseason quickly.
Obviously, those situations pale when compared to the Hernandez case, but Grogan is sure coach Bill Belichick will not let anything distract the team from football when camp opens next weekend. Controversy and the NFL are old friends, practically business partners.
“The media coverage is so much different now. Every little thing that anybody does winds up in the press. I think Bill Belichick’s going to make sure those guys have no comment on any of that stuff, and they’ll move on and play with the guys they have and still be very competitive,” Grogan said.
Each year, the Patriots alumni coach at camps and clinics throughout New England. The young football players might not know who this is teaching them how to throw a spiral or shed a block, but each knows he’s well-coached.
“You just try to stress to them techniques. Some of them, how to put the pads on right. Some of them are more advanced than others. You’ve just got to kind of see what a kid knows and what he’s already able to do, and try to make him a little better from there,” Grogan said.
Hopefully, the father’s and grandfathers of the campers explain who King and Grogan are, share stories of watching them play. Share stories of big games. Remind the next generation of fans that the Patriots did have some good teams before Belichick and Tom Brady arrived.
“I had a long career, a lot longer than I ever planned on having. We had some success. Not the kind of success Tom Brady’s having with them right now,” Grogan said. “But we had success, and it was a great opportunity for me. I’m just happy to have had the chance.”
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242