The night before this game, heavy rains had soaked the Astroturf surface at New England's Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The field froze over, and conditions were made significantly worse as a snowstorm hit during the game. As a result, an emergency ground rule was put into play where the officials could call time-out and allow the ground crew to use a snowplow to clear the yard markers. Despite this rule, the ground crew could not plow often enough to keep the field clear. The two teams remained scoreless late into the fourth quarter. With 4:45 left to go in the game and on-field conditions worsening, Patriots coach Ron Meyer ordered snowplow operator Mark Henderson to clear a spot on the field specifically for placekickerJohn Smith. At first, no one had thought it suspicious, assuming that the plow would go straight across, and allow for a more accurate measurement (which turned out to be 33 yards). Instead, the plow veered left, directly in front of the goal post, giving Smith a clean spot from which to kick. Matt Cavanaugh held for the kick.
Miami coach Don Shula protested furiously but the field goal was good. On the following drive by the Dolphins, linebacker Don Blackmon picked off Dolphins quarterback David Woodley. The Patriots won the game by the final score of 3–0. The game ball was awarded to all-pro linebacker Steve Nelson, who subsequently donated it to his alma mater, North Dakota State University. Henderson also received a game ball from a grateful Meyer after the game.
Shula met with NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle several days later concerning his protest, and although Rozelle agreed with Shula that the use of the plow gave the Patriots an unfair advantage, he said that he had never reversed the result of a game and was not going to start doing so for any reason.
1982 Week Six: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots – Game summary
Henderson, a convicted burglar on a work release program from MCI-Norfolk at the time of the game, was released from prison a few years later and currently works in the construction business. When interviewed years later about the controversy surrounding the game, Henderson jokingly remarked, "What are they gonna do, throw me in jail?"
Both teams would make the playoffs, with the Patriots finishing 7th in the AFC, and the Dolphins finishing 2nd (the normal playoff format was scrapped due to the player's strike), but the Dolphins would exact revenge, eliminating the Patriots by a score of 28-13, en route to the Dolphins' reaching Super Bowl XVII.
The following year, the NFL banned the use of snowplows on the field during a game. In a 2007 interview for an NFL Network segment about the game, Shula recalled protesting the "unfair" act, to which Commissioner Pete Rozelle responded that, while he agreed wholeheartedly, without a rule explicitly barring such use of the plow, there was nothing he could do.
The incident is commemorated with an interactive exhibit at the Hall at Patriot Place within the Patriots' current home, Gillette Stadium. The plow itself, a John Deere Model 314 tractor with sweeper attached, hangs from the ceiling at the exhibit.