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Ron Meyer, coach who orchestrated 'Snow Plow Game,' dies

Ron Meyer, who served as head coach for the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts in the NFL, and UNLV and Southern Methodist in the college ranks, has died. He was 76.

Meyer’s most famous – though some may say infamous – moment on the football field may have been on Dec. 12, 1982. Meyer was in his first season as Patriots coach, and the team was hosting the Miami Dolphins in a cold, snowy game.

Ron Meyer, left, who coached the Patriots, Colts, SMU and UNLV, died on Tuesday at 76 years old. (AP)

Late in a scoreless game, the AstroTurf field covered in snow, Meyer called a timeout before kicker John Smith was to attempt a 33-yard field goal.

He looked for Mark Henderson, a stadium worker whose job it was to ran the small John Deere tractor and sweep snow off the sidelines and make sure the yard markers were clear.

Years later, in an interview with the Boston Globe, Henderson, a convicted burglar who was on work-release from the state prison near Schaefer Stadium, recalled that Meyer told him, “Get out there and do something.”

“I knew exactly what he meant, so I jumped on the tractor and proceeded to go out on the 20-yard line, where I was supposed to be,” Henderson said. “Then Matt Cavanaugh, the backup quarterback who was the holder, saw me coming and started clapping his hands. He said, ‘All right! Follow me.’

“He showed me the spot he wanted cleared. I just swerved over to the 23-yard line with my tractor, switched on the PTO [power take-off, which starts the brush spinning], and scraped the snow off the AstroTurf.’’

Plow driver Mark Henderson went down in sports infamy after clearing the snow for Patriots kicker John Smith before a field-goal attempt against the Dolphins. (AP)

Smith made the kick.

Dolphins coach Don Shula was livid.

The Patriots won, 3-0.

The “snow plow” now hangs in The Hall at Patriot Place, the team’s museum/hall of fame.

Meyer led New England to a 5-4 record and a playoff appearance in that strike-shortened season, winning AFC Coach of the Year honors for turning around a team that had won two games the year before he arrived; in two-plus seasons with the Patriots, he had a 18-15 record.

He led the Colts for four full seasons, from 1987-90, as well as parts of the 1986 and 1991 seasons; all told, he was 36-35 with Indianapolis. In 1987, he led the Colts to their first-ever division title and a playoff appearance.

With SMU, where he coached for six years before being hired by the Patriots, Meyer was 34-32-1. The team won the Southwest Conference championship in 1981, behind running backs Eric Dickerson and Craig James.

“Devastated to hear [of] the passing of my coach and great friend,” Dickerson said on Twitter. “My mom and I loved Coach Meyer. He was a great man. Coach and his family are in my thoughts and prayers. God bless Coach Meyer!”

Before leading the Mustangs, he was at UNLV, and turned around that program quickly as well – in 1972, the year before his arrival, UNLV won one game. In his first season, 1973, the Rebels were 8-3, and in 1974 they were 11-0 and finished No. 2 in the Division II end of season poll.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Meyer walked onto the football team at Purdue, eventually earning a scholarship. He led the team in playing time at defensive back in his junior and senior seasons, chosen to the All-Big 10 Academic Team as a senior.