Steve Grogan was as tough as any quarterback in the NFL, but focusing on toughness alone doesn’t do justice to the man. Grogan was smart and quick, rushing for an NFL-record 12 touchdowns in 1976 and 35 in his 16 seasons with the Patriots. He also threw for more than 26,000 yards and 182 touchdowns.
These days, Grogan owns Grogan-Marciano Sporting Goods in Mansfield. I spoke to him about the emergence of Matt Cassel, the growth of Foxborough, and why most quarterbacks don’t run the ball anymore.
TC: When you look at this season as a whole, are you most impressed by how many injuries the Patriots have overcome or by the disappointment of their record compared to last season?
Grogan: I think it’s impressive that they have gotten to where they’ve gotten with as many injuries as they’ve had. I really thought when they lost [Tom] Brady they still had a chance to be a playoff-caliber team, but as the season has gone on and they’ve lost more and more guys on the defensive side of the ball, it’s just been amazing that they’ve hung in there and put themselves in a position to have a chance to make the playoffs.
TC: Since losing Brady in that first game, it’s been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for Matt Cassel. We saw those back-to-back 400-yard passing games — the first time a Pats quarterback has done that. Does he have the makings of an elite starting quarterback?
Grogan: There’s no question that he has the makings of being a very good quarterback in the National Football League. The first few games he played, I thought he was a little tentative, which is only natural when you haven’t played a meaningful football game for close to eight years. But you could see his confidence grow, and as he started using his running ability a little bit and got out of the pocket, he made things happen moving around like that. You could just see it becoming his team and see him feeling like it was his team. He’s got a great arm, he moves around well and has a nice feel for the game. He’s going to be very successful for a long time.
TC: Cassel rushed for 62 yards against the Jets, the most by a Patriots quarterback since you reached that total in a 1978 game. Where have all the scrambling quarterbacks gone?
Grogan: They’ve gone the way of the $5 million-$10 million contract. [laughs] They’re just too valuable now to have a guy running around out of the pocket. You’ll see a few young guys do it. [Ben] Roethlisberger did it down in Pittsburgh early in his career, but he does not do it as much anymore just because there’s too much money involved to have these guys running around taking a chance on getting hurt.
TC: You had 35 rushing touchdowns. Wouldn’t it have been easier to dump a few of those off to the running back?
Grogan: If we’d have had some running backs that could catch I would’ve done that, but outside of Andy Johnson — and Tony Collins I guess in the ’80s — we had some backs that weren’t very good catchers, and I had an ability to run and I used that ability. The coaches, Chuck Fairbanks in particular, were not afraid to turn me loose.
TC: It’s so hard to compare quarterback numbers from today with the wide-open offenses to the eras of the past. Right at the tail end of your career, you started to get a little taste of what the game was becoming, the so-called West Coast offense of the time.
Grogan: Exactly. There’s just no way you can compare the numbers now. We threw the ball 20 times a game, threw it when we had to on third down. They throw it every down now, they throw it 40 to 50 times a game. My last year here was not a good year. We were 1-15 that year, but we had the West Coast offense, and I got to play in it one year. It was different, it was fun, and I wish I could’ve played in it for a longer period of time, because it takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback to make reads. You just basically throw it to the open guy and throw it short, letting them run.
TC: You threw it when you had to on third down. The trouble with that is the defense knew you had to throw it, too.
Grogan: And [defenders] could bump the receivers. I could complain about all the things they can’t do now that they could do when we were playing. [laughs] They protect the quarterbacks so well nowadays. In my day we were fair game until the play was over with. There’s been a lot of changes, but it’s what the fans want to see. They want to see a lot of scoring, they want to see the ball go up and down the field, and that’s exactly what they’re getting.
TC: The game has changed, the franchise has changed, and even Foxborough has changed. There was a time when we didn’t think a pro franchise could survive out there, and now there’s Patriot Place with shops and restaurants. Do you ever find yourself driving down Route 1 thinking, “My goodness, look what this has become”?
Grogan: A lot of times. It’s almost like going to another city. There’s nothing recognizable from the days that we were there playing. The stadium’s different, Patriot Place has grown up around it, and the uniforms are different. It’s almost like watching a different team play there. The Kraft family has done a wonderful job. I wouldn’t complain about what the Sullivans did for me when they owned the team. Billy Sullivan started football here and kept it here as long as he could. He just didn’t have the money background to keep it going. Fortunately, Bob Kraft does have that money and has just expanded on what Billy Sullivan started, and they’ve just done a wonderful job.
TC: The Patriots have brought Junior Seau back, they’ve brought Rosevelt Colvin back. Are you waiting for a phone call here?
Grogan: [laughs] Actually, I saw Bob Kraft at a golf tournament a year ago when they signed Vinny Testaverde during training camp and I said, “Mr. Kraft, not for nothing, but I’m only 10 years older than him and I can come back for half of what you’re paying him.” He didn’t think that was a good idea.
OT contributor Tom Caron is the studio host of Boston Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network.
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This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
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