When the bouncing ball was fielded by guard Dan Connolly, he picked it up, covered the ball and slowly ran upfield. He was expecting to run into resistance — be tackled for a short return — but it never came. When the field opened up, Connolly took one hand off the ball and began chugging downfield.
When he was finally brought down, the return totalled 71 yards, the longest lineman return in NFL history. Today, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, is the 10-year anniversary of the historic event.
"It kind of looked like he was looking to go down but then they just couldn't really find anybody to tackle him. It was an alert play by Dan but also by the blocking to get in front of him and at least get him started," Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters after the game.
The kick was not the first or last in Connolly's NFL career. Connolly returned two others that season, and four over his NFL tenure. He totalled 116 total returns yards, averaging 26.5 yards per attempt.
Connolly's career lasted eight seasons, and he played and started at both guard positions and center. The undrafted lineman played in 89 games for the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars, and started 71 (all for the Pats), across his eight seasons in the NFL.
The veteran retired after the 2014 season with one career Super Bowl victory and a member of one of the most disciplined offensive lines in the league's history. Across eight seasons, Connolly committed only four holding penalties, three false starts, and nine total penalties. Prior to his final two years in the league, he had committed only three career penalties.
Over his career, Connolly didn't have many highlights aside from the historic return, but he earned just under $14 million in his career. The bulk of earnings came from a three-year deal with the Patriots signed ahead of the 2012 season.
Some Twitter users (albeit many with the Buffalo Bills logo as their avatars) were quick to point out that the 2010 return may have deserved a flag. "Pretty sure there was multi blocks in the back by the Pats," one user wrote.
But other users, however, stood up for the big-man touchdown, tweeting "no ref was going to take that once in a lifetime play for a big guy away."Published 20 Dec 2020, 03:20 IST