October 18, 2017

50th Anniversary Minute – 1976 Patriots

by Brandon Rosenau, Patriots Daily Staff
September 30, 2009

One name can sum up the 1976 season; Ben Dreith.

The name conjures up thoughts that evoke nightmarish memories to Patriots fans that were alive and witnessed his epic miscall first hand, as well as those who have had the legend passed down from their forefathers.

Yes sir, 1976 indeed was a special year in New England. Despite the painful memories of Mr. Dreith and those dastardly Oakland Raiders, 1976 is a year that is fondly remembered in New England.

A year after the team went a dismal 3-11, the ’76 season didn’t exactly start with a bang. In the opening week of the season the Pats were downed by the Baltimore Colts 27-13 in a game that saw starting quarterback Steve Grogan throw an unimpressive four picks. However, the next week the Pats stormed back to crush Miami and kick start one of the more impressive win streaks in franchise history.

New England followed up the win over the Phish with a comeback win at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Trailing 20-9 heading into the fourth, Grogan threw a 38-yard TD pass to tight end Russ Francis and a 58-yard score to Darryl Stingley for a 23-20 lead. Grogan carried the mail from six yards out for the next score. The next week Grogan threw three more TD’s and ran in another in a 48-17 shellacking of the Raiders. New England would play tremendous football the rest of the way and would finish the season by winning their final six games.

The Patriots finished the season 11-3 and reserved a date with Oakland in the Divisional round in what would be turn into one of the most memorable and controversial playoff games in history. After Jess Phillips scored on a 3-yard run in the third quarter, N.E. led 21-10. Of course we all know what happened as the Raiders came back and stole the game late in the fourth. Along with a phantom roughing the passer called on Sugar Bear Hamilton, Russ Francis had his nose broken and there were several other questionable calls.

The fighting Patriots of ‘76 may not have made the Super Bowl, but they will always be one of the most beloved Patriots teams of all-time.

What are your memories of that fateful playoff game? How about the season in general?


  • Steve Grogan 1903 yards, 18TD (T-4th in NFL), 20 INT (2nd), 60.6 rating; 60-397, 12 rushing TD (4th); 13 total TD (3rd)
  • Sam Cunningham 824 yards, 3TD
  • Andy Johnson 699, 6 TD; 29-343 4 TD
  • Darryl Stingley 17-370, 4
  • Russ Francis 26-367, 3
  • Mike Haynes 2 PR TD (2nd); 8INT (3rd)

All Pro

Russ Francis (TE), Leon Gray (LT), John Hannah (LG), Mike Haynes (RCB)

Pro Bowl

Francis, Gray, Hannah, Haynes

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Mike Haynes


  1. I think worse than the Dreith call, which was terrible, was the non-call on the Patriots’ last possession of the game. Needing a first down to finish off Oakland, Grogan fired a pass that Russ Francis could only get one hand on–because Oakland LB Phil Vilapiano had a firm, death-like grip on Francis’ other arm. It clearly was defensive holding or pass interference, but there was no call. John Smith missed a long field goal attempt on the next play (out of his range, really, and Chuck Fairbanks probably should have opted for a pooch punt there), and the Raiders took over on their final, fateful, Dreith-altered possession after that.

    • After Vilipiano held Francis, and the pass fell incomplete, he started to yell at the ref about the bad call, until he realized there was no call at all.

      • sorry, i’m outta the loop. but i was researching this game and came across this post. it’s not clear to me whether the bad ref calls were on the whole crew or this guy named Dreith. Maybe back then they blamed the leader of the crew who maybe announced the call, but he didn’t throw the flag. Any insight here Arnold…Bruce

    • You had your suck call and we had our tuck call, hope Brady fumbles again against Denver 🙂

  2. Angry Old Bastard says:

    I remember I was 13 years old and reduced to tears after that game. For 30 years it was the most heartbreaking defeat in Patriots history. Then came the 2006 loss to the Colts in the AFC Championship game which trumped the game against the Raiders AND THEN came the loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl which trumped the game against the Colts…………I now rank the game against the Raiders as the 3rd most heartbreaking defeat in Patriots history……..

    • The loss to the Colts still rankles me more than any other, because it was the Colts and Polian, who’s made it his mission in life to try to destroy the Pats through his influential seat on the Competition Committee. A most loathsome character is he. I still see red when I see that ludicrous flag being thrown against Troy Brown for offensive pass interference late in the 2nd quarter–the single most important play of that game, because the Pats were up 21-3 and had just completed a pass to Ben Watson down to about the Indy 20-yard line with about 3 minutes left in the half. They certainly would have come away with at least 3 points there to make it at least 24-3. But that call basically killed that drive, forced the Pats to punt and gave Manning a chance to put up some points before halftime, which he did (a FG to make it 21-6). There’s a BIG difference between 21-6 at the half and 24-3 or even 28-3. That game was OVER if the refs don’t thrown that flag against Brown (Troy called it the worst call ever against him during his long career).

      The Super Bowl loss to the Giants, while devastating, doesn’t bother me as much for some reason. 2007 was at the same time both an awesome and frustrating season. The constant negative media coverage of the team over Spygate and running up the score and everything else really wore on me as the year went on. Then came Tomase’s b.s. “walkthrough” story, which ruined the Super Bowl weekend for me even before they lost the game. On top of all that, I had the feeling that the Pats were just “hanging on” down the stretch and through the playoffs in 2007; they had peaked too soon and the pressure of trying to go undefeated was also wearing on them. In retrospect, losing the Super Bowl was a surprise, but not really a shock.

      The loss to the Colts in 2006 still kills me though. I still hate to think about that game and the bad calls, the injuries on defense, the flu going through the locker room that week, the missed opportunities…UGH.

  3. Another bad call: Sam Cunningham ran out of bounds with what looked like a clinching first down. However, the ref spotted the ball about 1 1/2 feet from that mark; just enough to call for a measurement: the measurement was just short. Spotted properly, the Pats would have had their first down and all the other bad calls would not have seen the light of day.
    As far as Sugar Bear’s roughing the passer. I recall, that night on Boston television, there was one angle (out of three or four) which did show that Hamilton had actually (barely) grazed Stabler, so it is not true that he did not touch him at all.

  4. Bogus call… simple as that!

Leave a Reply