BOSTON (CBS) — A career as a long-snapper in the NFL is a truly unique one.
If they’re lucky, the player will never hear their name in a game broadcast. That’s because if they are being mentioned, nine times out of ten it’s for doing something bad. Whether it’s a bad snap or a missed block, a long-snapper being the center of attention is never a good thing, and usually means there’s a stern talking-to — or worse, a pink slip — in the near future.
Then there’s Lonie Paxton, whose name won’t be forgotten anytime soon by most Patriots fans over the age of 20. Even the youngsters are told stories about a big tattooed long-snapper, and not because he did anything wrong on the field.
On the contrary, Paxton will forever be remembered for his post-victory snow angel on the Foxboro Stadium field after Adam Vinatieri booted a game-winning 23-year field goal against the Oakland Raiders in the 2001 AFC Divisional Round. Vinatieri’s kick was the final play, ever, at the old stadium, and is immortalized with a plaque at Patriot Place where Paxton’s snap landed in Ken Walter’s hands, setting up the franchise-changing kick that snowy Saturday evening.
“Snappers got to do something to get noticed other than screwing up the play,” Paxton said with a smile Tuesday down at Gillette Stadium. “It’s been a fun thing to continue to talk about. We have a monument in Patriot Place that signifies the spot where it went down, so that’s pretty special to be part of Patriots history with some of the greats of all time.”
Paxton hasn’t snapped a football in years, but he will officially retire a Patriot on Tuesday after signing a one-day contract with the team. He attended head coach Bill Belichick’s press conference in the morning, receiving a hug from his old boss before making his way out to the team’s training camp session.
Ending his NFL career where it all began is a fitting way for Paxton to officially say goodbye to the game he loves.
“It means the world to my family and I because there are so many great memories, teammates, friends, family. I ended up marrying a girl from Boston. My mom was born in Boston,” said Paxton. “Just being signed as a Patriot, leaving and coming back, kind of closing the loop to that, it’s a nice cap to what I think was a solid career.”
Not bad for a kid from California who barely saw any of that white stuff before arriving in New England. He has three Super Bowl rings during his nine seasons with the Patriots, but will forever be remembered for having some fun in the snow.
“The young kids, they’ll hear their mom or dad say ‘That’s the snow angel guy!’ and they don’t know what they’re talking about. At least they remember you, right?” Paxton joked. “Getting that moment, to have my hands on the ball on the final play of the game — and a big game like that where the swing was so crazy from the Tuck Rule to the kick that put us into overtime (a 45-yarder) — to me it was kind of a surreal moment to look back on.”
Paxton was supposed to have a number of other players join him in that famous celebration, which would happen only if the Patriots marched to an easy win. But they were either too caught up in the moment or too afraid to go through with it after Vinatieri’s kick sailed through the uprights, so Paxton found himself alone in the end zone. He received so much positive feedback for that snow angel that he had to repeat it on the SuperDome turf a few weeks later when the Patriots stunned the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI — again thanks to a kick by Vinatieri, made possibly by a Paxton snap and Walter hold.
But that time, instead of snow, it was the Super Bowl confetti that provided the base for his angel.
“The SuperDome was because all of you guys couldn’t stop talking about it in Foxboro,” Paxton joked. “So it was kind of like ‘alright, we’re going to win this game, so why not do it in the Super Bowl.'”
Paxton last played in the NFL in 2013 with the Denver Broncos, but still remembers the nerves that would went through his head every time he took the field, knowing that any minor hitch in the process could spell disaster for the special teams unit.
Add in some blustery and snowy conditions in one of the most important games in franchise history at that time, and there was a whole lot that could have gone wrong in a short span of time.
“I would say it was a little nerve-racking, because for us, the balls have to be a certain way and your footing has to be a certain way,” he said. “It’s blowing sideways, 10 degrees and six feet of snow, so the stress level is always there. These guys were out there banging for 60-80 plays and we get 10-12 maybe. So I take pride in you not knowing my name, and just give all the credit to the guy who puts it on the ground and the guy who kicks it through.”
That is simply life as a long snapper, and for Paxton, he’s happy we remember his name for all the right reasons.