Long-time quarterback of the New England Patriots, Steve Grogan played in 149 games over his 16-year career. But, his career was marred by injuries. However, he was one of the toughest players to play quarterback. Hall of Fame guard John Hannah referred to Grogan as the toughest player he ever played with in his career. Referring to the impact that quarterback toughness has on a team, Grogan said, “In my opinion, it means a lot to the guys up there that are protecting you and opening up the holes for the running backs. The offensive line, in particular, respect quarterbacks that show some toughness and don’t act like they are worried about getting hurt all of the time and can play hurt. Most of those guys are playing hurt too, so I think that they respect a quarterback that will do those kinds of things.”
Grogan grew up in Ottawa, Kansas. According to Grogan, “It was enjoyable. A small town. A lot of great people. I grew up about two blocks from a small college: Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kansas, where my mom and dad went to school. At a young age, I was attending football games, basketball games, and track meets. I could walk up there myself and sneak into the gym and play basketball myself. It was a great location.”
Grogan continued, “In junior high and high school, there was a group of us that were all in the same class that really enjoyed athletics and some of us had some talent. By the time we were seniors, we finished second in the state in football, and won the basketball and track championships. So, it was a good group of guys.”
While at Kansas State, Grogan started at quarterback his junior and senior years. Referring to his chances at becoming a professional quarterback, Grogan said, “I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was bothered by a neck injury my senior year. I was told that I could be drafted anywhere from the first round to not drafted at all due to the injury. I did not have any expectations of what would take place.” Grogan was drafted in the fifth round by the New England Patriots.
As a rookie, Grogan started seven games for the Patriots. While the season was unsuccessful (3-11 overall record), his sophomore year in the pros was highlighted by an 11-3 record with Grogan as the starter.
Over the following three seasons, he started every game for New England and amassed a record of 30-17 with a playoff appearance. In 1976, he set an NFL record by rushing for 12 touchdowns. That was the most by a quarterback since Johnny Lujack set the record in 1950 and was tied by Tobin Rote in 1956. The record stood for 35 years until Cam Newton broke it in 2011 with 14 rushing touchdowns.
In 1985, the Patriots went to the Super Bowl. Tony Eason started the year, but lack of production led to him being benched in favor of Grogan. After winning six straight games, Grogan broke his leg and was out for the rest of the regular season. But, Eason was able to lead the team to the playoffs and a date with the vaunted Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl.
Grogan was not the starter for the game, but after Tony Eason was ineffective in the first quarter-and-a-half, coach Raymond Berry benched his quarterback and replaced him with Grogan. Eason went 0-6 passing, with three sacks for a loss of 28 yards and a fumble. Grogan went 17 for 30 for 177 yards and a touchdown in his effort, but the Bears were too much and easily won the game 46-10. According to Grogan, “I had been inactive for the first two playoff games against the Jets and the Raiders. I was given clearance to dress for the Miami game. I was ready to go for the Super Bowl, but Eason had been the starting quarterback for the three playoff wins and Raymond Berry had decided to go with him, which I understood. He struggled early in the Super Bowl and Raymond asked me to go in to see what I could do. I had visions of pulling us out of the fire, but we were playing against a defense that was maybe one of the best ever in the NFL. It didn’t happen.”
The remainder of his career was marred by injury. He would not start an entire season before he finished with the Patriots after the 1990 campaign. “They had a coaching change here after the 1990 season. The new staff came in and asked me to retire. They were going to go in another direction. I didn’t feel like I was ready to retire. I thought that I could play another couple of years for somebody. So I had them release me. I talked to a team or two, but nothing ever materialized. So, that was the end of it.”
After retiring from playing pro football, Grogan wanted to get into coaching. Grogan recalled, “I had always planned on coaching when I got done. My dad and brother were coaches, and I had an uncle that was a coach. It was just a natural transition for me. But, I kept running into dead ends and closed doors and people telling me that I needed to go back to the high school level to get some experience. I was almost 38 or 39 years old when they were telling me that, and with three kids, I just didn’t feel like I had the time to go back down and start at the bottom rung and work my way up.”
Currently, Grogan owns Grogan Marciano Sporting Goods in Mansfield, Massachusetts. “I was approached by a gentleman who owned, what was then, Marciano Sporting Goods. It was originally started by Peter Marciano, who was Rocky Marciano’s brother, the boxer. Peter had had it for over 20 years and sold it to this other gentleman. He was having some financial trouble and was looking for someone to take over the business. It was five miles from the house and I knew that I would be around things that I had been around all of my life and enjoyed being around. The price was pretty good, so I decided to take a chance. I knew that my three boys could probably be involved in the business. I thought I would try it for a while and see how it went. That was 19 years ago. I guess that we are doing something right.”
In addition to running his business, Grogan remains active in the community. According to Grogan, “I still do some public speaking and some autograph sessions. I will also do some meet-and-greets for companies that are looking for someone to entertain them for an evening or an afternoon.” Grogan continued, “Other than that, it is run the business and make sure things are going well here.”
In a September 25, 2003 article, Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo penned the Grogan Toughness Meter (GTM). The GTM was a way to measure the toughness of an athlete, using Grogan as the benchmark. From that article, Cafardo mentioned, “To explain GTM a little better, here's a partial list of Grogan's ailments: five knee surgeries; screws in his leg after the tip of his fibula snapped; a cracked fibula that snapped when he tried to practice; two ruptured disks in his neck, which he played with for 1 1/2 seasons; a broken left hand (he simply handed off with his right hand); two separated shoulders on each side; the reattachment of a tendon to his throwing elbow; and three concussions.”
Grogan commented on the GTM, “It was interesting. Everybody talks about how tough I was when I was playing. I do appreciate that, but I hope that I was a pretty good player too, for the 16 years I played in the league. I wish they would talk about that a little more. But, it feels good to be respected for what I did.”
Not only known for his toughness, Grogan was also known to be a good running quarterback until injuries slowed him down. According to Grogan, “We ran the option at Kansas State. We were not very good. I joke with people here that [my running ability] was a survival instinct that I developed at Kansas State.” He continued, “I was playing for coach Chuck Fairbanks, who had come from Oklahoma where they ran the wishbone and he wasn’t afraid to let me run. He knew that it was a talent that I had. Early in my career, I was able to use that running ability to have some success and to buy me time to learn the passing game, so that when I started to have knee problems, I could transform myself into a guy that could stay in the pocket and not run a whole lot.”
• New England Patriots (1975-90)
• New England Patriots All-Decade Team – 1970s
• New England Patriots All-Decade Team – 1980s
• Patriots 35th Anniversary Team (1994)
• New England Patriots Hall of Fame (1995)
• Kansas State University Ring of Honor (Inaugural Class in 2002)
Ken Crippen is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.
Follow Ken on twitter @KenCrippen