This week, we’re celebrating some of our favorite random plays and obscure moments in NFL history — those that WE will never forget, even if others have. Welcome to “Who Remembers?” Week at SB Nation NFL.
Dan Connolly is a Super Bowl champion, having started at left guard for the Patriots in their Super Bowl 49 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Connolly started 71 games in his long career, which began in 2005 as an undrafted free agent. He then worked his way into a starting role in New England before ending his career with that Super Bowl win.
For many of us, Connolly won’t be remembered for any of that, but for something much greater.
“You don’t choose the offensive line; it chooses you.”
No little kid grows up wanting to play offensive line. It’s a grunt position. Every child wants to throw the game-winning touchdown, or be on the receiving end of that pass. We want to sack the quarterback or force a fumble. We want the ball in our hands.
Even me, who was 6’2, 215 pounds at my bar mitzvah, wasn’t about the offensive line life as a youngster. I skipped youth football and showed up in high school. I played tight end on junior varsity my sophomore season, then defensive line on varsity later that season. It wasn’t until my junior season, my first full year on varsity, that I put my hand in the dirt. My brother played quarterback for two weeks on junior varsity before switching to offensive line.
It always chooses us and we have to accept we aren’t meant for glory.
However, there are instances where offensive linemen can triumph with the ball in our hands. Fumble recoveries are always adventurous. They mostly are a disaster, as evidenced by my good friend Marshall Newhouse:
Come on, Marshall! Hold onto the ball!
If not a fumble recovery, maybe you’re lucky enough to randomly receive a pitch from your quarterback:
Yes, that’s me. Baller …
While a fumble recovery or a random option pitch from the quarterback are ways to get the ball in our hands, the best way for our shot at glory is a kickoff return. Offensive linemen have been used to block on kickoff returns for years. Our role was in the wedge (which has since been eliminated), a mass of bodies lined up side to side that ran full speed into other men running full speed. It was a wreck.
But every now and then, a ball was kicked short or squibbed and we were required to handle the football. This is where Connolly shined the brightest.
Most of the time when an offensive lineman handles the ball, whether on a kickoff return or fumble recovery, we are lost. We run in a straight line and then get tackled. We hold the ball with two hands, as a fumble would be embarrassing enough. We look so unathletic.
However, Connolly did none of that.
Connolly was a hero to all offensive linemen with his return
In a 2010 Sunday Night Football game against the Packers, Connolly took a short kickoff, picked it up, and rumbled for 71 freaking yards!
He ended this glorious play just yards short of the end zone for the longest kickoff return for an offensive lineman in NFL history.
There are many fabulous things about this historic play. Connolly was clearly doing the “offensive line thing” to start out. He held the ball with two hands and was running in a straight line waiting to be tackled. And no one tackled him. The blocking was outstanding.
So, Connolly became a returner in a split second. You can see the moment he realized he’s going for it. A quick tuck of the ball in his outside hand, the perfect spot running to his left. Then he started pumping his right arm as he kicked it into high gear.
The Packers’ outside defenders took a poor angle, most likely expecting him to fall down before reaching them. Connolly took advantage and veered left into the open field. The contain defender made up ground quickly, but Connolly wouldn’t be denied. He used a STIFF ARM (!!!!) like a seasoned professional running back to elude the tackler and continue toward the goal line.
Packers kicker Mason Crosby was about to attempt a tackle (I think) before being blocked. Then Connolly shifted to his left before being brought down from behind. Just a legendary 13 seconds of football.
If you think, “well, Geoff Schwartz is a lineman, of course he’s amused by this” I’d advise you to turn up the volume. Just listen to the bewilderment and excitement from Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. We were all amazed. Connolly lived the offensive lineman’s dream!