When he returned to the office last Sunday after being away on vacation for a year, New England quarterback Steve Grogan was amazed to find how little things really had changed. He was nervous, but it was reassuring to see guys like offensive linemen Pete Brock and Ron Wooten and wide receiver Stanley Morgan busy at their desks.
"There were enough faces in the huddle that I played so many years with that it was almost like it hadn't been a year," Grogan said Wednesday. "It was like nothing had ever happened."
Everyone complimented Grogan on the tan he got while standing on the sideline since being benched in favor of Tony Eason on Sept. 16, 1984, and then they went back to the business of beating Buffalo, 14-3. The Patriots (3-3) were going nowhere behind Eason, who suffered a separated shoulder, but Grogan picked them up with one of the best days of his 11-year career.
It appeared Grogan had put the boos problem that afflicts all Patriot quarterbacks, including Eason, behind him as he threw for 282 yards and one touchdown while completing 15 of 19 passes. In recent seasons, Grogan has been troubled by injuries and interceptions, but when he's hot, it's hard to put out the fire.
Nobody has been burned more often by Grogan than the Jets (5-1), who will risk their AFC East lead against the Patriots Sunday at Sullivan Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. Grogan is 10-3 as a starter against the Jets, but that statistic alone doesn't capture the embarrassment he has caused them.
The Best of Grogan includes these memorable performances:
--Grogan rushes for a career-high 103 yards, including a 41-yard run, as the Patriots rout the Jets, 41-7, on Oct. 18, 1976.
--Grogan completes 15 of 19 passes as the Patriots overwhelm the Jets, 55-21, on Oct. 29, 1978.
--It gets worse the following season; Grogan passes for five touchdowns and 315 yards as the Patriots humiliate the Jets, 56-3, on Sept. 9, 1979.
--On Oct. 11, 1981, the Jets manage to hold on and beat the Patriots, 28-24, but only after Grogan comes off the bench as a third-quarter replacement for Matt Cavanaugh and passes for 330 yards.
--In a 23-13 Patriots win over the Jets on Sept. 18, 1983, Grogan's career-high completion percentage of 81.8 on 9-of-11 passing is overlooked because of Tony Collins' 212 yards rushing.
Recalling those games is a bit like listening to oldies on the radio, but Patriots coach Raymond Berry said the running and mobility in the pocket for which the 32-year-old Grogan is remembered is not strictly a matter of nostalgia. "He doesn't have the same mobility as a younger player at all, but he isn't dead in the water, either," Berry said. "He can move around."
The ability to run is a valuable asset for quarterbacks facing a Jets pass rush that has been the most significant factor in five straight victories. Green Bay's oft-injured Lynn Dickey was helpless against the Jets' rush, but Grogan should prove more elusive.
"I don't think I move around as well as I did five or six years ago, but I'm not in a wheelchair," said Grogan, whose experience at reading defenses will come in handy against the confusing schemes designed by Jets defensive coordinator Bud Carson. "I like to say I've seen everything. That's not true. There's always a new wrinkle. The Jets are using a lot of different fronts and using people well. I played against Carson when he was at Pittsburgh, and I'm trying to recall what worked."
Against the Bills, Grogan remembered things the Patriots had forgotten how to do. Berry allowed him to call his own plays instead of the ones in the game plan that were designed for Eason. A funny thing happened. An offense that had been experiencing problems began to move.
"During the first half, the Bills were yelling, 'They're coming this way!' " said Patriots fullback Robert Weathers. "With Grogan in there, they became quiet. You could see they didn't know where we were coming from. He was running plays we hadn't run much before and using people differently."
Grogan lost his starting job last season under former coach Ron Meyer, and when Berry took over in midseason, he stuck with the young Eason. He may not have welcomed it at the time, but a year of rest and recuperation may have helped Grogan, who was taking regular beatings from opposing defenses.
"No doubt, the year off was good for my body," said Grogan. "I had been pretty beaten up for nine-plus years, and a lot of things were bothering me physically. I feel pretty good now."
"He doesn't lose a dern thing," said Berry. "All it does is add years to his career. The only thing that knocks you out of this game is too many hits. It takes a toll."
Grogan has taken a toll on the Jets in the past, and now that he's well-rested, Grogan is an oldie who's ready to make a comeback.