One man who is living proof of New England’s credo that every man in the lineup must matter is veteran long snapper Lonie Paxton. Although Paxton’s is a name you probably don’t know unless you root for the Pats every Sunday, he has progressed from undrafted free agent in 2000 to an NFL career in which he can claim an integral role in some of the most dramatic and important field goals in league history.
Not that he would boastfully claim such a role, though…Paxton is a Patriot through and through. His intelligence, determination and no-nonsense nature were very much in evidence when he agreed to the following interview with Seahawks.NET.
(Editor’s note: Lonie completed this interview before Tedy Bruschi’s decision to sit out the 2005 season for medical reasons – a decision announced on July 20th. Given Lonie’s current commitment to New England’s training camp, we decided to run the interview in its entirety without asking for his take on the Bruschi decision at this time.)
NET: Tell us about your football beginnings at Centennial High in Corona, CA and at Sacramento State. When did you know that you wanted to be a pro football player? When did you suspect that you actually had a chance of making your dream happen?
Lonie Paxton: When I first started playing at Centennial High, I was a little undersized and inexperienced. I never played Pop Warner football, so my first taste of contact was my first practice of my freshman year. That first practice, they asked who could punt, kick, or longsnap. I raised my hand when they asked for snappers and the rest is history. I never knew that I would progress the way I did, because I always thought I was doing it to help my team, not myself. Pro football wasn’t even in my vocabulary at that point, not even Division 1 college. I looked at those players as physical specimens - “FREAKS”, as we called them. Their skill level seemed so far ahead of where I thought I was that I wouldn’t dare compare myself to them. I don’t think I even dared to dream that one day I would be there, I just continued to try and compete and get better every chance I had. To me, as long as I did my job and gave my best effort, everything else would fall into place.
NET: Your career with the Patriots began three months after Bill Belichick’s, when you were signed as a rookie free agent in April of 2000. What were your first impressions of Belichick and the Patriot organization?
LP: When I got to New England, I was just honored to have a chance at making an NFL roster. Once the pro scout workouts and combine stuff were over with, I was ready to do what was asked of me. My first impression? I think was shock. I was in awe of the veterans who were there before me - the Drew Bledsoes, the Tedy Bruschis, even the draft picks who were given the multi-million-dollar signing bonuses. I mean, I was given a plane ticket and a t-shirt and I couldn’t have been happier. Any chance I had at being taught by such a knowledgeable football coach as Bill Belichick, and being employed by such a reputable organization, was a no-brainer to me. Coming from a little known Division 1-AA school, I was amazed at the little things that were old news to most of the bigtime college program guys. Like the free stuff you’d get at your locker every other day…t-shirts, hats, warm-ups, shoes…I was lucky to get a brand new jock strap every year at Sacramento State, let alone a new set of cleats.
NET: What was it like going from Sacramento State to the NFL?
LP: It was the difference between night and day. I went from having 5,000 people at our biggest game of the year, if we were lucky.to 10,000 people coming to our first PRACTICE! At Sacramento State, we had to sell 20 t-shirts just to get our ugly green warm ups that we were “required” to wear on away trips. Here we just ask for one thing and they give you three….go figure. I guess I appreciate it much more because I was never given anything in college.
NET: When you were a rookie, did you get “hazed” by the veterans?
LP: I wouldn’t say I was hazed. I mean, I was a rookie and I had to deal with different things from the vets. I was responsible for coffee every morning when we were coming into work, I had to go get sandwiches and magazines for my kicker and punter on the day we traveled to away games, I had to shave my head…normal rookie responsibilities. It wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary. They never taped us to the goal posts or beat us with socks full of bars of soap…nothing like that. Although Bruce Armstrong, a 15-year veteran offensive lineman, used to walk around the locker room with a cattle prod tazer thing and zap rookies while they weren’t looking. I never got zapped though - too quick for him, I guess. His old knees couldn’t hang with the young snapper’s wheels! (laughs)
NET: You’ve spent five years under Belichick’s tutelage. What are the qualities that make him such an effective leader?
LP: He accepts nothing but your best effort. His attention to detail is second-to-none. He breaks down situations better than anyone in the history of the game and he is honest and straight-forward with every player, from Tom Brady to the 5th string rookie punter.
NET: You were the snapper on every punt, extra point and field goal for New England from 2000-2002, and through week 14 of the 2003 season. This timeline includes three of the most famous field goals in NFL history. Please recall the following plays for us:
a. The game-tying and game-winning field goals in the “Tuck Rule” AFC Championship game against the Oakland Raiders on January 19, 2002. You got off clean snaps on eight punts, one extra point, and all three field goals, despite a blinding Foxboro blizzard. Was that the best game you’ve ever played? And what possessed you to make a “snow angel” on the field after the game?
LP: The best game I ever play is the one in which I have all clean snaps and we win. It is hard to determine which the best game is because they are all different. If I have one snap that I feel is a little off, I feel like I played horrible. If I have all good snaps and I miss a block on a punt or get blown up on field goal, I still feel like I could have done much better for my team, even if we win. I am a lot harder on myself than any coach or critic, which helps me stay on top of my game.
The snow angel was a spur of the moment thing that was blown a little out of proportion. I was supposed to be accompanied by another player, but when the kick went through I wasted no time waiting for him and sprinted to the end zone for a little celebration. I mean, I’m a beach boy from southern California who saw the snow maybe 5 times in my life before being forced to play in it nearly 1/3 of the season up here in New England. Plus, it was the last game in old Foxboro Stadium, I had about 10 family members in the stands, in the end zone, and I snapped it clean when I’m sure many people doubted that I could.
b. The game-winning field goal against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI on February 3, 2002. How did it feel to win that first Super Bowl, especially since you were such underdogs?
LP: It was the feeling of a lifetime. My parents were there with my brother and other family members to see it live. Growing up in Southern California I was raised a Los Angeles Rams fan. My father had season tickets from the time I was born, so being able to beat them in the biggest game of my life is something I will never forget.
NET: You’ve snapped on nine of Vinatieri’s game-winning field goals. What is it about Vinatieri that makes him so “clutch” in key situations?
LP: He is a perfectionist when it comes to his craft. If he doesn’t feel good about some of the kicks he had that day (in practice), the holder and I have to stay after until he is satisfied. He also works as hard as anyone in the locker room. He doesn’t work like a kicker; he works like a football player.
NET: The word “clutch” could be used to describe your whole team and organization – three Super Bowl championships in four years, the incredible 21-game winning streak, the first dynasty of the salary cap era. Is it possible to put into a few words what makes the Patriots so special?
LP: We are a team. Everyone here cares about the guy next to him. No one cares about individual accomplishments or praise - if we don’t win, everyone hurts.
NET: You’ve played with some of the greatest players of this era – some players who may go on to be known as the greatest of any era. Could you give us a thought or two on the following teammates?
Tom Brady – Leader. Winner. Effort. Dedicated
Corey Dillon – A beast. Unselfish. A workhorse.
Troy Brown – Will do anything for the team, a soft-spoken leader
Richard Seymour – Perfectionist, gentle giant, a freak of nature
Tedy Bruschi – A spark plug, comes to work every minute of every hour of every day.
Rodney Harrison – A hitter, someone you would want on your side in a war, a leader on and off the field, a true professional.
NET: You were placed on injured reserve by the Pats in December in 2003, missing the second Super Bowl win against the Carolina Panthers. Could you detail your ACL injury and what the rehab process was like? How is your health now?
LP: My knee is doing fine now. It was a long road to recovery. but we have some of the best doctors and rehab therapists around. I was confident that they were going to get me back on the field as soon as possible. It was my first surgery, so dealing with that was a process in itself. You feel somewhat excluded from the team and sometimes feel as though you are letting the team down by not being out there, but those feelings pass with the support of your family and teammates.
NET: Change is an inevitability in the NFL, and the Patriots have experienced more than their share in the off-season. Your defense lost a true playmaker in Ty Law, and you added real veteran leadership in Chad Brown. Could you tell us your thoughts on Law’s time with the Pats? Seahawks fans know all about Brown’s abilities – how has he fit in so far?
LP: Ty was a force to be reckoned with at corner. He played as hurt as any player I have ever seen and produced like the Pro Bowler he is. We’re going to miss him. Chad will fit in nicely. I haven’t really had a chance to see him live but soon we will see what he can bring to the table for us this year.
NET: The man you may work closest with is special teams coach Brad Seely. What can you tell us about him, and how he has helped you?
LP: I work with Coach Seely every day. He has been the only special teams coach I have had in the pros, so I don’t know any different. I just know that he is a perfectionist and a great coach. He cares about us on and off the field, and I am honored that he has kept me around this long.
NET: You’ve had some incredible moments as an NFL long snapper – do you see a future that has you starting on the offensive line?
LP: Nope. Our line is fine without me. I’ll just keep throwing strikes and they’ll keep Tom clean and we’ll be alright.
NET: What’s the biggest concern for the Patriots going into the 2005 season? Which team do you see giving the Patriots the hardest time?
LP: Every game is different, and on any given Sunday, any team in the league could be the next world champ.
NET: Please tell us about the Active Force Foundation, the charity you established in 2003.
LP: We engineer and donate state of the art handicapped extreme sports equipment. It was started by my roommate, Brook Duquesnel, who was injured in a snowboarding accident and is now paraplegic, and myself, in hopes of getting more advanced adaptive equipment to those who can’t afford it. When an athlete needs special equipment to stay active, we try and provide them with the avenue to do so. More information can be found at www.activeforce.org.
NET: What would you like to do after football?
LP: I would like to turn my foundation into a business that can reach out to millions of disabled kids in need of a sport or hobby. I would like to make every disabled kid feel that they are as good athletically as any able-bodied kid out there. Helping them bring joy to their lives and futures through sports is a goal I will strive for when my playing days are through.