The New England Patriots love versatility, players that are able to fill more than just one role to help the team. However, probably no player in franchise history was as uniquely versatile as long-time starting center Bill Lenkaitis.
Yesterday, Lenkaitis passed away after an 18-month battle against brain cancer. He was only 70 years old and is survived by his wife of 44 years, three children and six grandchildren.
William Edward Lenkaitis was born in Strongsville, Ohio on June 30, 1946, and went on to attend Penn State University, where he became a member and later captain of the football team. In 1968, the San Diego Chargers drafted the offensive lineman in the second round (pick #42). Lenkaitis, who played guard in San Diego, appeared in 29 games for the Chargers.
After three years on the west coast, the Patriots signed Lenkaitis in 1971. He spent the next 11 seasons in New England, where he served as the starting center. Overall, he appeared in 151 games for the Patriots – the 21st most in franchise history –, reaching the playoffs twice and winning one division title. He was also part of the Patriots’ 1978 offensive line, which paved the way for an all-time record 3,165 rushing yards.
During his offseasons, Lenkaitis started a second career and earned his dental degree at the University of Tennessee. He became the Patriots’ team dentist while he was still an active player for the team. After retiring, Lenkaitis opened a dental practice in Foxboro, which he ran for 40 years.
Our thoughts are with his family and friends as well as his colleagues on and off the gridiron. May they find strength in this most difficult of all times.