On January 8, 2012, the Denver Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild card playoff round. The game was not only a huge upset that marked the end of the Steelers’ season, it also was the last time one of the most successful long snappers in NFL history set foot on the gridiron: That January night, Lonie Paxton snapped his last footballs.
The 12-year veteran, who missed the Broncos’ blowout loss at the New England Patriots the next week due to personal reasons, was released by Denver after the season and has been out of the league since then. Yesterday, the 39-year old returned to the place the 2011 Broncos’ season came to a crashing halt – the same place his career in the NFL began shortly after the 2000 draft and where he would now officially put and end to it.
After going undrafted out of Sacramento State, the Patriots signed Paxton as a free agent to compete against fellow long snapper Thad Sheldon for the starting spot. Paxton ultimately won the competition and would go on to snap for New England the next nine seasons. He appeared in a total of 156 games for the team – among them two of the Patriots’ five championships: Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXIX (Paxton missed New England’s third early-2000s title game due to a knee injury).
Over the course of his career, Paxton offered the Patriots consistency and reliability – and his name was therefore hardly ever heard. Still, he had his moments in the sun: His two most famous came after the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win, when he did a snow angel in the confetti, and during a 2003 comeback win over Denver, when Paxton intentionally snapped a ball over punter Ken Walter’s head. Denver also played another role in Paxton’s career, as he spent the last three years of it in the Mile High city.
Yesterday, Paxton returned to Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium once again: To sign a symbolic one-day contract with the Patriots and to retire as a member of the club. Team owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick were present during the event. Paxton’s official retirement took place just two days after another long-time member of the organization, linebacker Rob Ninkovich, decided to call it a career.
Coincidentally, Ninkovich is also no stranger to long snapping as he served as New England’s backup at the position since joining the club in 2009. However, while Ninkovich actually appeared in only one game as the Patriots' long snapper, Paxton held the fort down for nine seasons. And one day.