Today in Patriots History
Happy posthumous birthday to Dr. Bill Lenkaitis
Born June 30, 1946 in Strongsville, Ohio
Patriot center, 1971-1981; uniform #67
Claimed off waivers from San Diego on September 14, 1971
Died in Aug 27, 2016 at the age of 70
Bill Lenkaitis was a second round pick out of Penn State by the Chargers in 1968, where he played left guard for three years. The Pats picked him up off waivers after training camp ended in '71 and he was a reserve for his first two seasons in Foxborough, playing in all but two games with six starts. In 1973 he was on the Pats list of final roster cuts, but was removed from waivers when longtime starting center Jon Morris injured his knee. Morris was a seven-time pro bowler but he was also 33 years old, and had missed almost all of the previous two seasons to injuries.
The Pats traded Morris to Detroit, and Lenkaitis quickly put any concerns about his own abilities to rest. For the next eight years he was one of the most consistent and dependable centers in the NFL. Lenkaitis was an anchor on the line that was robbed of a Lombardi Trophy in 1976, and set the NFL record of 3,165 rushing yards in 1978.
Dr. William E. Lenkaitis, who was the Patriots center and the team’s dentist, dies at 70 - The Boston Globe
Dr. Lenkaitis was named to the Patriots 1970s All-Decade Team.
“He was a smart player who made the calls for our offensive line and he did that flawlessly,” said Steve Grogan. “Lenk was as tough as they come and wouldn’t back down from anybody, but he also loved to laugh and when he did, we knew where it was coming from.”
In the off seasons Lenkaitis worked on obtaining his dental degree, and opened up a practice in Foxboro while still playing football. He was named a member of the Patriots All-Decade team for the 70s, and arguably could have been named to the Pats 50th anniversary team over Morris. Bill Lenkaitis played in 151 games with 119 starts over 11 seasons with the Patriots, as well as in a pair of playoff games.
Dec 13, 1976
Boston Center Bill Lenkaitis Rattles Teeth on Sundays & Fixes Them the Rest of the Week
Aug 28, 2016
Bill Lenkaitis, who has died at age 70, balanced learning dentistry and playing for the Patriots and went into former full-time after retiring.
Sept 1, 2016
Several Patriots alumni were on hand to pay their respects to former center Bill Lenkaitis on Thursday.
“Bill centered one of the greatest offensive lines, not just in franchise history, but in NFL history,” said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft in a statement released by the team. “As a season-ticket holder during his playing days, I was a fan of the player he was on the field. But, in my 22 years of ownership, I became an even bigger fan of the person he was off the field. He was a big man with an even bigger personality and a huge heart.”
View DR. WILLIAM EDWARD LENKAITIS's obituary, send flowers and sign the guestbook.
Oct 28, 2017
His most impressive feat: While supporting his wife and the first of their three children, Lenkaitis spent his first six NFL offseasons earning a dental degree from the University of Tennessee. He opened a practice in downtown Foxborough in 1974 and became the team’s dentist, excelling at two demanding careers.
“His dental practice meant everything to him,’’ Donna said.
Then the work became too much for him. He had planned to retire at 72.
“All of a sudden, at 68, he was just not with it,’’ she said. “He would get up some days and say, ‘Cancel my patients.’ ”
When Donna was younger, she experienced depression, she said, and Bill failed to appreciate that medication might help. “Why don’t you just go out and smell the roses?’’ he told her.
Then came his depression, and he said to her, “Is this what it feels like? I’m so sorry.’’
Donna said her husband suffered numerous football concussions and was slowed by CTE symptoms before he was diagnosed in 2015 with glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer.
“I think he knew even before the cancer that he didn’t have much longer to live,’’ she said. “It was very hard for all of us to see him just crumbling away.’’