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JACKIE MACMULLAN

Watching hasn't exactly been a snap

FOXBOROUGH -- We are swept up in the frigid, wintry moment. While Patriots fans shiver through the endless wait for Saturday's playoff game against the Tennessee Titans, let's crank up those electric blankets and drift back to two years ago, when the Patriots were a hot team on a cold night.

There's Tom Brady, tucking it to Oakland, with a little help from referee Walt Coleman. There's Adam Vinatieri, booting an iceball 23 yards through the uprights for the thrilling overtime playoff win. And there's long snapper Lonie Paxton, lying in the end zone, making snow angels like a little kid who just discovered school was canceled for the day.

Don't look for Paxton to be re-creating his now-famous histrionics this weekend. New England's reliable long snapper is out for the playoffs with a serious knee injury that required surgery (hint: the initials for this malady are ACL), and has trouble walking right now, never mind flopping himself on his back for some adolescent winter fun.

"It's been tough," conceded Paxton, reached at his home on Wednesday. "It's not all that fun watching your teammates on TV running around and cheering and celebrating while you're just sitting there.

"It's kind of hard to feel part of the team, even though I won a Super Bowl with those guys."

Paxton signed with New England as a rookie free agent in April 2000. He was an offensive lineman at Sacramento State, but knew his future with the Patriots would be exclusively as a long snapper.

He happily toiled anonymously alongside his more celebrated teammates until the Snow Game and his spontaneous choice of celebration. It was spontaneous, wasn't it, Lonie?

"Well . . . " Paxton said. "Not exactly."

The truth shall now be told. The day of that now legendary Oakland victory, Paxton entertained various family members visiting from the West Coast. His guests tossed footballs in the snow and enjoyed a few cocktails while Paxton anxiously awaited the biggest game of his career.

"I was feeling pretty antsy," he said. "My family is out back having a good ol' time in the snow, but I've got the game on my mind. They were saying, `This is going to be wild. You are going to whupp them in this weather.'

"Then somebody said, `Hey Lonie, if you guys win, you should do something crazy.' I'm thinking to myself, `I'm the long snapper, not the quarterback. What chance am I going to have to do anything?' "

As the weather worsened toward game time, Paxton and his teammates marveled at the wonders of the New England weather.

"[Former Patriots defensive lineman] Dave Nugent looked at me and said, `If we win this game, let's do snow angels in the end zone,' " Paxton said. "So when Adam [Vinatieri] kicked the winning field goal, and I started doing my thing, but Nugent never showed up. He was jumping on Adam at midfield."

The snow angels, Paxton said, were a gesture of thanks to his family.

"I knew they were up in the stands freezing their butts off," Paxton said. "It was a great moment, knocking off a team I've talked about beating my whole life. I grew up a Rams fan, and Oakland was my longtime hated team."

Paxton's snow patterns of jubilation transformed him into an instant folk hero. He repeated his signature move again on the indoor turf in New Orleans shortly after the Patriots clinched the Super Bowl on Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal. The snap on that kick came from Paxton. Long snappers everywhere cheered their new celebrity spokesman.

"It drew some attention to the position," Paxton said. "The truth is, unless a long snapper screws up, the position never gets thought about."

Since Paxton injured his knee against Miami Dec. 7, he's watched Sean McDermott, then veteran Brian Kinchen handle the long-snapping duties without incident.

"They've done a good job," Paxton said, "but it's hard watching somebody do the job I feel is mine."

Kinchen said yesterday Paxton has nothing to worry about.

"My future here is this year, and this year only," Kinchen said. "I'm sure they'll bring Paxton back. I'm an old guy [38]. That's what put me out of the league in the first place."

Lonie Paxton is only 25. He's hoping his future with the Patriots will move forward as soon as he's healthy, but he understands NFL security is fleeting. His closest friend on the team, after all, is punter Ken Walter, who was released earlier this season, then re-signed for the stretch run.

Paxton would not reveal the specifics of his injury. "Aw, I can't," he explained. "The coaches don't like us to talk about injuries.

"I have a long road ahead of me. I have a lot of rehab to go through. I've never been injured before. It's all new."

Paxton will watch Saturday's game from a team suite that hosts players who are injured or inactive. He will wish he was down on the field, snapping in bitter cold temperatures.

"I'm there all week around those guys, getting treatments," said Paxton. "But when practice starts, they want me out of there. They don't want me standing. The best thing I can do right now is go home and stick my leg in the air."

Although there is no snow in the forecast for Saturday, temperatures are expected to drop into single digits. Patriots coach Bill Belichick minimized the significance of that yesterday, saying, "I don't think it will be a big factor."

Paxton, who remembers the look on the faces of the West Coast Raiders two Januarys ago, has a different view.

"You could tell Oakland had no clue what to do in that weather," Paxton said. "They just weren't used to it. As professionals, you're going to say the cold doesn't mean anything. Coaches will beat that into your head.

"But guys who practice in mostly warm weather all year, it bothers them. Even veterans who have been around for a while. You could see it in Oakland's eyes. It was good to watch them try and shake it off."

Tennessee is a different team. This is a different year. It's unlikely there will be a Snow Bowl sequel.

Just as well. The Snow Angel has fallen, and for the moment, he can't get back up.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is macmullan@globe.com.

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