NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2. Do any of you know what this stands for? Its ok to admit that you don’t. Frankly, only about two sets of people know what this represents, fans of the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders. That statement represents the “tuck rule”, an act during the 2002 divisional playoff game between the Raiders and Patriots, that still affects these two teams fifteen years later.
We all know what happened in this game and how the rule came up, so let me give you a brief overview. The Raiders were leading 13-10 over New England in a driving snowstorm, and were looking to upset the Pats and head to the AFC championship. With under two minutes to play, Charles Woodson rocked his former Michigan teammate, Tom Brady which caused a fumble that Oakland recovered. All seemed lost for the Patriots, until the refs blew the whistle and wanted to review the play. The ruling on the field was a fumble, but the referees review it to make sure it wasn’t an incomplete pass. They came back and overturned the play, stating that Brady was not making a forward pass but, since he was in the process of tucking the ball back towards his body when he lost it, the play was ruled an incomplete pass and the Patriots retained the ball.
We all know what happened next. New England drove the ball down the field, tied the game and then eventually won the game with two Adam Vinatieri field goals. Fifteen years later, and now the Raiders are officially moving from Oakland to Las Vegas, and the Patriots just won their fifth super bowl since that 2001 season. With all that history, the question remains, what if the tuck rule never happened? What if the play wasn’t reviewed and the Raiders went on to win?
Well for starters, they would’ve moved on to play the Steelers in the conference championship game, and probably would have won. A Super Bowl matchup with the Rams would follow, and any team probably could have won that. Oakland takes that momentum into the next year and possibly defeats the Bucs in the Super Bowl, and have a Raiders dynasty on our hands. With those wins, you don’t go through the dreadful seasons up until really 2016. Jamarcus Russell doesn’t get drafted to Oakland, neither do the other horrible draft picks. Jon Gruden stays with the Raiders, possibly to even today, and becomes one of the greatest coaches in team history next to John Madden and Tom Flores. With a super bowl victory, quarterback Rich Gannon goes on to have a lucrative career, breaking team records and maybe even finds his spot in Canton, and most definitely in Raiders lore. However, most importantly, the team if they win that game, most likely does not make the move to Las Vegas, and one of the league’s greatest franchise’s, stays where it belongs.
Next we look at New England. The Pats are just coming off their fifth win in the Super Bowl, with the first one coming two games after the tuck rule. If the Patriots don’t get out of that blizzard in Foxboro, New England’s dynasty is not born, and maybe never began. Imagine that, Rich Gannon, not Tom Brady, becoming the poster child for the NFL in the 2000’s. That being said, I do believe that the Patriots still would have won a championship, but I don’t think for a few more years. Without that super bowl in 2001, that New England team was just another fad, like the 2011 Denver Broncos.
However, the tuck rule did happen, and unfortunately for Raiders fans, its something that they can look back on and shake their head in shame. For Pats fans, it was the play that started a dynasty that is still going on to this day.