Blog Entry

10 years later: the 'tuck rule' anniversary

Posted on: January 19, 2012 4:45 pm
Edited on: January 22, 2012 10:55 am
Before January 19, 2001 everybody thought this was a fumble. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

It's been exactly 10 years since two organizations, with vastly different histories up till that point, saw their fates changed forever. The Patriots were hosting the Raiders in an AFC Divisional matchup. With 2:24 left in a game played in blizzard-like conditions, and with Oakland leading 13-10, cornerback Charles Woodson stripped quarterback Tom Brady, the Raiders recovered, and they appeared headed to the conference championship.

Except that the tuck rule -- a term no one had heard of to that point -- saved Brady and the Patriots, and, you could argue, altered the future of both organizations. New England would go on to win this game, the Super Bowl, and two more before 2005. The Raiders, meanwhile, lost Jon Gruden to the Buccaneers a few weeks later and wouldn't win more than five games for the next seven seasons.

Time supposedly heals all wounds but whoever uttered those words couldn't have been a sports fan. Ask Raiders fans or former players about the immaculate reception and you can see the blood rush to their face. Bring up the tuck rule and they'll have their hands around your neck as you try not to lose consciousness.

Depending on your perspective, this was either "fun" or some "bulls---."

"We were robbed, and I still get sick thinking about it," Woodson, now a Packer, said when the Raiders played Green Bay last month.

He was slightly more emotional during his post-game comments at the time (and understandably so):  "It's some bulls---, it's some bulls---," Woodson said according to "That's exactly how I feel, I feel like it was a bulls--- call. It never should have been overturned."

He makes a decent point. Up till that moment, nobody knew what a "tuck rule" was. Even Mike Periera, the former head of officials (a job he held on this fateful night, too) who now works for Fox Sports admits that the rule is a cop out for what everybody knows is a fumble.

"A pass should only be ruled incomplete if the ball comes loose in the actual act of passing the ball," he said. "If it comes loose in the tucking motion, then it should be a fumble."

Now we reflexively shout "tuck rule" anytime a quarterback fakes a throw, resets, and loses the ball after getting smacked by a defender. Even though common sense says it's clearly a fumble. It's the football version of the "I know it when I see it" explanation for what is and isn't obscene.

Last October, when the Patriots faced the Raiders, Brady, no doubt fighting back uncontrollable laughter at his good fortune, admitted that "We got a few breaks and situationally, we made some plays."

You don't say. Richard Seymour, who was with the Patriots at the time but now plays for the Raiders, couldn't contain a smile but wasn't interested in talking in specifics.

"I was on the opposite side of it, so I don't have a comment on it…" he said according to the San Francisco Chronicle, a grin now about to swallow his face. "What's funny is that me and (Steve) Wisniewski, Coach Wisniewski, we were lined up against each other that whole game."

In his book published in 2004, "Do You Love Football?!: Winning with Heart, Passion, and Not Much Sleep," Gruden addressed what happened in Foxboro on January 19, 2002. After referee Walt Coleman invoked the tuck rule Gruden wrote that:

"We had one timeout left, but I wasn't going to use it. As a result, the Patriots had to send out … Adam Vinatieri to try a 43-yard field goal. I didn't want to try and 'ice' (him) because I didn't want to give the Patriots' ground crew time for the same thing that had happened in that same stadium in 1982, when a work-release convict used a snowplow to clear a spot for John Smith to kick the winning field goal in New England's 3-0 victory over Miami."

Ah yes...

New England didn't need the help of the Massachusetts Dept. of Correction against Oakland.

Gruden continued: "Vinatieri was kicking the ball literally out of five inches of snow, into the wind. He made it, sending the game into overtime. In overtime, Vinatieri kicked another field goal out of all that snow." 

Vinatieri's recollection of those final few moments: "My holder and I are trying to kick as much snow out of the way as possible and the offensive linemen were sweeping and sweeping. Oakland calls a timeout to ice the kicker. I think it helped us out. We cleared a pretty decent spot. At least my footing was better for that one. Game winners in playoff games are never easy. They have a whole different feel. But after making the best kick of my life, I felt like I just couldn't miss that night. That one went right down the middle and it was over. That was fun."

That was the last time Gruden coached the Raiders. "… If my recalling of this game is matter-of-fact," he said in his book, "it's because it kills me to recall this sequence of plays."

Doesn't sound like that much fun.

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Since: Jan 2, 2007
Posted on: January 30, 2012 3:05 pm

10 years later: the 'tuck rule' anniversary

Those that hate the tuck rule do not realize that any other rule would be even more subjective and seemingly unfair.  If the ball is going forward, its an incomplete pass.  If it is tucked, it is a fumble.  That is easy.  The rule says that if the ball is hit out when the QB is transitioning the ball from a pass to a tuck, it will be deemed an incomplete pass.  If that were not the rule, and it was deemed a fumble, how would referrees be able to determine when the pass stopped and the transition to a tuck occurred?  They would have to arbitrarily guess at that magical point.  At least a "tuck" is a visible, concrete position.

Since: Jul 24, 2007
Posted on: January 20, 2012 12:45 pm

10 years later: the 'tuck rule' anniversary

"The Raiders, meanwhile, lost Jon Gruden to the a few weeks later and wouldn't win more than five games for the next seven seasons."

Except that the Raiders went to the Super Bowl the season afterward, losing to Gruden's Bucs. Then they went on their several years of mediocrity.

Since: Jul 3, 2007
Posted on: January 20, 2012 9:39 am

10 years later: the 'tuck rule' anniversary

Terrible rule...great call

Since: Aug 6, 2009
Posted on: January 20, 2012 6:39 am

10 years later: the 'tuck rule' anniversary


Since: Dec 29, 2011
Posted on: January 20, 2012 5:50 am

10 years later: the 'tuck rule' anniversary

This didn't happen in the Superbowl. This didn't happen in the Conference Championships even. This happened in the Divisional Playoffs. It was a fortuante call for the Patriots, but they went on and won that game in OT and then won out. That's why they got the trophy. There was no trophy for winning that game. I wish NFL referees were perfect too, but they're not, and the Patriots weren't either, but they won the Superbowl.

Since: Mar 25, 2011
Posted on: January 20, 2012 12:14 am

10 years later: the 'tuck rule' anniversary

Raider fans are still whining about that call. That and the immaculate reception....LOL!

Since: Mar 21, 2009
Posted on: January 19, 2012 10:48 pm

10 years later: the 'tuck rule' anniversary

The ex head of officials just recently admitted how everybody disliked Gruden,it sure did reflect that in 2001 in New England. The Worst call in sports since USA vs Russia in 72 olympics gold medal game. A Raiders vs Steelers AFC championship was what we should have been watching, I was looking forward to the Rams finally beating Jerry Rice in a big game! but it never happened,and Lovey Smith called only 1 bad series that day(tha Rams dominated Brady) & a Vinatieri kick sealed the madness. Raiders vs Rams SuperBowl 49

Since: Jan 7, 2007
Posted on: January 19, 2012 8:58 pm

10 years later: the 'tuck rule' anniversary

It's definitely a rule that should have never been created.  It's quite simple: it's either a fumble or an incomplete pass.  He was not passing the ball, so it's a fumble.

Since: Aug 30, 2007
Posted on: January 19, 2012 8:51 pm

10 years later: the 'tuck rule' anniversary

It's still a fumble. The ref must have been one of the many people Al Davis had pissed off. 

Since: Nov 10, 2010
Posted on: January 19, 2012 8:49 pm

10 years later: the 'tuck rule' anniversary

You know I have watched the immaculate reception on highlights and NFL history shows time and again. I have been an Oakland Raider fan since 1977, when I was 5 years old, and even though I was only a couple months old when the IR happened, it totally bounced off Tatum. That call to me was completely legit. It was a freak play that happened and luck didn't bounce the Raiders' way. With the tuck rule however, the Raiders got completely screwed. If you watch the Tuck rule incident, you see that Brady is finished tucking the ball in, and he has it in BOTH hands when he is hit. The tucking motion is OVER at that point and the tuck rule does not apply. But even if it did, only against the Raiders would they make a bullsh!t call like that. I'm no Raiders conspiracy theorist, but just the year before, the officials just HAPPENED not to notice Marquez pope being held which sprang Shannon Sharpe free for a 96-yard TD reception, and on the next drive, Tony Siragusa sits his fat @$$ on Rich Gannon and no penalty, just a $5,000 finde for taking our quarterback out illegally. Then the next year this tuck rule crap which nobody knew about, which means the officials essentially pulled it out of their @$$. I thought super bowl 35 (which would have been a victory vs. the Giants, instead of Baltimore's victory..) was theirs to win, but I didn't think Oakland would have gotten past Pittsburgh in the playoffs in 2001 with the way that season ended. Despite that facet, it burns my @$$ that they just took it away from Oakland for no reason and just handed it to the Patriots. To this day I can't see highlights of that game without entering a fit of rage. Tuck rule my @$$!!!!

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or