What if the tuck rule never existed and the Raiders beat the Patriots in 2002?
One call in the AFC divisional playoff game changed the course of history for two teams
Ask any Raiders fan about the "tuck rule" and you'll hear cries of despair, controversy and regret.
The year was 2002 and Oakland led its AFC divisional playoff game against the New England Patriots, 13-10 with under two minutes to play.
The game -- basically played in a blizzard -- was a close, low-scoring affair between two of the league's top teams, and it was only fitting that it would come down to the final drive. On first down with 1:50 left to play, Tom Brady dropped back to pass and was blindsided by former Michigan teammate and Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson.
Brady fumbled the ball, the Raiders recovered and it seemed as if Oakland was headed to the AFC Championship.
The ruling on the field was a fumble, but the referees reviewed the play to make sure it wasn't an incomplete pass. They came back with a shocking and bewildering decision: 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.
The little-known rule, forever known afterward as the "tuck rule" stated the following:
NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2. When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.
The rest is history. Brady got the Patriots into field goal range, and legendary kicker Adam Vinatieri nailed a 45-yarder to send the game to overtime. The Patriots got the ball first and marched down field until Vinatieri's 23-yard game-winner sent New England to the AFC Championship game.
The tuck rule was abolished by a 29-1 vote in 2013, but what if the rule had never existed in the first place? What would that mean for the Patriots and the Raiders? Here's a look at a few possibilities.
1. The Patriots dynasty never gets started
The Super Bowl win was the first for the Patriots, who went on to win two more titles over the next three years, and one more in 2015. Bill Belichick, Brady and Co. established a model for consistent success that has since been emulated by franchises even outside of football. But what if they lose that game against the Raiders? They never win their first Super Bowl and perhaps one of the greatest dynasties in sports never even gets started.
2. Jon Gruden never leaves and a Raiders dynasty begins
The Raiders had one of the game's best young coaches in Jon Gruden, but after the loss in the tuck rule game things went south. Owner Al Davis decided to trade Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for four draft picks and $8 million. The move was supposed to set up the Raiders for future success, and the team had another great season the following year. But, in a cruel twist of fate, the Raiders lost to the Gruden-coached Bucs in that year's Super Bowl. You have to believe that if the tuck rule never existed and the Raiders won the game against the Patriots, Gruden would have stuck around and the Raiders would have had a real shot at multiple Super Bowl titles.
3. Rich Gannon wins two Super Bowls and goes to the Hall of Fame
Journeyman quarterback Rich Gannon finally found a home with the Raiders in 1999. As the full-time starter he put up incredible numbers while leading Oakland's passing attack. Gannon made the Pro Bowl four times and was named the NFL MVP in 2002, but he never won a Super Bowl. If the tuck rule game goes the Raiders' way, perhaps Gannon wins his first Super Bowl that year. Then, if Gruden never leaves, perhaps they win the next year as well. With two Super Bowl wins added to his career numbers, Gannon would be a surefire Hall of Famer. As it stands now, he's on the outside looking in.
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