Tack to the Future: What if the “Tuck Rule” never existed?


graphic by Ella Wiebusch

Stefan Collins, Contributing Writer

Synchronize your watches. We’re going back to the early Nineties, the era of the New England Patriots dynasty and date of birth of half their fan base!


The Patriots of the twenty-first century have dominated the NFL, thanks to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady running the show in FoxboroughThis newfound dynasty began in 2001 when veteran Quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered an injury and was replaced by second year Quarterback/former sixth round draft pick Tom Brady. Brady lead the Patriots to an 11-5 record, paving the way to the number two seed in the AFC playoffs. Through this feat, Brady earned himself the starting spot for the remainder of the season. The Patriots managed to overcome the odds and beat the Raiders in the infamous “Tuck rule” game. The Patriots then defeated the number one seeded Steelers in the AFC title game and the heavily favored Rams in the Super Bowl.


The Patriots went on to win two more Super Bowl titles in the next three years and were all but guaranteed a statue in Canton for Billichick, Brady, and Adam Viniatari (of course, greatly helped by modern technology, but lets not get into that). Perhaps things would have turned out differently if it weren’t for what is often referred to as “the most controversial call in NFL history.”   


January 19, 2002 was a cold, snowy night in Foxbourgh, Massachusetts. Billichick’s Patriots matched up against Jon Gruden’s Oakland Raiders in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon had led the Raiders to an early lead over the Patriots, who fought back in the 4th quarter to be within a Field Goal of tying the game. 


With a minute and 50 seconds left in the 4th Quarter, Raiders All-Pro Corner-Back Charles Woodson ran past the line of scrimmage untouched and sacked Tom Brady, who fumbled the ball. Subsequently, the ball was was recovered by Raider Line Backer Greg Beikertessentially ending the game and sending the Raiders to the AFC championship game. 


Though, that would have been the case if it weren’t for infamous “Tuck rule” which states that, 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.” It was a rule that even Brady was unfamiliar with. Whether this was the correct call or not is up for debate, as Brady had already completed the forward pass motion and was holding the ball in his usual drop back stance when Woodson forced the fumble. The call went the way of the Patriots. They kicked the gametying field goal and went on to win in over time, sparking the first of (currently) six Super Bowl wins in the Brady/Belichick era. 


But how would history have changed if the “Tuck rule” never existed? Well, let’s start with how the 2001 season would have been different. The AFC championship game would have featured the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz field in Pittsburgh. A classic rivalry restored at last. Maybe John Madden and Pat Summeral would be calling the game and Chuck Noll would be an honorary guest on the Steelers sideline to make it seem even more nostalgic. The Raiders would have won that game against Bill Cowhers Steelers, who choked in every big game in that era until February of 2006 when they won Super Bowl XL (With some help from the officiating crew). 


Super Bowl XXXVI would have featured two former Los Angelesbased franchises as the Raiders would have played against Kurt Warner and the (then) St. Louis Rams. The “greatest show on turf” would have won that game, establishing them as one of the greatest teams in NFL history and all but guaranteeing a place in the NFL Hall of Fame for Warner and fellow teammates Isaac Bruce and Marshall Faulk. 


The Raiders may have fallen short in 2001 but in this alternate timeline the Raiders make the Super Bowl the following season, just like they did in real life, only this time John Gruden would still be the head coach of the Raiders. What is the significance of this you ask? John Gruden was the Head Coach of the Super Bowl XXXVII champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The ring they earned was thanks to their famous “Tampa 2” Defense, featuring the likes ofWarren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and Ronde Barber. Without John Gruden, would they have won their only Lombardi trophy in team history? Or would the Raiders have claimed their fourth overall?


Meanwhile over in New England, Drew Bledsoe, the superior Quarterback on the Patriots roster at the time, would have resumed his starting role. Perhaps you’re thinking something along the lines of “There’s no way Bledsoe could have won Super Bowls like Brady did.” Well, that’s where you’re wrong. Here’s something Patriots fans won’t want to hear: Tom Brady is overrated. The dominance of the Patriots in the early 2000s came from one of the most underrated Defenses in the history of the NFL. Featuring the likes of Willie McGinnest, TY Law, Teddy Bruschi, and Rodney Harrison. With that defense and Billichick on the side lines. The Patriots would have no problem going to the Super Bowl with Bledsoe under center and bringing the first trophy to “Title town” in the new millennium. 


So, what about Brady? It is safe to assume that Belichick would have traded him after a reasonable 2001 season for something more valuable than a sixthround pick. Wherever he may have ended up he would not have won all those Super Bowls and wouldn’t have become a legend without Belichick and dink and dunk system that he played/is playing in. 


That’s all for this week, I hope you enjoyed reading. I imagine a lot of you readers may remember the tuck rule. If not, you have certainly witnessed the Patriots dominance, which can all be traced back to this moment in history.