By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Among the many things that have become crystal clear in the 21st century is the simple fact that the Oakland Raiders and everybody associated with the organization will never, ever, ever get over the anguish and anger that stems from the famed Tuck Rule Game.
Numerous parties have made it quite obvious in the days, weeks, months and decades that followed that fateful January 2002 night in Foxboro that the rage burning from that rule being applied would never subside. Despite the fact that, well, the Raiders did have numerous chances to make one play and still win the game that night, seemingly all of the blame still gets put squarely on The Tuck Rule.
But if there ever were one person who is uniquely qualified to be exceptionally miffed about this moment in sports history, it would of course be Jon Gruden. He was the head coach that evening, and he was feeling pretty good about the job he was doing in Oakland. After inheriting a 4-12 team, Gruden got the Raiders to .500 for two years before leading them to back-to-back AFC West titles. With his Raiders looking to be on the verge of victory in Foxboro that night, a trip to the Pittsburgh for the AFC title game would have seemingly given Gruden some real job security.
But instead, referee Walt Coleman applied the rule after a replay review, the Patriots kept possession, Tom Brady drove the Patriots another 14 yards, Adam Vinatieri hit an impossible 45-yard kick in the snow to tie the game, and then the Patriots drove 60 yards in overtime for the game-winning score.
A month later, the Raiders traded Gruden to Tampa Bay.
Gruden would of course get his revenge rather quickly, leading the Bucs to a Super Bowl victory over — who else? — the Oakland Raiders just one year later. Yet despite that happy ending and the sweet revenge, Gruden in 2018 is still mad about the Tuck Rule.
“That’s probably a big reason I’m never going to be a fan of instant replay,” Gruden told Peter King. “Instant replay was [meant] to correct an obvious wrong. I don’t know how they worded it. But they shouldn’t have overturned that play. That’s a complete joke.”
For the record, the rule was worded like this: “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 fairly straightforward, and given the fact that the rule had been applied numerous times in NFL games, its existence was not exactly a mystery when it popped up in that moment. TV color commentator Phil Simms basically had it pegged before the final ruling came down.
Brady began to throw the ball, decided against it (because the Raiders knew what was coming), and just after reeling in his throw, the quarterback was hit by Charles Woodson. The rule was properly applied. You could argue that it’s not a great rule if you want, but you couldn’t really argue that it was improperly applied.
Nevertheless, Gruden doesn’t like it. And with the rule getting voted out of the NFL in 2013, Gruden saw that development as a vindication for feeling robbed for so long.
“Where’s the tuck rule today, Peter? It’s not even in the game,” Gruden told King. “When you overturn a play for a rule like that, that’s no way to lose a game. Especially a playoff game. It is what it is, as they say today.”
Gruden’s not altogether wrong here. The Tuck Rule was not the world’s greatest rule. The Patriots benefited from its existence, and it cost the Raiders a huge turnover.
However, it didn’t cost the Raiders more than that. Oakland’s defense and team-wide focus went into the toilet after that rule was applied, thus allowing the Patriots to complete an incredible comeback victory. (Watch Oakland’s “effort” on this 20-yard catch-and-run by J.R. Redmond and try to come up with a word other than “pathetic” to describe it. Oakland did not cover Jermaine Wiggins on a third-and-5 later in the drive, and then didn’t cover David Patten on a fourth-and-4 a few players later.)
Given that the man who was head coach that night still can’t quite help but feel very wronged by the application of a rule, it’s easy to see how and why that team collapsed the way it did in that moment.
Unfortunately, the Raiders and Patriots will not meet during the 2018 regular season. But from a spectacle standpoint, we all have to hope that Gruden’s first year back in the league leads to him and his Raiders taking a mid-January trip to Foxboro. A little bit of snow, Brady under center, Gruden and Bill Belichick on the sidelines? The mere idea ought to give the football world something to root for this season.