On Pro Football
---- — There’s a reason the Oakland Raiders haven’t played a memorable game in over a decade.
They don’t get it.
They don’t understand the concept, and everything it entrails in the complex world of the NFL, of winning.
One could argue, because of their quirky and now-deceased owner, Al Davis, the franchise has been in a free fall — they haven’t won more than eight games over the last decade. But it’s more than that as we’ve seen from the recent responses from the ending of the “Tuck Rule.” Their fans, and some of their former players, don’t really understand what happened that snowy night.
As the National Football League rules committee voted to rid the game of the controversial “Tuck Rule,” which is a weird rule, which said “any dislodging of the ball during the forward movement of the quarterback’s arm, would be deemed an incomplete pass.”
It was a stupid rule. If a quarterback is not throwing the ball, and he loses it, it should be ruled a fumble. Yes, I like the end of the “Tuck Rule.”
But in 2001, the “Tuck Rule,” like it or lump it, did exist. It protected referees from making a decision: Was it a pass or not?
That’s not the issue.
The issue is the reaction with a lot of people connected to the Raiders.
Yes, it was a fluke the allowed the Patriots another life in the famous Snow Bowl game on Jan. 19, 2002, when Tom Brady appeared to be strip-sacked by then-Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson with 1:50 remaining in the AFC Divisional game. The Raiders were leading 13-10 and the Patriots were out of timeouts.
But here’s a problem I have with the Raiders.
The game wasn’t over after the crazy call.
There was still 1:50 remaining in the game and the Raiders still led.
In fact, let’s go to “big” plays before the two-minute warning. The Raiders had a chance to end the game there as well, with 2:24 remaining in the game, needing only one yard for a first down from their own 44 yard-line.
But Raiders fullback Zach Crockett was stopped when he ran into the back of the halfback, who had piled into the right guard, forcing a punt.
“We make that 99 times out of 100,” Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon told me when I wrote a story on the 10th anniversary of the game 14 months ago.
“Everyone talks about the ‘Tuck’ play and the tying kick. I look at that play as the killer.”
“To me that’s a play you can’t forget about. (Richard) Seymour makes the stop there. ... One thing this game had was a lot of good, situational football, which is surprising a bit because of the snow.”
The Raiders punted and blew another opportunity when Troy Brown, at the end of a beautiful 25-yard return to the Patriots’ 46-yard line, fumbled the ball.
Raiders punter Shane Lechler appeared to be in the best position to recover it, but Pats special teams captain Larry Izzo, who recovered a Brown fumble earlier in the game, stole it.
Now comes the real issue, one Raiders fans, employees and ex-employees forget to mention. There were 22 plays after the Brady “non-fumble.”
That means the Raiders had 22 opportunities to do something that could lead to a victory.
Instead it was the Patriots that converted two first downs, setting up Adam Vinatieri’s miraculous 45-yarder, which he termed was booted like a “two-iron,” to tie the game and force overtime.
Then in overtime, the Patriots won the toss -- obviously, that was luck -- and held the ball for 15 plays, which included Brady going eight-for-eight.
The Patriots had two third-down conversions and a fourth-down conversion, too, on that long drive.
Vinatieri easily nailed a 23-yarder, sending the Patriots to the AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh the following Sunday.
The point is “Tuck Rule,” hurt the Raiders. But there were a lot of missed opportunities before and after the call.
I liken it to the Bill Buckner error in the 1986 World Series. That was in Game 6. The Red Sox still had a Game 7 to make up for it and didn’t. That wasn’t Buckner’s fault.
The bottom line is that that game and that ruling will always be important in Patriots history because of everything that happened after that ruling was made by referee Walt Coleman.
As for the Raiders, it’s time to let the “Tuck Rule” go.
Trust me, from someone who was close to the Red Sox experience in 1986, once you do move on you and your organization will be better for it.