, Newburyport, MA


March 22, 2013

Tuck rule, we hardly knew thee

Probably all of us at one time or another has benefitted from a cheeky twist of fate, or an unfair advantage that gave us the edge over some better-deserving person.

We can certainly say that is true of our New England Patriots. It was on a snowy night in January 2002 that a new word entered our lexicon -- the Tuck Rule. No one had heard of it before that night, but pretty much everyone who follows sports has heard of it since.

Football is a sport with more game-governing legislation than even Congress could ever imagine drafting, and the Tuck Rule was just one of those many obscure subsections.

But it became a household word late in a playoff game between the Patriots and the Oakland Raiders, on a play that by rights seemed to result in a fumble by quarterback Tom Brady, and a recovery by the Raiders. We all knew in our hearts that the Patriots miracle season of 2001-2 ended right there and then on that snowy field, and their improbable Super Bowl victory a few weeks later would never happen.

But the Tuck Rule changed all that. The rule said there was no fumble. The ball went back to the Patriots. They rallied and won the game.

The Raiders and their fans fumed, and of course we would have too had the Tuck Rule ended our season. But it was one of those rare moments in life when a stinker of an unfair rule actually proved to be a pretty good one, at least in our eyes.

This week, the National Football league officially did away with the Tuck Rule, and of course there was reaction all over the league.

“Tuck Rule? It’s been 11 years, 1 month and 23 days…but who’s counting?” the Raiders team tweeted.

There is a final bit of irony. It’s reported that there was only one team in the NFL that voted against eliminating the Tuck Rule. It was the Steelers. We can only guess why.

As for the Patriots, they abstained from voting on it.

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