HENDERSON, Nev. -- With Sunday's airing of ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary on the Tuck Rule Game, called "Tuck Rule," here's a behind-the-scenes look at what went down on that snowy New England night that not only launched the legend of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots' dynasty, but hastened the decline of the Raiders ... from a certain perspective.
Lincoln Kennedy, an All-Pro right tackle with the Raiders, went in-depth on the play and its ramifications in his recent book, "If These Walls Could Talk: Raiders" with ESPN Las Vegas Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez:
'Never should have even happened'
Kennedy: If you're a longtime Raiders fan, the Tuck Rule Game is up there with the "Immaculate Deception" in the 1972 AFC divisional playoffs at Pittsburgh, the Rob Lytle Fumble in the 1977 AFC title game at Denver, and Otis Taylor getting only one foot inbounds in the 1969 AFL title game against the Chiefs. All bad playoff memories that went against the Raiders. For me, it's more than a bad memory -- as I said earlier, it is one of the few times in my professional life I wish I had a do-over. And I'll get into that in a bit.
Here's the thing -- the Tuck Rule Game never should have even happened. Not if we had handled our business at the end of the regular season. Look, after an 8-2 start that included a heartbreaking, last-second loss at Miami in our second game, we lost four of our last six games, including the last three straight, to finish 10-6. We lost out on a bye in the first week of the playoffs.
To break it down further, our last game of the season, at home against the New York Jets, was a game that had been postponed from Week 2 of the season, when the NFL moved all of those games back after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Still, we were at home. But Sebastian Janikowski, our first-round draft pick kicker the year before, was out that day with cellulitis in his foot. So we signed Brad Daluiso off the street for one game. His only game of the 2001 season. The last game of his 11-year NFL career.
He missed an extra point in the second quarter. Then he missed a 28-yard field goal in the third quarter. Yeah, he did make three other field goals, from 23, 44 and 37 yards, so maybe if we had been able to finish some drives it would not have come down to him. Or if Rich Gannon's pass to a wide-open Roland Williams down the right side had been just a hair shorter to convert on third-and-2 with just over two minutes to play, we would have been able to milk the clock and end it.
Instead, the Jets got the ball back, and John Hall's season-long 53-yard field goal with 59 seconds to go gave us a 24-22 loss and dropped us to the No. 3 seed in the AFC. Win that game and we're the No. 2 seed, behind the No. 1-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers, while the New England Patriots would have been No. 3, the Miami Dolphins No. 4, and the Baltimore Ravens, the defending champs, No. 5. The Seattle Seahawks, in their last year in the AFC West before realignment sent them to the NFC West in 2002, would have been the No. 6.
In other words, while we and the Steelers would have been home resting on wild-card weekend, the Seahawks would have gone to New England and, like it happened in real life, the Ravens would have played at the Dolphins. And if both the Ravens and Patriots had won their games, we still would have played the Patriots ... just in Oakland. Not in the New England snow.
As it was, Hall's kick got the Jets into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, and we got a wild-card weekend rematch in Oakland, where, until the previous week, they had not won since 1962. After the Jets beat us in that final game, Frank Middleton got into it with a bunch of Jets players because they were chanting, "J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets!" In Oakland. So that week, I told the guys, "I want to beat the 'Jets' out of them."
We stomped a mudhole in their butts. We beat them pretty convincingly, 38-24. So after that game, Frank was yelling, "J-E-T-S, Just, Go, Home!" Maybe he didn't use that language, but, you know. And it set us and, really, the rest of the NFL, up for a date with destiny in New England on Jan. 19, 2002.
'Dude, it's a hit. It's a fumble'
We landed in New England on a Thursday night and got off the plane -- clear skies, moon was out, brisk, absolutely beautiful night. There was no snow on the ground, nothing. I was thinking, Damn, this is really nice. I had never played in New England prior to that point. It was beautiful. The weather was beautiful. It felt good. The crisp air. It felt good. Next day at practice, the sun was out. Beautiful. Nice winter day. OK.
The morning of the game, I got up, opened my window shades: snow was coming down. Oh s---. Now, I did not have any success in snow games. I lost the Apple Cup in college against Drew Bledsoe and Wazzou [Washington State] my senior year in college, 42–23 in the Palouse. I had no success in snow games. So I was thinking, OK, these are thick snowflakes that are coming down. It snowed all day. Alllllll day. We were the late game that night, and it was just like, 'Oh, my gosh, here we go again.' But we still felt we were the better team. We were going to take care of business. And we played a terrible game. We should have won. We should have won that game.
Now, the Patriots had gone 11-5, but they had lost their $103 million quarterback, Drew Bledsoe -- the guy taken No. 1 overall in the same draft I went No. 9 -- in the second game of the 2001 season. Bledsoe was blasted by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis on a sideline hit and got a sheared blood vessel in his chest. He almost died. In stepped Tom Brady, who led the Patriots to an 11-3 finish.
Jon Gruden came into the team meeting the night before the game and said, "Bledsoe's going to suit up, but what I'm hearing is they're going to start this guy named Tom Brady. Sixth-round draft choice out of Michigan. I don't know much about this guy, but we're going to be ready. We're going to go out there and take care of business." Then comes the game. In a blizzard. Five inches of snow fell, and it was 25 degrees at kickoff.
But we were handling our business and were up by 10 points, 13-3, entering the fourth quarter. Brady then came to life and led the Patriots on a touchdown drive, going 67 yards in 10 plays before running it in himself from 6 yards out to get within 13-10 with less than eight minutes to play. No matter.
We traded punts and had the ball at our own 44-yard line, third-and-1 with 2:24 to go, and the Patriots only had one timeout left. If we got the first down, we could run out the clock and either go to Pittsburgh the next week for the AFC title game, or play the Ravens in Oakland for the right to go to the Super Bowl. The Steelers and Ravens were playing the next day.
We had this. Time for our bread-and-butter play. We ran 14-Blast, and Frank Middleton, who was playing guard right next to me, missed the block. Zack Crockett got stuffed by Tedy Bruschi and Ty Law for no gain. Now it was fourth-and-1, and the Patriots took their last timeout with 2:19 to play.
We got back to the line of scrimmage and were thinking, "We've got the play. It's midfield, let's go for it." We knew what had happened the play before because Frank came back to the huddle and was like, "Dude, my bad, my bad. I thought he said 15-Blast."
"Oh, f---, well, okay, we've got this. Let's just do this."
Frank had gone the wrong way, and Bruschi and Law came through to stop Zack for no gain. Frank said, "I went the wrong way."
"S--- happens. Let's do this. We've got this."
Instead, Gruden sent in Shane Lechler, the punter, and I was like, 'Grrrrr.' We never got the ball back. Remember how I was talking about wanting a do-over? That was it. I wish we would have gone for it on fourth down there. That was one of those, I just wish Gruden wasn't so conservative. That was always my biggest gripe, especially Gruden's early years -- very conservative. We worked our butts off, I worked my tail off, to be that go-to offensive lineman. Run it right up the crack of my ass. I'm going to get this first down for you.
Once he punted the ball away, we never got the ball back. Enter the Tuck Rule. With 1:50 to play and the Patriots at our 42-yard line, Brady dropped back to pass and was absolutely blasted by Charles Woodson, coming on a corner blitz from Brady's front. He never saw C-Wood coming. The ball popped out, Greg Biekert recovered the football, and the offense ran onto the field.
We got the ball, we got the ball. Except ... This play's under review. I was standing next to Biekert and C-Wood, and we were all looking up at the replay on the big screen. How are they going to review it? C-Wood said, "It's our ball. That's a clean hit. That's a fumble. That's our ball."
But Greg said, "It's taking too long."
I said, "Greg, what are you talking about?"
"It's taking too long. If it was that definitive, it would have already come back."
Part of our defense and most of our offense was on the field. That Phil Collins song "In the Air Tonight" was blaring over the stadium's loudspeakers. Nonstop. Yeah, something was in the air, all right. We were walking onto the field, and now the play was under review, right? Greg said to me, "We're the Raiders. They're going to find a way to take it from us."
"Dude, it's a hit. It's a fumble."
And then they came back with this rule. And I used to pride myself on knowing all the rules of the game. But what the f--- is a Tuck Rule? What? He wasn't throwing the ball. And C-Wood said, "He wasn't throwing the ball, he had both hands on it."
Here's what referee Walt Coleman, who never worked another Raiders game in his career, by the way, leaned on -- Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2 from the NFL's rule book: "It is a Forward Pass if: When a Team A player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his hand starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body."
Whatever. There's this, too: "Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble."
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Different angles showed different things, including one angle that showed Brady with both hands on the ball at the time of impact. The rest is history. Sidenote: the only reason the play was reviewed was because it happened with less than two minutes to play. Brady was walking off the field. The Patriots weren't going to challenge that.
Anyway, that drive continued, and Adam Vinatieri tied the game at 13-13 with a 45-yard field goal through the snow with 27 seconds to go. Yeah, I guess we did get the ball back, technically, but even though we had two timeouts remaining, and we were on our own 35-yard line, Gruden had Rich Gannon down the ball. We'd play for overtime and, I guess, hope we'd win the coin toss. Remember, overtime was sudden-death back then.
We lost the coin toss and never touched the ball again. The Patriots drove right down, using 15 plays to go from their own 34-yard line to our 5-yard line and even converted on fourth-and-4 from our 28-yard line. Gruden used a timeout to try and ice Vinatieri but, as Vinatieri later said, that just gave him time to clear a spot in the snow for better footing. The chip-shot game-winner from 23 yards out was good. Ballgame. And that was the last game ever played at Foxboro Stadium. Good riddance.
Gruden came in the locker room after that and said, "They're never going to let the Raiders win." That struck me that he said "the Raiders" instead of "us." Everybody was deflated. After the ruling came back, it just took all of the air out of our sails. Charles told a TV interviewer in the locker room, "It's bulls---. That's exactly how I feel. It's a bulls--- call. Never should have been overturned."
We were just shells. I was mad and said, "I can't believe they f---ed us out of this game. They took this game from us." I was angry at the refs. "You guys screwed us out of this f---ing game." I didn't even watch the Super Bowl after that season, I was so upset.
Pulling the Tuck Rule out of your ass is one thing. But that whole thing just set everything off to a place where you couldn't predict. After the fact, what always stood out to me was the tale of two franchises from that game. Yeah, we went to the Super Bowl the next year, but since then, as I've mentioned elsewhere, the Raiders have had only one winning season since [two now after the Raiders went 10-7 in 2021]. Al Davis said it himself, he said the Tuck Rule Game was the "undoing" of a lot of things. Boy, was he ever right.
'It was a flash point'
New England fans framed it as sweet revenge for what they saw as a bogus roughing-the-passer penalty against Ray "Sugar Bear" Hamilton in a 1976 playoff game that kept alive Ken Stabler's game-winning drive for the Raiders. Again, whatever.
Raiders fans are still upset. And for good reason. Gruden had been rumored to be moving on all season, whether it was to college with Notre Dame or Ohio State or across the Bay to the San Francisco 49ers (if Steve Mariucci left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were also rumored to be pursuing Bill Parcells). Three weeks after the Tuck Rule Game, the rumors became reality, and I had a message to call Mr. Davis. His words were, "I never liked it when teams would interfere with coaches under contract."
Gruden still had one year remaining on his deal with the Raiders. Mr. D told me, "Tampa Bay came to me and they said they wanted Gruden." And he said, "I felt that I put the price tag so high that they wouldn't agree to it. And they did. Gruden is no longer our coach." Yeah, two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and $8 million.
So I hung up after I talked to him, got hold of Rich Gannon and Tim Brown, and I was like, 'Dude, what are we going to do?' Everyone had heard the news. "What the f--- are we going to do? We've got to hire from within."
Chuck Bresnahan was the defensive coordinator. No, no, not him, not him. We eventually decided it should have been Bill Callahan. After the trade went down, we all met with Mr. D. I put in my two cents and said I thought it should be Callahan. "He knows the system, we can keep everything the same." Marc Trestman? He was the quarterbacks coach, but Callahan had the run game. Trestman was developing the pass game, but I think Rich had said he wanted Callahan and not Trestman. I think. And Callahan was the offensive coordinator anyway.
People sometimes ask me how that one play changed history in the NFL. The NFL Network called it the No. 2 most controversial play of all time. It was a flash point, no doubt because so many wonder if Gruden would have been traded without that play and come back in 2018. But you can't say because you can't get into the mind of Jon Gruden. What if we had gone on to win the Super Bowl, would that have made him stay with all the problems that were out there? It all started with he wanted control. Then Callahan came in and tried to do things his way after we went to the Super Bowl, and the team revolted.
Other people ask about the Patriots. Yeah, this will be considered a hot take, but without the Tuck Rule, I don't think Brady makes the Hall of Fame. I don't think Bill Belichick becomes a Hall of Fame coach. Instead, here we are, two decades later, and Brady, who is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (weird how things come full circle, right?) has now played in half of the Super Bowls played in the 20 seasons since he became a starter -- half! -- and his record in the Super Bowl is now 7-3 after beating the defending champion Chiefs in February . Amazing.
I know Paul asked Brady about the Tuck Rule and whether or not it was truly a fumble on a conference call before the Patriots played at the Raiders in 2011. "You're never going to get the answer out of me you want," Brady joked. Nobody in Silver and Black is laughing, though. Especially since the Tuck Rule was abolished in 2013. We should have won that game.
This excerpt from If These Walls Could Talk: Raiders by Lincoln Kennedy with Paul Gutierrez is reprinted with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.TriumphBooks.com/WallsRaiders.