Happy 20th Anniversary of the Snow Bowl – Or The Tuck Rule Game, Depending on Your Perspective – CBS Boston

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) – The great mystery of sports always lies in the unanswered question of “What if? ” Countless moments throughout sports history could have been and would have been significantly altered if only this had gone one way, if only to had gone the other. The theoretical domino effect from these points forward is impossible to calculate.

Alas, all of us actually have in sports is reality. And on Wednesday, New England football fans have a hell of a reality to celebrate as the unforgettable Snow Bowl turns 20 years old.

Of course, Raiders fans (and Patriots haters) probably refer to the day as the 20th anniversary of the Tuck Rule Game, not the Snow Bowl. This is because of the way in which the correct enforcement of a rule – no matter how strange that rule may have been, the had been enforced before that night, including in a way that negatively affected the Patriots even the same season – gave the Patriots a new life that fateful night in the old Foxboro Stadium. To say that they got the most out of their extra opportunity would be a massive understatement.

Immediately after Walt Coleman announced that the Patriots would retain possession of the ball after Charles Woodson knocked the ball out of Tom Brady’s hand, Brady delivered a strike to David Patten in the right hash. Patten fell to his knees to secure the catch before popping up and crawling to a 13-yard gain.

Brady threw incompletely on the next pass and was then hit when he threw on the next snap, sending a wounded duck into the defense that fell harmlessly to the snow-covered patch of grass.

Brady had nowhere to throw on the third down, leading to him crawling up the middle for a yard and thus putting the biggest kick in NFL history. Adam Vinatieri – who had missed four of his previous five attempts from the 40-49-yard range – came in and made one of the toughest kicks anyone has ever made. His 45-yard boot barely cleared the line and cut through the wind and snow before going through the posts to level the game at 13-13 with 27 seconds left of the game.

Nothing about that kick seems possible – the foothold, the pitch, the recent history, the conditions – but Vinatieri somehow got it through vertically and kept the New England season alive.

“I would say it was by far the biggest kick I’ve ever seen,” Bill Belichick said in 2018. “Conditions were very difficult. There was probably three to four inches of snow on the ground. It was a soft snow that, like “did not disappear. I mean there was no way around it. The size of the kick was significant. It must be the biggest kick ever, definitely, as I have seen.”

What is kind of lost to history after that is that the Raiders got the ball on their own 35-yard line with 22 seconds on the clock and two timeouts in their back pocket, with their own iron-footed kicker in Sebastian Janikowski available if needed. (Janikowski had scored a 45-yard field goal earlier in the game.)

But Jon Gruden decided to play things “safe” and encouraged Rich Gannon to kneel down and play for overtime.

Maybe a deep shot for Jerry Rice or Tim Brown would have been a better choice because the Raiders never touched football again.

The Oakland defense showed zero resistance in overtime, and Brady went 8-to-8 in 45 yards, needing only to convert a third down along the way. Once in the field goal range, the Patriots went to the ground fight, and Antowain Smith converted a third-and-5 with an 8-yard run. It created a much easier kick for Vinatieri this time and he obviously did not miss.

Adam Vinatieri celebrates his game-winning field goal against the Raiders. (Photo by / MediaNews Group / Boston Herald via Getty Images)

It was the last game in the history of Foxboro Stadium. For a building without too many good memories, it was a heck of a way to close the doors.

From there, everyone knows the story. The Patriots disrupted the Steelers in Pittsburgh the following week before triggering what was at the time the biggest disruption in Super Bowl history over St. Louis. Louis Rams. It was the first of three Super Bowls won by the Brady, Belichick and Patriots in four years, and started the most dominant stretch in two decades the NFL has ever seen.

Of course, given the controversial nature of the tuck rule, “what if?” which hangs over the fact that the game has messed with the minds of many sports fans over the years.

The Raiders franchise – despite getting a shot at redemption by reaching the Super Bowl a year later – has certainly never recovered properly.

The team went on a 14-year playoff drought after the Super Bowl loss, and the team has still not won a playoff game since 2002.

The NFL never again assigned Coleman to a Raiders game because of the way fans perceived him at the time.

Hall of Famer Ray Lewis once argued that “the only reason we know who Tom Brady is is [is] because of a tuck rule! “(Which somehow was not even most junk stuff, Lewis said at the time. Gruden said he would never get over it. Woodson is still quite outraged (and will express that frustration with Brady personally in an upcoming ESPN documentary).

If there is something “what if?” to able to be eliminated from the conversation, it may be doubtful that Brady needed the tuck rule to get big. Brady has apparently won seven Super Bowls, earned five Super Bowl MVPs, three NFL MVPs and 15 Pro Bowl picks, while becoming the NFL’s all-time leader in every meaningful passing streak and continuing to play on one MVP. level at the age of 44. Tuck rule or no tuck rule, Brady’s unique greatness was inevitable for the rest of the league, though the first title was delayed.

But of course, the world can not help but wonder how different it would have gone for the Patriots, if not for the proper enforcement of a strange rule. The logic would certainly dictate that the team had the right mix of talent and attitude to eventually win championships. Their two titles in ’03 and ’04 are a testament to that. But as always, this is the case with “What if?” sports, emphasis can be placed on making any alternative reality credible. Raiders fans would like to think Oakland would have kept pulling the disruptions over the Steelers and Rams in the weeks that followed, resulting in the first of several Super Bowls won by Gruden in Oakland.

Instead, Al Davis essentially fired Gruden and traded him to Tampa Bay for draft picks. Gruden beat the Raiders with the Bucs in the Super Bowl the following year.

And even though the Patriots failed to reach the playoffs in 2002, their Super Bowl victories in ’03 and ’04 began a stretch to reach the playoffs in 16 out of 17 years. With Brady and Belichick, the team reached nine Super Bowls in total and won six of them, creating a truly remarkable stretch of success – a level supposed to be unattainable in an era of pay ceilings and parity.

Again, logic may say that some or all of this was inevitable, that Brady and Belichick’s combined GOAT forces would always have to result in more championships, no matter what happened on the night of January 19, 2002. That may be true, but we will never know.

What we no doubt know is that the foundation of this whole victory – for all six Lombardi trophies residing in Foxboro – was laid 20 years ago today.

Patriots fans celebrate during the Snow Bowl. (Photo via San Jose Mercury News / Nhat V. Meyer / Getty Images)

You can send an email to Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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