Sunday marks the 12-year anniversary of another New England Patriots playoff matchup against an AFC West foe: The “Tuck Rule Game” — or the “Snow Bowl,” depending on what part of the country is discussing the legendary AFC divisional-round game.
It appeared all hope was lost for the Patriots after Oakland Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson strip-sacked Tom Brady with New England driving down the field but trailing by three points with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter. This was an era before iPhones, so no one was checking Twitter to find out exactly what happened. The home crowd went from heartbroken to elated in a matter of a few confused moments without ever knowing exactly what had transpired or why the Patriots were allowed to keep the ball.
In the box score, it goes down as “Tom Brady: incomplete pass,” but that play has sparked two Hall of Fame careers: Brady’s and head coach Bill Belichick‘s. And as the Patriots prepare to face the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, we dare to ask what would’ve happened had the tuck rule not been in place.
After the Patriots won the Super Bowl that season, Belichick had no other option than to trade quarterback Drew Bledsoe and ride with Brady. But without a Super Bowl ring, trading Bledsoe likely would’ve led to ire from the New England faithful. Even after the Patriots won it all, some still questioned if swapping Bledsoe for Brady was the right thing to do.
Had there been no “butterfly effect” and everything else transpired the exact way it has the next 12 years, Brady also would have one less Super Bowl ring. He wouldn’t be looking to tie Terry Bradshaw and pass Joe Montana with four. Instead, he’d have as many rings as Super Bowl defeats — and Eli Manning.
With the “butterfly effect” in place, who knows what would’ve happened? The Patriots missed the playoffs in 2002, and suddenly, that 2003 team might not have had the same kind of confidence in Belichick. Remember, the head coach cut Lawyer Milloy before Week 1 in 2003, a decision that didn’t sit well with the rest of the team. A Super Bowl victory added some eminence to Belichick’s madness.
Obviously, the “Tuck Rule Game” didn’t single-handedly make Brady and Belichick who they are today. But it’s the game that sparked it all. A weird twist of the rulebook changed the Patriots’ fate from lovable losers to the team of the 2000s.
There probably won’t be another “Tuck Rule Game,” but the Patriots have faced many odd twists and turns throughout the 2013 season. They lost to the New York Jets on an obscure rule when defensive tackle Chris Jones pushed his own teammate in the back during a field goal attempt. They lost to the Carolina Panthers when tight end Rob Gronkowski was interfered with in the end zone, but the official inexplicably picked up the flag.
After 10 years without a Super Bowl title, maybe the Patriots need another “Tuck Rule Game” to spark another dynasty. What better day than this Sunday, the 12-year anniversary of the “Snow Bowl,” as New Englanders refer to it.
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