On January 19th, 2002, Tom Brady’s future in the world of professional football would permanently change following one controversial play.
Over 20 years ago, the New England Patriots went head to head against the Oakland Raiders during the AFC Division Playoff game. The game was infamous for many reasons; the athletes played in heavy snowfall, it was the last game to ever be played at Foxboro Stadium, and Tom Brady had his first career-defining moment in the NFL.
Legend has it, Raiders’ cornerback Charles Woodson tackled the quarterback and caused him to fumble the ball. However, after investigation, the call was overthrown and rewritten as an incomplete pass. Had the call stayed a fumble, Oakland would have gone further into the playoffs and Brady would have never won the Super Bowl that earned him a position as starting quarterback.
Why did this call happen? There is only one answer: the tuck rule. Although the rule has been retired since 2013, the NFL offers the following statement as a definition.
“When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.”
How the tuck rule controversy changed Tom Brady’s life forever
The play was heavily criticized at the time and even after 20 years, it still continues to stir conversation. In the latest episode of 30 for 30 on ESPN, Brady, and Woodson openly discussed the play.
The former Oakland Raiders player was quick to call it the “worst call in the history of sports” and even Brady admitted he played the system. When the two athletes began reenacting the scene and Woodson tapped the ball out of the 44-year-old’s hand, Brady was quick to laugh and share, “Fumble. Or in this case, tuck rule.”
“I’m probably the backup QB going into 2002,” the former New England Patriots went on to add. He shared why the rule had so much merit, explaining, “I’m not the starter if we lose that game.”
For Brady, this historic play in 2002 made his career. Had the call not been rewritten, his first Super Bowl would have never been won and he likely wouldn’t have gone on to win five more with New England.
Co-director Ken Rodgers expressed the significance of the play perfectly: “The Tuck Rule is certainly one of the most controversial calls in the history of sports, but it may also be one of its most consequential. It proves that one moment, this moment, any moment, can change our lives – just as it did for Brady and Woodson twenty years ago.”
He concluded, “It was awe-inspiring to hear these two friends talk with each other about that moment for the first time in their lives. Their emotions about that night are still fresh.”
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