fb-pixelNFL overwhelmingly kills ‘Tuck Rule’ - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

NFL overwhelmingly kills ‘Tuck Rule’

The “tuck rule” grew in prominence in 2002, when an apparent Tom Brady fumble on this play was called back because of the rule. Had the play been ruled a fumble, the Patriots would have lost the game. Instead, they won the Super Bowl.BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS

PHOENIX — NFL owners voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to strike the “tuck rule” from the books. From now on, if a passer loses possession of the ball while trying to bring it back into his body, it is a fumble, not an incomplete pass.

The rule is of particular significance to Patriots fans, as it figured in perhaps the most infamous call reversal in franchise history.

Late in New England’s divisional-round playoff game against Oakland on Jan. 19, 2002, Tom Brady appeared to fumble when his former Michigan teammate, cornerback Charles Woodson, stripped him of the ball and it was recovered by Raiders teammate Greg Biekert.


But upon review, referee Walt Coleman overturned the fumble under the tuck rule. Brady’s arm was moving forward, he determined, when Woodson came flying in, and therefore it was an incomplete pass.

The play is forever part of Patriots lore. The drive kept alive, Brady led the offense into field goal territory, Adam Vinatieri kicked the overtime-forcing and winning field goals, and New England went on to win its first Super Bowl.

And now the call itself is history.

The tuck rule, created in 1999, was stricken from the rule book by a 29-1 vote.

The Steelers voted against eliminating the rule, and the Redskins joined the Patriots as teams abstaining.

On Monday, New England owner Robert Kraft was asked about the vote and said, “I love the tuck rule, and forever will, and I know [longtime Raiders owner] Al Davis, may he rest in peace, is probably smiling.”

Kraft said then that he might have to abstain, citing his “great bond” with the obscure rule.

Redskins general manager Bruce Allen was a Raiders senior executive from 1996-2003 and told the Washington Post that he opted not to vote as a tribute to Davis, who frequently abstained when it came to league votes.


Allen also said he didn’t have a problem with the tuck rule itself, but believes it was wrongly applied in the game that snowy night against the Patriots.

Earlier in the week, Competition Committee member and Rams coach Jeff Fisher joked that the elimination of the rule could not be applied retroactively.

The Raiders showed some good humor Wednesday when the message, “Adios, Tuck Rule,” was posted on the team’s Twitter page after the results became public.

On Tuesday morning, when coach Bill Belichick was asked about the possible elimination of the rule, he noted that while the rule went New England’s way in the postseason, it went against the Patriots in the regular season that year.

In Week 2 at home against the Jets, Anthony Pleasant strip-sacked Vinny Testaverde on first and goal from the Patriots 10 in the second quarter, and Richard Seymour recovered the fumble.

The play was reversed after review under the tuck rule. Despite retaining possession, the Jets didn’t score a touchdown but did get a field goal, tying the game at 3-3. Curtis Martin’s third-quarter TD gave New York a 10-3 win.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

Correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this story gave the wrong year for the Patriot-Raiders game in which the “Tuck Rule” was invoked. The game was in 2002.