One Absolute Truth About Push-Gate: It Kills the Tuck Rule Debate

If You Accept the Push Rule – You Accept the Tuck Rule.

Patriot Haters have a vivid and celebrated imagination. And just like nothing tops charm of the original Star Wars, nothing will beat the origins of the Patriot Hater fantasy series: The Tuck Rule Game. In the closing minutes of a divisional playoff game the Raiders appeared to cause a young Tom Brady to cough up a game ending fumble, only to have it all reversed. Introducing the Tuck Rule: a bizarre never before heard of (except that it wasn’t) technicality that allowed the referee to interpret via instant replay the intent of the QB to attempt to pull the ball back into his body. Even saying it out loud in hindsight it makes no sense. Why would anyone put this in the rules? And yet, it was still a rule.

2013’s Push Gate had Patriots Nation crying foul. The controversy exposed a spontaneous emergence of NFL rules aficionados, that I could have sworn a week ago were conspiracy happy zealots convinced the rules didn’t apply to the Patriots. Ever. Their new rally cry: “rules are rules” and “let’s move on”. Okay, you win. 913 (b2) is in the rulebook. Let’s accept that. Let’s “move on.” Despite reports that the rule may have been changed after the fact, everything appears to be on the level with the actual rule.

But Here’s The Thing…

You know what else was in the rulebook? The Tuck Rule. Contrary to popular opinion the Tuck Rule was not a figment of referee Walt Coleman’s imagination invented to save the day for Tom Brady. The rule officially became a part of the NFL rules and procedures in 1999: NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2. It was in place for almost 3 years before the January 19, 2002 AFC Divisional Playoff Game between the Patriots and Raiders when the rule became famous. It was even enforced earlier in the 2002 season to negate a strip sack on Jets QB Vinny Testaverde that actually cost New England the game.

It was a very curious time to enforce an obscure rule with a vague premise. As Jon Gruden put it during week 1’s MNF broadcast while discussing the rule’s abolishment in 2013 “No one alive had ever heard of the Tuck Rule.” He’s not wrong. How would anyone have known about a rule that had barely been enforced in the 2 years it existed? But it was in the rule book, and it was in the rule book well before the “Tuck Rule Game.”

Of course the Tuck Rule debut looked bad. Why wouldn’t it? The season was on the line and one bizarre speech by a ref who didn’t even look convinced of his own rationale changed everything. It very well should have raised an eyebrow. It was a terrible rule. The NFL even had the motive to want to screw the Raiders. That’s the thing so many folks either don’t realize or choose to forget. Al Davis and the NFL publicly butted heads for years through multiple lawsuits and cat fights. The legal battles alone likely cost the NFL millions. If the Tuck Rule was a conspiracy then really the most probable rationale was to stick it to Al Davis, rather than to elevate unknown 6th round pick Tom Brady to stardom. The Raiders still aren’t over it. No one blames them. But guess what… It was in the rule book.

Now let me get to my point.

Fast forward to October 2013. The Jets attempt a 56 yard field goal in OT, well outside kicker Nick Folk’s career limit, and a seemingly normal missed field goal turns into a point of controversy. Something practically unnoticeable hands the game over to the Jets. Mike Pereira (who would defend Aaron Hernandez if he owned a black & white striped Foot Locker uni) insists that the call was correct, and points out that it was the first time the rule was ever called:

The timing of this spontaneous enforcement of the rule should set off red flags with any football fan. It essentially cancelled out 4+ quarters of football and rolled out a red carpet for a Jets win. Any fan who pretends this doesn’t look suspicious, or that they knew about the rule in depth, or that they could spot this rule infraction in real time is lying through their teeth.

But why get upset at the officials? All they did was enforce a published and documented rule. Right? Therein lies the logic trap, Pats Haters. If you accept that the referees did their job last Sunday, then you accept that they did their job with the Tuck Rule. Grit your teeth and do the math.

Nothing changes here. The levity of the game shouldn’t make any difference. Unveiling a rule that had up until then never once been called should look suspicious. Saying that the Jets won the game by the book is fine, and technically correct in every way. But if that’s the logic you subscribe to then you don’t get to pick and choose when the rules matter and when they don’t. If the Jets beat the Patriots fair and square then Brady’s 2001-2002 Patriots beat the Raiders. Fair and square. By the rules.

If you want to waive the rules in our face, fine. The rules are great. We’re nothing without them. Hooray for rules. But there’s no way around it IF YOU ACCEPT THAT THE PUSH RULE WAS VALID. THEN YOU ACCEPT THAT THE TUCK RULE WAS VALID. You don’t have to like it, but no one ever likes the rules. Do they? So “move on” from that already.

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