There are few moments in football history that stand out as much as the infamous Tuck Rule game.
Since that moment, the Raiders have a nasty chip on their shoulder against the Patriots, and specifically Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The faces of a team that crushed what might have been another era of a Raiders dynasty.
But this wasn’t the beginning of the rivalry between these two teams. Both teams were in the AFL prior to the merger in 1970, so they met regularly in the 60s. Since 1960, the Raiders have faced the Patriots 35 times, and the Pats lead 19-15-1. In the 70s, the Raiders had the upper hand. In fact, Oakland downed the Patriots in the 1976 AFC Divisional playoff game on the way to their first SuperBowl win.
The Patriots had a tough run of luck in the playoffs after that. Until they met the Raiders in the playoffs again in 1985, when they would go on to lose the SuperBowl to the Chicago Bears. They had no luck in the playoffs after that, until they met the Raiders in 2001 and history was made.
Bad Blood Runs Deep – The Patriots’ Chip
The two teams have carried bad blood for so many reasons outside of the tuck rule. The Patriots have always been critical of the Raiders playing style, claiming that the team is full of violent offenders who play dirty football. Back then, dirty football was the way to go. But the Pats aren’t completely off base about it, the Raiders just played harder than any other team in the league.
One of the most famous examples of that came in a preseason game on August 12, 1978. The Patriots had traveled to Oakland Coliseum and the two teams clashed. The game would go down in history as the only example at the time of a player being permanently paralyzed from a hit.
During the game, Pats’ QB Steve Grogan threw an errant pass in the direction of wide receiver Darryl Stingley, the team’s 1973 first round draft pick. Stingley dropped his head toward the poorly-thrown ball in hopes of recovering the play and was immediately met by Raiders Safety Jack Tatum.
Stingley hit Tatum’s shoulder pad at full speed right on the crown of his helmet and immediately crumpled to the ground. The teams held their collective breath as play stopped and Stingley was rushed to the hospital. It was later determined that he had broken his 4th and 5th cervical vertebrae and would be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. I’d like to note that I will not post the video of the hit, it’s difficult to watch at best and it’s not something to be celebrated.
And the Raiders immediately knew it. After the game, Raiders Coach John Madden rushed to the hospital to check on the injured player. He was the only one to do so. The Patriots had already boarded their team plane and were just about to lift off the ground when Madden called them to inquire about their plans for Stingley. It was only then that the plane returned to the gate.
After the incident, Stingley created a close bond with Madden and Raiders offensive guard Gene Upshaw, who has been a champion in players’ rights, especially as respects medical coverage for those injured prior to the information about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). The two remained close to Stingley throughout his life.
The Patriots Hold the Last Laugh
Ask any Raiders fan who has followed the team since at least the early 2000s and you’ll likely get a reaction something like this:
The Patriots suck! We got cheated in the Tuck Rule game on our way to the Super Bowl and we would have won too! Brady wouldn’t be who he is today without those cheating refs!
In short, Raider Nation holds a grudge. But this one is for a very good reason.
In 2001, the Raiders met the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Raiders were tied with the Patriots in the closing minutes of the 4th quarter when Raiders Cornerback Charles Woodson sacked New England QB Tom Brady, forcing a fumble.
But wait…it wasn’t.
The immediate call on the field was a fumble, but after Pats coach Bill Belichick conferred with the referees, the call was reviewed. It took a full 15 minutes for the final decision. Incomplete pass.
Whatever the rules were at the time that game was played, it was lost on one play. One rule that altered the course of the Raiders’ history. A rule that was used a total of 4 times in its entire 14-year tenure in the NFL rulebook, twice that year.
Charles Woodson has held fast to the opinion that the Raiders were robbed of that play. His only recourse at this point, as he stated in his episode of “A Football Life”, was to sit former college teammate Tom (Brady) down over a beer and ask him. “Come on, Tom. You know you fumbled that ball.”
The fact that the Raiders faced arguably the greatest coach of all time and the only way they were beaten was on one of the most controversial calls ever says a lot for the early 2000s Raiders and Jon Gruden. Gruden has taken over again in Oakland and knowing him, he’ll want to meet the Patriots again, and pay Brady and Belichick back for that snowy day that changed all of their lives.