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Oh, how different things might have been without the Tuck Rule

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published March 22. 2013 4:00AM

Few developments in the history of sports are better cause to cue Handel's Hallelujah Chorus than the recent newsmaker from the National Football League:

The Tuck Rule is gone.

Oh, the humanity.

How will they cope up in Foxborough now that their rulebook binky is gone?

Let's ponder this for a moment.

It was January, 2002, during a snowstorm that Tom Brady lost the ball late in a playoff game, following a hit by Raiders' cornerback Charles Woodson. The Raiders, leading 13-10 with under two minutes remaining, recovered the fumble. Instant replay showed that Brady brought the ball back to his chest and was touching it with both hands, but hadn't tucked the ball back into his body.

The immortal Walt Coleman ruled an incomplete pass and gave possession to the Patriots, who won the game in overtime.

They hadn't won a playoff game before that since just before the Rough Riders stormed San Juan Hill.

Here's the best part: Some dim bulbs out there believe the organization's ensuing success would have happened nonetheless.

Really?

This is the Fallacy of the Predetermined Outcome, whereby one assumes that an outcome would be exactly the same even if hypothetically, the variables that led to the outcome changed.

Maybe Bill Belichick would have run Spygate into overdrive and the Patriots would have become dominant.

Or maybe not.

Still, the most ill-conceived, poorly written rule in NFL history spawned a generation of yahoos. Hard to believe that Red Sox fans, among the most loyal in sports, could be the same people that would act like new money during football season. Nobody ever knew Patriot fans existed before the Tuck Rule. Now they're the league's most dismissive fan base.

The same fan base that ignored the entire organization for years. They couldn't even watch home games on television because of blackout rules. Average attendance in 1989: 47,000. Average attendance in 1990: 38,952.

And let me just say this: Loyalists of the football Giants filled Yankee Stadium, the Yale Bowl and the Meadowlands every Sunday, even during the 18-year playoff drought, even when the best player was the punter (Dave Jennings). Giant fans: real. Patriot fans: with their team whether it wins or whether it wins.

A few other dullards have suggested that the Yankee dynasty was also built on luck, alluding to Jeffrey Maier's catch of Derek Jeter's fly ball in 1996. Note the word "dullards" from the previous sentence. Because here is the difference: Coleman had the benefit of replay. Had baseball used replay in 1996, Richie Garcia would have had no choice but to overturn his call.

No more Tuck Rule is joyous news for the rest of the NFL, which voted almost unanimously to dump it. (The Patriots, shockingly, abstained). Even Mike Pereira, once the Senior Director of Officiating in the NFL, hated it.

"If it looks like a fumble, and if it feels like a fumble, it ought to be a fumble," he wrote. "Are you going to protect the offense so much that you'll rule an incomplete pass even though it's perfectly clear that the quarterback is not attempting to pass the ball when the ball comes loose?"

And to think what the Tuck Rule launched.

Even other teams in Boston bristle at the Patriots' arrogance. Celtics radio play-by-play voice Sean Grande wondered, during the Heat-Celtics game earlier this week, why Robert Kraft chose Monday to utter his first public comments about the Wes Welker situation. Grande's implication: The Celtics were the show all day Monday in Boston. And Kraft couldn't stand it.

Typical.

Oh, well. Showbiz, as John Sterling likes to say. The New England Patriots got more mileage from the Tuck Rule than the rest of us get from a Toyota.

And now it's gone.

Heh, heh, heh.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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