By: Bob George/
September 07, 2005

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A few years back, my seventh grade daughter read a book entitled Tuck, Everlasting.

No, it was not written by Charles Woodson.

Where: Gillette Stadium
Foxborough, Mass.
When: Thursday 9/8/05
8:00 PM EDT
TV National:
TV Local:
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 931
2005 Team
Patriots 0-0
Raiders 0-0
Latest Line: Patriots by 7 1/2
But it might just have well been. Woodson will probably bristle just as much today as he did on the snowy evening of January 19, 2002. On that evening, he went ballistic in postgame interviews, calling the key ruling of the game a bull-phooey (actually, he used a more colorful word than that which begins with the same four letters) call and insisting that his team had won the game.

Tom Brady's former Michigan teammate came in on a corner blitz from the left side. He smacked Brady on the arm just as it was coming forward but a fraction of a second before he tucked the ball back into his left hand. That fraction of a second was just enough for referee Walt Coleman to change the call from a fumble to an incomplete pass, "upon further review”. That reversal led to six unanswered Patriot points, the first three of which tied the AFC Divisional Playoff game in regulation, 13-13, and the second three won it in overtime.

Yo, Charles. Good call. Bad rule. Stuff happens.

Like in 1976. In a game littered with cheap shots and uncalled holding penalties galore committed against the Patriots, the hometown team battled the 13-1 Raiders (the one loss coming at Foxborough) tooth and nail and led, 21-17 late in the game. They had the Raiders stopped cold after holding on third and 18 at the New England 28-yard line. Instead of forcing the Raiders to have to go for it on fourth and 18, referee Ben Dreith called roughing the passer on nose tackle Raymond Hamilton. The Raiders got the ball at the Patriot 13, and scored five plays later on a one-yard run by Ken Stabler. The win sent the Raiders to the AFC Championship Game; in reality it decided Super Bowl XI thanks to the fact that Pittsburgh was too decimated by injuries and Minnesota was too jinxed to win the big one.

So there. Both teams have been wronged in facing each other in the playoffs. Ben Dreith versus Walt Coleman. Who got burned worse, the Patriots or the Raiders?

It would be too parochial to simply state the Patriots. Let's examine each situation closely and decide which team was ripped off more.

We'll begin with the Snow Bowl. It was the first Patriot playoff game in three seasons, the first under Bill Belichick. A raging blizzard that evening, which proved to be the final game at old Foxborough Stadium, was welcomed by all of Patriot Nation in that it figured to completely neutralize the Raiders, based in a temperate California venue which never gets snow.

But the Raiders played the Patriots tougher than anyone ever thought, especially on defense. The snow did slow down Tim Brown and Jerry Rice somewhat, but Charlie Garner had a nice game with 64 tough yards on 17 carries. The Raider defense really put the clamps on the Patriots, especially Woodson, who did a tremendous shutdown job on Troy Brown. The front seven, led by Grady Jackson and Greg Biekert, did a terrific job in preventing the Patriots from sustaining a decent ground game (the Patriot backs averaged 2.3 yards per carry).

Brady took over in the fourth quarter, hit on ten passes in a row at one time, and put the Patriots in a position to tie the game late in the quarter. Woodson let loose with his famous blitz, Brady lost the ball, Biekert recovered, and the Raiders had 1:43 to kill off before they could head to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship Game. But Coleman saw the replay, saw that Brady had not tucked the ball away, reversed the call, and completely took the wind out of the Raiders' sails.

What Raider Nation usually forgets at this point was that at the time, they still led, and the Patriots were still a ways away from getting a chance at a tying field goal. As things turned out, the Raider defense shut down the rest of the evening in disgust. It still took a miracle 45-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri to tie the game (a field goal which most people think was the best in league history), and the Patriots still had to win the overtime coin toss and drive some 61 yards to win the game. But had the Raiders simply not packed it in at the moment of the call reversal, the Raiders could still have won the game.

Would the Raiders have gone on to beat the Steelers? They think so. They probably also think they could have taken the Rams also. No dispute here, but this is not as clear cut as to what would have happened in 1976 had the Patriots not been victimized by perhaps the worst official's call in NFL history.

On the play in question, Hamilton and Richard Bishop did a stunt rush. Hamilton bore in on Stabler and crashed into his arm as he was releasing the ball. The play was a deep left sideline route to former Patriot running back Carl Garrett, which fell incomplete. Dreith threw the flag and called the penalty on Hamilton. Hamilton, to this day, calls the call "bull”. Even Stabler himself denies that he was roughed on the play, saying that "it wasn't a late hit”, all the while claiming that Dreith called Hamilton for a blow to the head which Stabler doesn't overtly concur with.

The real irony is that 2005 rules were applied on this play, not 1976 rules. With all the other cheap shots that happened in that game (George Atkinson breaking Russ Francis' nose on a tackle, among others), what Hamilton did to Stabler was incidental contact. Hamilton raised his right arm and merely plowed into Stabler as he was releasing the ball, not late. Back in 1976, this was not illegal, though it would be today. The film does not show Hamilton unnecessarily roughing Stabler at all.

This play gave the Raiders the ball at the Patriot 13. A Raider fan could claim that the Patriots could very well have stopped the Raiders here and held on to win, as the Patriots also had less than two minutes left to kill before the end of the game. But 13 yards is a lot less than half the field. The Raiders definitely had an easier path to the winning score than the Raiders did. We say this to show that the Dreith call crippled the Patriots worse than the Coleman call did to the Raiders.

The Raiders make their first visit to Foxborough since they were "wronged” in January of 2002 on Thursday night. Both teams bear grudges towards one another, but the Raider grudge is newer and fresher on the minds of players on both sides. This, and not the Dreith penalty, will be the main theme as the 2005 NFL season begins.

And both sides would agree that they would like the game decided by the players, and not the officials.