If you’re wearing a press pass during the week Super Bowl, you never know who may stumble into your field of vision. Look, Deacon Jones walking out of the media center. Oh, hey, Joe Montana is hawking avocados on a radio station. There’s Jared From Subway, doing God knows what.
And there was Rich Gannon, the former Raiders quarterback who owns a unique place in Patriots history. He was the first quarterback Tom Brady ever faced in a playoff game, and he was the losing quarterback in one of the most important games in franchise history.
Who knows what would have been different in Walt Coleman didn’t nail the Tuck Rule call? Since that day, the Patriots have 109 wins including the playoffs, most in the NFL over that span. The Raiders have won 42 games, ahead of only the Detroit Lions.
“You think about how that game impacted two teams,” Gannon said. “We go back to Oakland, we lose our coach, Jon Gruden. Really, I think that was the beginning of the downfall for the Raiders. And then of course, they go on to win three Super Bowls. It turned two teams.
“I’ll say this about that game, though. We had plenty of chances to win that game. We had some opportunities in short yardages situations, we couldn’t get it done. We couldn’t get off the field on defense. [The tuck rule play] didn’t help our cause, but it’s not the reason why we lost.”
Gannon believed Adam Vinatieri’s miraculous kick, not the call, was the game’s turning point. If Vinatieri had taken that kick 100 times, how many would have been good? “Not too many,” Vinatieri said the other day.
“People don’t realize the kick itself was a huge kick to put the game into that situation,” Gannon said. “We had a lot chances in that game, but we didn’t get it done. It’s unfortunate, because we had a great football team. That team in 2001 was better than the team in 2002,” which went to the Super Bowl.
While Gannon and the Raiders saw their season end, they didn't realize Brady, then in his second season, would become one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.
“The first half of that game, he really didn’t do anything," Gannon said. "He made some throws – not even great throws. He hung in there and battled and made some throws in the second half. In overtime on that drive he kept on finding that tight end [Jermaine Wiggins]. I don’t know if you could have said right there, ‘This guy is going to be a Hall of Famer.’ But clearly he’s developed into a guy who’s clearly special.
After the Patriots upset the Rams, Brady and Gannon played together at the Pro Bowl. Even after spending time with him, Gannon still wasn’t yet convinced Brady would become an elite quarterback.
“I think people were still taking a wait-and-see approach with him,” Gannon said. “But he’s clearly developed. He’s exceeded a lot of expectations. I really respect guys like that. They put so much into the game. The way they prepare, they make everybody around them better.”