Sixteen years later, Mike Pereira remembers where he was (hotel room in St. Louis), what he was drinking (bottle of wine), what he was wearing (jogging suit), when a young New England quarterback named Tom Brady introduced himself as the next best thing.
But that one darn sequence, that crazy tuck play. Pereira, only months into his job as the league’s director of officiating, needed this now?
“This play happens and I go, ‘It’s a fumble, game over,’ ” recalled the Carmichael resident. “The first replay showed, ‘Oh, my God. That’s the Tuck Rule. They are going to reverse this call.’ Now my phone is gonna buzz, and I’m buzzed. I was two thirds of the way into the bottle. This is not a good combination.”
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Yet do not ever – ever, ever, ever – lump the Stockton native with the millions and maybe billions of Brady and Bill Belichick haters.
True, Pereira, now finishing his eighth season as Fox’s on-site rules analyst, has no relationship with either Patriot. Belichick stopped speaking to him when he gave up his side judge position after two years and joined the league’s officiating department in 1998. Not to be outdone, Pereira returned the cold shoulder because of the Hoodie’s alleged involvement in “Spygate.”
But none of that has chilled Pereira’s appreciation for what the Patriots did to the Raiders in the AFC divisional matchup in January 2002, what they have continued to accomplish since that night and, very likely, what they will do to the Philadelphia Eagles in Sunday’s Super Bowl. The bionic Brady is still the next best thing, Belichick is still the best darn coach, and the organization has overcome suspensions, allegations of cheating, a murder plot and a relentless litany of injuries.
Pereira has no such fondness, though, for Tuck Rule game casualty Jon Gruden, the past/present Raiders coach he says was a difficult presence on the sidelines and too critical of game officials when he moved into the broadcast booth.
“We are nowhere as far as a relationship,” Pereira said. “Jon was very tough to deal with. He was abusive. Maybe that’s somewhat his nature. Officials used to call me and say, ‘Gruden crossed the line.’ Well, what am I supposed to do? ‘You have this thing in your pocket, and it’s yellow, and can cost coaches $1,500. Why don’t you throw it?’ ”
Then there is their sharp difference of opinion regarding that infamous play in the blizzard in Foxborough, Mass. With the Patriots trailing 13-10 in the fourth quarter, Charles Woodson’s right hand came down on Brady’s arm, causing a fumble. Upon review, the referees reversed the call to an incomplete pass, per the Tuck Rule as it was written at the time.
“Brady fumbled that ball,” Gruden insisted during his return/introductory Raiders news conference last month in Alameda. “There is unfinished business as coach. ... For my (Raiders) career to end that night in New England, it still ticks me off.”
Pereira argues that the call was correct, but endorses the revised version. “(Then) the Tuck Rule was that if the arm starts forward, it continues to be a pass until you tuck the ball all the way back into your body,” he said. “Today, it starts with the arm going forward, but as soon as you start to bring it down, if it comes loose, it’s a fumble. It’s much more sensible.”
Pereira likes his wine, his tailored suits, his designer eyewear frames, but there is a meat-and-potatoes side to him. He always gives you something to chew on. There is a book, a Twitter account, a speaking tour, a casual chat at the health club. On Sunday, as a guest on Brent Musburger’s Sirius XM radio show in Las Vegas, he anticipates fewer questions about the Tuck Rule and more about today’s thorniest issue: What constitutes a catch?
Coaches, players, fans and apparently even the commissioner have reached a tipping point about the lack of clarity and common sense. Roger Goodell earlier in the week told ESPN he was pushing for a rules change and recently consulted with a group that included Hall of Fame wide receivers and coaches.
The majority of the confusion occurs when the ball hits the ground – as illustrated perhaps most notably on a play involving Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James. In a Dec. 17 game against the Patriots (yep, them again), James caught the ball and appeared to score the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds. Instead, on review, and in a ruling that seemed painfully counterintuitive, the officials said he failed to maintain control when hitting the ground at the goal line.
Pereira’s latest salvo? Blame it on instant replay.
“A catch is control, two feet (in bounds), and time,” he explains, “and replay is out. It doesn’t belong in this part of the game. Replay can review facts – control, feet – but time is subjective. Replay makes the whole thing convoluted.”
Within the past few weeks, he submitted a proposal to the league office he believes will remedy the situation. And after that? That new/old Raiders coach down the street had better beware.
“Chucky Cheese,” said Pereira, unable to resist. “I think that was a splash (hire) for the Raiders, and they needed that to sell suites, tickets, before going to Las Vegas. But he and Derek Carr have very different personalities. I’m a big Derek Carr fan, going back to Fresno State, so I hope it works out.”
No doubt, we’ll hear all about it.