Directors: Ken Rodgers and Nick Mascolo
Length: 50 minutes without commercials (airing in a one-hour window with commercials)
Airs: Feb 6, 2022 at 8:30 PM ET and on ESPN+ the day after.
Most Similar To: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks, No Más
Grade/Ranking: High 30s out of 116, which I’d give a B+ on a 30 for 30 grading curve.
Review: I think for many, The Tuck Rule, will scratch an itch the series hasn’t adequately scratched in some time. By that I mean the following:
- It’s a one-night, hour-long watch with commercials. Of the nine other 30 for 30 films that have come out since 2020, four of them have been multi-episode installments, with most others clocking in longer than one hour.
- The film centers around a major sport and a well-known event that most people have some baseline memory or understanding of.
- The subject matter is sports-centric and doesn’t revolve around any serious nefarious criminal behavior or social issues. Recent installments centered around Mike Vick’s dogfighting scandal, Lance Armstrong’s doping, Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial, and the wrongful conviction of Jonathan Irons, who’s now married to Maya Moore.
For those longing for what I outlined above, The Tuck Rule is a quick watch. It’s casual. It’s funny at certain parts and never wades into too serious or too intense. You’re in and you’re out. It’s a good time.
The Tuck Rule follows a really simple recipe- the bulk of the film is Charles Woodson and Tom Brady hanging out at Brady’s ridiculously big and nice home. They reconnect, they sit down to watch the game together, and they argue a good deal (sometimes it teeters on uncomfortable, but most of the time it’s light-hearted). And it wraps up as they move around to the patio to discuss further and play some pool. That’s mostly it! I’m sure ESPN was quite happy reviewing the shooting budget on this one.
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— ESPN (@espn) January 19, 2022
The film really hinges on the Brady and Woodson on-screen chemistry, and the pair have a mostly fun and constructive time reliving the infamous play. As much as people may think they can recall the particulars of that game and play, the film surfaces a lot of forgotten — or previously unknown — details. Was there a missed penalty on the play? Perhaps two? Did the Raiders know the Patriots’ play-call through some stealthy gamesmanship?
Brady and Woodson unpack and debate every level of minutia from that game, and they generally do it engagingly. It was more or less a good podcast episode. I’m not so sure a similarly-planned doc leaning so heavily on two former players talking in a living room about an old game would be as compelling, but Brady and Woodson certainly do a pretty admirable job keeping things light and interesting.
The rest of the film is rounded out with various individual interviews, which include both Brady and Woodson individually, Bill Belichick , Walt Anderson (the referee who overturned the call), and various players from that game. Game footage fills in a good chunk of the documentary as well. I’d have to imagine Jon Gruden either interviewed for this project and was cut out, or was slated to interview, due to his positive relationship with ESPN and NFL Films. I’m sure seeing a tortured Gruden was something that would have played well, but obviously didn’t make sense in light of his high-profile email scandal.
There’s really nothing remarkably great or bad about The Tuck Rule, although I’ll quibble that there’s an awkward minute or so toward the end where there’s a faked montage of career highlights showing what the careers of Brady and Woodson would be like if the ruling on the field wasn’t overturned (Brady not keeping his starting job and Woodson staying a Raider). Other than that, it’s simple and enjoyable. It’s a pretty straightforward, concise, low-stakes, and fun watch.
Ultimately, some people don’t have a stomach large enough for a big steak or just don’t have the appetite for one all the time. That’s fine! Sometimes people want to order the grilled cheese and are quite happy to do so. While The Tuck Rule isn’t as ambitious or perhaps substantive as some of the more elite 30 for 30 installments, I think a lot of people will order and enjoy the grilled cheese, and ESPN will be very happy with themselves that they put it on the menu and that they didn’t burn it in the pan.