The stadium will not be the same and Greg Biekert will be wearing a different uniform, but that doesn't mean the linebacker has erased the play from his mind.
How could he? After all, the Oakland Raiders' 16-13 loss at New England in the AFC divisional playoffs last January will be remembered for one thing and one thing only — "The Tuck Rule." That rule — and the interpretation of it by referee Walt Coleman — nullified what would have been one of the biggest plays of Biekert's career.
"I look forward to this game for personal reasons and for the fact that they are the defending champs," Biekert said.
It's a championship that might have been Biekert's if not for a rule that came under plenty of offseason scrutiny.
The situation: The Raiders were leading 13-10 with 1:50 remaining in the fourth quarter when Pats quarterback Tom Brady dropped back to pass and was hit by Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson. Brady fumbled and Biekert fell on the snowy turf at Foxboro Stadium and grabbed the ball.
The Raiders thought they were headed to the AFC Championship Game — but that was before a review was called for.
What the replays showed was that Brady started to throw but stopped and had started tucking the ball into his body before Woodson's hit. Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2 of the NFL rulebook states that "any intentional forward movement of a quarterback's arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body."
Coleman reversed the call and the fate of the 2001 NFL season with it. New England kept the ball and with two Adam Vinatieri field goals to come, including one in overtime, the Patriots were moving on to an eventual Super Bowl title.
The Raiders got a chance to play New England again this season — they won 27-20 at Oakland last weekend — but it is Biekert who returns to New England on Sunday. This time, however, he does so as a Viking. The venue — the state-of-the-art Gillette Stadium — has replaced outdated Foxboro Stadium.
While Biekert has not forgotten the play, he said it was not something he was dwelling on entering Sunday's game. "Not a whole lot," he said "Personally, a little bit. It was a year ago. It's over and done with. There is still always that little bit of emotion that holds on. You play anybody and lose a close game, the next time you play you want to do well and win."
It is that type of veteran attitude that Vikings defensive coordinator Willie Shaw likes so much about the 33-year-old Biekert, who signed with the Vikings just before the season after being released by the Raiders.
In a season during which the Vikings defense has lacked continuity, Biekert has been a stabilizing force at middle linebacker.
"He brings a lot to the game," said Shaw, who also coached Biekert in Oakland. "Biekert is good for us because of the style of player he is. People forget he really helped us because we are so young and have a lot of new starters. I had Biekert in Oakland, and he knows this defense as well as I do.
"He's like a coach on the field. He knows the process, he know the philosophy of the defense. So he is able to focus and help other guys get lined up and make calls because it's not new to him, even with him coming in from somewhere else. He's coming in because he had a lot of success in this defense when we were together in Oakland."
Although he knew the defense, Biekert said he has learned plenty since arriving in Minnesota.
"Initially I came in and didn't know anybody," he said. "So I didn't know where anybody was as far as knowing the defense athletically and all that. It took me a while to get to know them as players. But I have seen a lot of improvement — just a little at a time, and that's how it comes. You don't have one week the guy plays like a rookie and the next he plays like an All-Pro. It's like climbing a ladder.
"You take little steps at a time to get where you want to be. I think we are on our way there. It's just the win-loss deal hasn't made it feel like that. We have lost a lot of close games, and I feel like even though we have lost some games here lately we have made improvement in those games. That's going to help us at the end of the season and carrying it into the next year. You just try to go out and improve every week, and I think we are starting to do that probably over the last four weeks. You have to look at that in a positive way."
Biekert Tucks Patriots Memory Aside
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