Music City Miracle
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The Music City Miracle is an American Football play that took place on January 8, 2000 during the National Football League's 1999–2000 playoffs. It occurred at the end of the Wild Card Playoff game between the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills at Adelphia Coliseum in Nashville, Tennessee. After the Bills had taken a 16–15 lead on a field goal with 16 seconds left in the game, Titans tight end Frank Wycheck threw a lateral pass across the field to Kevin Dyson on the ensuing kickoff return, who then ran 75 yards to score the winning touchdown and earn a 22–16 victory.
Going into the game, Bills coach Wade Phillips created a stir by starting quarterback Rob Johnson, rather than Doug Flutie, who had started 15 games and had led the team to the playoffs.
After a scoreless 1st quarter, the Titans opened up the scoring when Jevon Kearse sacked Buffalo quarterback Rob Johnson in the end zone for a safety. Johnson completed just 10 of 22 passes while being sacked 6 times, including twice by Kearse. Wide receiver Derrick Mason returned the free kick 42 yards to the Bills' 28-yard line; five plays later, Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. After forcing a punt, the Titans drove 56 yards in 11 plays. Kicker Al Del Greco initially missed a 45-yard field goal attempt, but the Bills were penalized for defensive holding on the play and Del Greco's second attempt was good from 40 yards on the last play of the half. At the end of the half, the Bills were trailing 12–0 and had managed to gain only 64 yards, while also losing 44 yards on 9 penalties.
In the second half, the Bills managed to rally back. On Buffalo's first play of the third quarter, Antowain Smith broke off a 44-yard run, sparking a 62-yard drive that ended with his 4-yard touchdown run 4 plays later. Later on, the Bills drove 65 yards, featuring a 37-yard completion from Johnson to Eric Moulds, with a roughing the passer penalty on Kearse adding another 15. Smith finished the drive with another 4-yard touchdown run, giving the Bills a 13–12 lead after receiver Kevin Williams dropped a pass from Johnson on the two-point conversion attempt.
Late in the 4th quarter, the stage was set for an exciting finish. Tennessee received the ball with 6:15 remaining. Titans receiver Isaac Byrd's 16-yard punt return and five carries from Eddie George for 17 yards set up a wobbly 36-yard field goal by Al Del Greco. The Titans took a 15–13 lead with 1:48 to go.
On the ensuing drive, with no timeouts remaining, Bills quarterback Rob Johnson led the Bills on a 5-play, 37-yard drive to the Titans' 24-yard line. On the last play from scrimmage, Johnson played with only one shoe on. He had lost the shoe in a scramble, and with the clock running, he had no time to put it back on. With only 16 seconds remaining in the game, Steve Christie, the Bills' kicker, made a 41-yard field goal to put Buffalo in the lead, 16–15.
Moments later, Christie kicked off, and Titans player Lorenzo Neal received. Neal handed the ball off to Titans tight end Frank Wycheck, who threw the ball across the field to another Titans player, Kevin Dyson, who then ran down the sidelines for a 75-yard touchdown. During the play, the officials ruled Wycheck's pass to have been a legal lateral (i.e., a pass that went sideways or backward) rather than an illegal forward pass, and awarded the Titans the touchdown.
The play was named "Home Run Throwback" by the Titans and was developed by Special Teams Coordinator Alan Lowry. The Titans ran the play regularly in practices during the regular season, though the practices usually involved Derrick Mason, who had been injured earlier in the game and was unavailable for the situation. Dyson, as one of the team's lead wide receivers, rarely practiced with the special teams unit and was largely unfamiliar with the layout of the play. Nevertheless, his execution of Lowry's vision was flawless.
Per the instant replay rules, a booth review was called. The play was reviewed by referee Phil Luckett to determine whether the line judges' ruling that the throw had not been a forward pass was correct. One of the on-field sideline mobile cameras had been repositioned to provide a sideline view of the Titans' reception of the kickoff. This camera angle ended up showing the unintended reception of the kickoff by Neal, but was blocked (by Titans players) from recording the single reverse handoff by Neal to Wycheck. However, it fully captured the lateral by Wycheck to Dyson.
Upon the replay of its feed, the camera showed that the line judge began to follow the development of the play when Neal had handed the ball off to Wycheck. The line judge had moved to the sideline yard marker as Wycheck had slowed to position himself to throw the lateral. After the lateral was thrown, the line judge moved again to realign himself with the yard marker, at which he had observed Dyson receiving the lateral. Because that second position was upfield from the point where the line judge had positioned himself when Wycheck had thrown the ball, the line judge's hand signaled during the play that the pass was indeed a lateral and not an illegal forward pass. Therefore, Dyson's advancing the ball to the Buffalo end zone after the reception resulted in a legal touchdown. After a long official review, the video was deemed inconclusive to overturn the line judge's ruling on the field.
The Titans made one final kickoff, and the clock expired during the Bills' return. The Titans held on to win 22–16.
- Date: January 8, 2000
- Game time: 12:30 p.m. EDT
- Game weather: 37°F, Sunny
- Game attendance: 66,782
- Referee: Phil Luckett
- TV announcers (ABC): Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann, and Paul Maguire
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As Titans coach Jeff Fisher disclosed, the objective of the play was not to achieve a touchdown, but to have Dyson advance the ball into the range of Al Del Greco, the Titans’ placekicker. Fisher later stated that as the play continued with Dyson getting closer to the Bills’ end zone, he was concerned that Dyson would be tackled inbounds without scoring and with no time remaining for the field goal team to come on the field and attempt to score.
As the play was drawn up, the receiver of the kickoff was supposed to execute the lateral. Titans tight end Frank Wycheck was supposed to receive the ball, motion to the Titans' right side of the field, and then toss the lateral back to the other (left) side of the field to Dyson. However, Wycheck was completely out of position to receive the kickoff.
Wycheck was between Dyson (on the left side facing downfield) and Lorenzo Neal (on the right side), with Wycheck closer to Neal. When Neal caught the ball, he turned to his left, and began running toward Wycheck. Neal then met Wycheck (who had turned to run toward the right side of the field) on the run, and handed the ball to him. Wycheck continued to run laterally toward the right side of the field, knowing that the play required him to execute a lateral across to the left side of the field to Dyson. Wycheck continued his run to the right sideline, so the play appeared to be a developing single reverse (by Neal and Wycheck) end-around run to the right sideline (by Wycheck). Just before contact with a Buffalo player, Wycheck abruptly stopped, by planting his passing foot just behind the 25 yard line, and pivoted to his left. Once he'd aligned himself to throw a lateral (a throw across his body and backward); he threw a long, low pass toward Dyson.
Upon seeing the throw, Dyson, who had been in motion to confuse the defense, took some strides back to the 25 yard line and planted his right foot on that line. Dyson then scooped up the pass ankle-high, turned to his left and began running straight downfield.
The Bills’ kickoff coverage strategy appeared to be sound; Wycheck was a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end who posed the very real threat of advancing the ball to the outer limit of Del Greco's range for a winning field goal prior to the expiration of regulation time. Because of this, Buffalo’s entire kicking team (except for the placekicker) shifted toward the right sideline, either to tackle Wycheck or to force him out of bounds and outside of Del Greco's kicking range.
However, this approach proved to be the decisive mistake. Buffalo’s total concentration on Wycheck’s right-sideline run rendered not only the left sideline of the field undefended (all the way to the end zone), but also meant that all of the defensive backs on the kicking team were out of position to make any serious attempt to catch the speedy Dyson, who had a 15-yard head start on them. Not only were the Bills too far away from Dyson, their closing intercept angle on him was from the other side of the field, and was simply too wide for them to close the gap before Dyson reached Buffalo’s end zone.
The victory, in front of a franchise-record crowd at Adelphia Coliseum, allowed the Tennessee franchise to advance to the divisional round of the AFC playoffs for the first time since 1993, when they were still in Houston. Subsequent victories over the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars sent the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV to face the St. Louis Rams, where they lost by a touchdown in another game that went down to the final seconds, known as "One Yard Short" or "The Tackle."
For the Bills, the debacle led to the firing of special teams coach Bruce DeHaven, who had been with the team for 13 seasons. (DeHaven was eventually rehired by the Bills into the same position for three seasons beginning in 2010.) DeHaven's replacement, Ronnie Jones, did not perform well. After the 2000 season, Phillips was fired, having failed to lead the Bills past the first round of the playoffs during his tenure. Phillips was replaced by Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
The Music City Miracle was added to the list of infamous moments in Buffalo sports history, joining "Wide Right" and "No Goal". This was Buffalo's last postseason game to date and it marked the beginning of what has, as of 2015, become the longest active streak of missing the playoffs in the NFL. Buffalo's last playoff win came in 1995.
NFL Films hired a computer analyst to determine whether Luckett had made the correct call. They determined that the ball had not traveled forward and that Luckett had made the correct ruling.
Keith: "Do the Titans have a miracle left in them in what has been a magical season to this point? If they do, they need it now. Christie kicks it high and short. Gonna be fielded by Lorenzo Neal at the 25; he dishes it back to Wycheck; he throws it across the field to Dyson..."
Ryan: "He's got somethin'..."
Keith: "30, 40..."
Ryan: "He's got somethin'..."
Keith: "50, 40.."
Ryan: "He's got it! He's got it!"
Keith (voice volume increasing): "30, 20.."
Ryan: "He's got it!"
Keith: "10, 5, endzone...TOUCHDOWN, TITANS! THERE ARE NO FLAGS ON THE FIELD! IT'S A MIRACLE! TENNESSEE HAS PULLED A MIRACLE! A MIRACLE FOR THE TITANS!"
Ryan: "Frank Wycheck threw another pass."
Keith: "Three seconds remaining on the clock!"
But then a question of whether or not Wycheck's lateral to Dyson was actually a lateral arose. Luckett reviewed the play, and once Luckett had decided that the call would stand, Keith said this:
Keith: "Here comes Luckett, with the call of the new millennium. It may be the biggest review since the Franco Harris play in the playoffs..."
Ryan: (interjecting)...And they didn't have it then
Keith: And they didn't have it.... This call could go either way, Pat
When he announced his ruling, Keith and Ryan had another exchange:
Luckett: "After reviewing the play, the ruling on the field stands. It was a lateral..."
Keith: "We did it!"
Ryan: "Yes! Titans win!" (This drowned out Luckett saying, "Touchdown.")
Keith: "Three seconds to go, and Tennessee is on the verge of a miracle finish!"
Ryan: "Wow, what a game!"
- Music City Miracle gives Titans win over Bills (December 20, 2000)
- Game Details at Pro Football Reference
- AFC Wild Card Playoff Game (2000, January 8). In Tennessee Titans Official Website