NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The most iconic play in Tennessee Titans‘ history turns 20 on Wednesday.
Tennessee trailed the Buffalo Bills by a point with 16 seconds to play in an AFC wild-card playoff game on Jan. 8, 2000, when Kevin Dyson caught the second of two laterals and raced 75 yards — and the “Music City Miracle” was born.
The thing is, Dyson wasn’t even supposed to get the ball. He was in for the play — called “home run throwback” — because wide receiver Derrick Mason had suffered a concussion and safety Anthony Dorsett Jr. had cramped up.
Dyson said he was also cramping but was able to work through with an IV during the third quarter. Titans coach Jeff Fisher had to give Dyson a crash course on how the play was supposed to happen.
“I went to Dice [Kevin Dyson] during the TV timeout,” Fisher said, “and said, ‘Remember home run throwback from practice?’ He said he never paid attention to it. So I told him what we wanted was for him to — no matter what — stay 10 yards behind [Frank] Wycheck and outside the numbers, then get ready for the ball and get as much as you can.”
The idea was for Dyson to pick up some yards and step out of bounds so the Titans could kick a winning field goal.
Dyson didn’t line up 10 yards behind Wycheck. Fisher joked maybe Dyson thought he said 10 inches. It ended up working because Dyson instinctively stepped up to catch the pass from Wycheck when fellow wideout Isaac Byrd slipped on the turf.
The plan to step out of bounds went out the window when it was just Bills kicker Steve Christie and defensive back Donovan Greer left against an army of Titans blockers. Dyson knew he had to do more than just set up the field goal.
“When Christie went down, everything just went silent,” Dyson said. “I can remember thinking, ‘Should I get out of bounds?’ but then I was like, ‘This is it’ and it was smooth sailing.”
The Titans won 22-16 and rolled all the way to the Super Bowl, taking the St. Louis Rams down to the wire.
How did one of the greatest plays in NFL history come together?
DEVISING HOME RUN THROWBACK
Fisher said the original concept came from the 1982 Cal-Stanford game, when Cal pulled off the last-second win on a series of five laterals that became known as “The Play.”
Special-teams coach Alan Lowry said the Titans needed a method to their madness instead of a random game of pitch and catch. After seeing Wycheck’s accuracy throwing the ball in a downtime game during practice, Lowry knew he wanted the tight end to be the triggerman for their trick play.
“Every time we practiced it, I’d have the kicker kick it in various ways, but the goal was always to get it to Frank,” Fisher told ESPN.
Wycheck’s job was to throw the ball across the field to a teammate waiting outside the numbers to receive the pass and get yardage to set up a field goal try.
In the game, Fisher said he and Lowry crossed paths on the sideline after Christie kicked a field goal to put Buffalo ahead 16-15 with 16 seconds left and simultaneously said, “Home run throwback.” Although they prepared for various forms of kickoffs, the version they didn’t prepare for was a pooch kick, which was precisely what Christie did.
Christie said he didn’t get in the huddle with his teammates on the sideline before taking the field. “Pooch kick right” was the message Bills special-teams captain Steve Tasker gave him. Christie’s assignment required him to “hang the ball up there around the 20-yard line near the numbers on their side.”
He figured Buffalo would be capable of covering a traditional return. Little did he know that Lowry, his former special-teams coach when they were with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had a unique play dialed up.
The play served as a defining moment in many NFL careers. What did the play mean in the lives of its key figures?
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Kevin Dyson, wide receiver
Role in the Miracle: Received lateral from Frank Wycheck and scored.
What the play meant to his life: Dyson said the play allows him to be a part of history.
“My career didn’t end up the way I had anticipated and wanted it to,” Dyson said. “I had a lot of injuries, and things that happened during my career. This play, though, it made me somewhat relevant 20 years later. … To still be talked about 20 years later, it’s something that I don’t take for granted.”
Dyson retired from the NFL when he was 30.
“I wanted to give back but didn’t know what capacity. I looked into collegiate opportunities, but what I found back then was a lot of people were hesitant to put a player immediately on staff because a lot of guys didn’t understand the grind it took work up the ranks,” Dyson said. “I learned a lot about myself as a person. It took patience. I had to learn how to teach the game, which forced me to learn the game as a whole and how it all connects. I learned so much about the game of football.”
What is he doing now? Dyson coached for a bit to stay around the game. He said he always focused on ways to find an advantage on special teams because of the Music City Miracle. At one point, he wanted to be an athletic director before he turned to education as a way to influence younger people. Dyson is now the principal at Grassland Middle School in Franklin, Tennessee.
“The administrative side of things intrigued me. I was the kid that got football taken away from me if I didn’t do what I needed to do in the classroom. I didn’t take academics seriously. But I was able to take those experiences and have a big impact. I developed this love for learning. There was so much that I took for granted when I was younger because I was just so focused on sports. That’s my relatable piece to kids now. Families and kids will say that sports are more important. I was a first-round draft pick. I had made it. But my career was over when I was 30 years old. I still had to find something else to do. I could have sat back, but I wanted to have an impact that is greater than me.”
Jeff Fisher, coach
Role in the Miracle: Coach who along with Alan Lowry dialed up the play.
What the play meant to his life: “That was the play that really propelled us through the playoffs,” Fisher said. It highlighted his focus on always being prepared for every given circumstance or situation.
“We’d go through a lot of scenarios, so when we got into them, there was recall and confidence.”
What is he doing now? Fisher is looking to get back into coaching. “I’ve watched the NFL game closely. I also like the college level. I want to coach. It just has to be the right situation,” Fisher told ESPN.
“For some reason, the interest doesn’t seem to be out there in me. It’s gone other directions, and that’s OK. Both teams that I took over not only relocated; they were both 2-14 teams. The first one, we built and got to the Super Bowl before free agency as we know it in Tennessee, and we sustained it. The second one, in St. Louis, I did it with Sam Bradford. I took the job because Bradford was a franchise quarterback. In Year 2 he tore his ACL and in Year 3, too, so we struggled with some guys after that.”
Frank Wycheck, tight end
Role in the Miracle: Caught a lateral from fullback Lorenzo Neal, then threw the lateral to Dyson.
“Lorenzo Neal isn’t known for his hands, but we talked in the huddle about it,” Wycheck said. “He told me I better come get the ball when he gets it because there was no way he was throwing it. Eddie George said he turned in disgust when he saw it going to Lorenzo because he didn’t think he would catch it.”
What the play meant to his life: The biggest thing is the memories that come along when reminiscing about the play with his teammates.
“A lot of emotions and thoughts come from that moment,” he said.
What is he doing now? Wycheck had a morning talk show in Nashville before doing color commentary for the Titans. He has since moved back to the Philadelphia area and served as an assistant coach at Archbishop Ryan, his high school alma mater.
“I wanted to stay in the game and sports so I can be a good influence in my community,” Wycheck said. “I work with all of the players on the team. Next year, I will be a co-offensive coordinator and help call offensive plays.”
Lorenzo Neal, fullback
Role in the Miracle: Fielded the kickoff.
What the play meant to his life: “It’s a play that will always have you in the history of this league,” Neal said. “I don’t think that play will ever be out of the top five or top 10. Those kinds of things don’t happen.”
Neal has been brought back multiple times to Nashville to reenact the moment.
What is he doing now? Neal is a sports radio host on KGMZ-FM 95.7 in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is also in real estate. Neal’s son, Lorenzo Neal Jr., is a defensive lineman at Purdue who might have an NFL future.
Steve Christie, kicker
Role in the Miracle: His kickoff started the play that had ramifications far beyond the game. Does he think the laterals were legal and the play should have been upheld?
“I think when you look at it that, they originally called it a legal play,” Christie said. “To overturn it, you have overwhelming evidence to reverse the call. For me, it was inconclusive. I get why they didn’t overturn the call. What was frustrating is we felt that we really had a good team that year and would have competed with the Rams that year. Then my special-teams coach, Bruce DeHaven, got fired after that game. That was the demise of the team for me.”
What the play meant to his life: That play taught Christie how to be resilient and move on when adversity presents itself. He showed that during a recent cancer diagnosis and treatment.
“I had a 10-centimeter tumor that was right on the edge of my bladder and my prostate,” Christie said. “I had two surgeries, went through radiation.”
What is he doing now? “I am a volunteer football coach at my daughter’s high school, Lakewood Ranch,” he said. “I have a real estate license and do real estate in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, with my wife. I am an artist and do paintings for charity.”
Daryl Porter, safety
Role in the Miracle: Part of the Bills’ kickoff coverage team.
What the play meant to his life: Porter was known as a special-teams ace and third safety. He signed with the Titans as a free agent in 2001.
“The first thing that Coach Fisher put on was a highlight reel,” Porter said. “He told the team they just landed one of the best special-teams and third-down safeties. But that film had the Music City Miracle play on it.”
What is he doing now? Porter has been a high school coach for over 18 years, with teams taking part in five state championships, most of which were at his alma mater, St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Florida. He currently coaches at American Heritage School in Plantation, Florida.