We’re back with the fifth installment of Classic Titans Games. It’s only fitting we get to arguably the most iconic game in Titans history, as well as the one that gave the SB Nation’s Titans blog its official name.
Let’s not waste anymore time, this is a recap of the 1999 Wild Card Round in Nashville on January 8th, 2000, otherwise known as The Music City Miracle.
Before 2017, this was the last time the Buffalo Bills made the postseason. This team finished second in the AFC East (behind the Colts, yes they once played in the AFC East), but had an 11-5 record, qualifying as the AFC’s fifth seed in the postseason. The game was not without prior controversy, as then head coach Wade Phillips benched then starter Doug Flutie for Rob Johnson, a move that would live in Bills infamy for decades.
For what it’s worth, Johnson left the field with the lead, but we all know how that turned out. But before we get to that, let’s discuss the moments leading up to one of the NFL’s most famous postseason finishes.
The game remained scoreless after the first seven combined drives, which included a strip sack from legendary Titans rookie pass rusher Jevon Kearse. The Titans couldn’t capitalize here, as Al Del Greco’s 43-yard field goal attempt missed.
Finally, late in the second quarter, we had a score, and an unusual one at that. Kearse delivered his second sack of the game as Johnson tried to secure a bad snap. But Kearse strip sacked him again, and the ball went out of the end zone for a safety as the Titans went up 2-0.
The Titans got further insurance after the free kick thanks to a 42-yard kick return from Derrick Mason. From there the Titans drove 28 more yards, culminating on a bootleg touchdown run from Steve McNair to put Tennessee up 9-0.
The Titans defense held its own for the rest of the first half, and Del Greco made a 40-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter to give the home team a 12-0 halftime lead. The drive was aided by a 3rd and 10 run from McNair. Initially ruled short of the first down marker...
...The officiating crew gave McNair the first down after further review, which showed him stretching the ball past the first down marker before stepping out of bounds.
The Bills responded on the opening drive of the second half, scoring a touchdown to cut the lead to 12-7. From there the Titans offense was shut down, and early in the fourth quarter the Bills took a 13-12 lead off Antowain Smith’s second touchdown run of the day. The Titans managed to stop the two-point conversion, keeping the game at that score.
The Titans couldn’t do anything with the ball on the following drive, but the defense forced a three and out to give them the ball again. A lengthy drive from McNair and Eddie George ended in a 36-yard field goal from Del Greco as the Titans reclaimed the lead at 15-13.
This time, however, the defense could not contain the Bills offense, as Johnson led them to the Titans’ 23-yard line, ending in a 41-yard field goal from Steve Christie to give the Bills a foolproof 16-15 lead with 16 seconds left.
The home crowd was stunned. There was still time for some sort of miracle, as the Titans had two timeouts, but it looked like an impressive 13-3 season would come to a disappointing end. All the work in the regular season would come to a waste.
And then, out of nowhere, the Titans took the lead back for good.
The proceeding kickoff...An improbable finish in the new millennium.
Initially it looked like 3x Pro Bowl tight end Frank Wycheck threw a forward pass to receiver Kevin Dyson on what was called “Home Run Throwback,” and the announcers at ABC appeared to agree as well. Former quarterback and color commentator Joe Theismann, on the other hand, stressed to look at where the ball was being thrown to, not the position of Wycheck and Dyson.
Theismann called it.
Despite what some Bills fans might preach, the ball is traveling backwards, therefore constituting as a lateral. Barely, but still.
After a lengthy, anxious review, the ruling on the field stood and Titans fans went wild.
The extra point from Del Greco put the Titans up 22-16. The Bills tried their own version of the Music City Miracle with a lateral, but to no avail, as the Titans’ special teams covered the play, ending the game in one of the most stunning finishes in North American sports history.
The Titans would go on to reach the Super Bowl in the same postseason, ending up one yard short of tying the St. Louis Rams in that game. The Bills, meanwhile, went on a decade and a half of futility, ending in 2017 with a trip to the postseason.
The Titans were very lucky in 1999. Lucky, but special at the same time. It became obvious the football gods were aligned in Nashville, at least for most of the postseason, as they took down the Colts and Jaguars in the following weeks to punch their tickets to Atlanta.
Frank Wycheck and Kevin Dyson probably won’t be named to Canton, but on one play the two of them forever cemented their legacies as Tennessee sports heroes. On one play they combined for one of the flukiest, and yet most dramatic and most sensational game winning touchdowns the league has ever seen.
Regardless of what happened after, this was a memorable, memorable addition to a magical season from the 1999 Titans. On a team that included legends like Steve McNair, Eddie George, Derrick Mason, Jevon Kearse, and more, it was Frank Wycheck and Kevin Dyson that combined for the biggest play in Titans’ history.