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Titans return from oblivion

Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson, center, holds onto the ball as he is congratulated by Yancey Thigpen, left, and Samari Rolle, right, after scoring the winning touchdown with 3 seconds left. [AP photo]


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 9, 2000

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The ending of the first NFL playoff game of the 21st century will be replayed until the 22nd century and argued until footballs no longer take funny bounces.

Fans will talk about Frank Wycheck's "home run throwback" on a kickoff to Kevin Dyson until time runs out. In Nashville, new to the NFL playoffs, there will be a dozen ballads written about it by dawn.

The Tennessee Titans stunned themselves as much as they stole the day from the Buffalo Bills on Saturday when they capped a 22-16 victory with the most unbelievable playoff finish since 1972, when Pittsburgh's Franco Harris beat Oakland with the Immaculate Reception.

Dyson dashed 75 yards for a touchdown after taking a cross-field lateral from Wycheck with 16 seconds left on a kickoff-return play so desperate that Titans coach Jeff Fisher improvised it on the sideline.

"I pulled Kevin Dyson off the bench and told him basically what we planned on doing, and we did it," Fisher said.

The Titans practice the "home run throwback" regularly, but usually with kick returner Derrick Mason, who was injured.

"As we were running on the field, they were trying to explain to me the gist of the play," Dyson said.

The Bills, who had just taken a 16-15 lead on Steve Christie's 41-yard field goal, were unprepared for a throwback. Nobody on the coaching staff or team said anything about one.

"We just wanted to kick the ball high to avoid them setting up for a proper return," Christie said.

Fullback Lorenzo Neal fielded the short kick and handed off to Wycheck, who ran along the 25-yard line to the middle of the field, where he turned and threw back to Dyson, who caught the ball slightly ahead of the 25 and dashed untouched down the sideline behind a convoy of blockers.

The Bills immediately argued Wycheck had thrown an illegal forward lateral. There was no flag, but the replay officials told referee Phil Luckett to review it while the record crowd of 66,782 was still wildly celebrating Dyson's run.

Luckett ruled the play would stand as called. Later, he explained: "The line judge's initial ruling was that it was not a forward pass. Taking from where the pass left the passer's hand right on that yard line, the receiver catches it right there on that yard line.

"It did not appear to be a forward pass; therefore, it is not a foul."

Said Dyson: "I took one hard step out to make sure it was a lateral."

The ruling is made from where the ball leaves the passer's hand to where it touches the receiver. It has nothing to do with where the passer's feet are. Luckett saw no evidence that would "conclusively" overturn the play.

"I think it was a forward lateral," Bills owner Ralph Wilson groused.

"I also think there was no way the guy was going to overturn it."

The Bills frantically pointed at the scoreboard replay as Luckett reviewed the play on the sideline monitor.

"We felt we were going to win and it was taken away," coach Wade Phillips said.

Said Wycheck: "It worked to perfection. I thought it was a legal play. I knew if there was no flag, it was legal."

Wycheck also said: "I'm still basically in shock."

Forward or backward, Wycheck turned out to be the most effective passer on the field. Titans quarterback Steve McNair completed 13 passes for only 76 yards, and Bills quarterback Rob Johnson completed only 10 passes for 131 yards.

For Tennessee, it soothed the pain of losing a 35-3 lead and a 41-38 game to the Bills in the 1992 wild-card round when the Titans were the Houston Oilers.

"I can almost sense the elation they felt," Tennessee guard Bruce Matthews said.

"They did theirs over a two-quarter period, coming from behind by 32 points. We did ours in 13 seconds."

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