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Wycheck hopes 'miracle' victory lasts a lifetime

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 29, 2000


ATLANTA -- Frank Wycheck was a Pro Bowl tight end, the leading Oilers/Titans pass receiver the past four seasons, but his fame was as provincial as grits. Small servings of glory in Houston, Memphis and Nashville. With a little butter left over from Maryland.

Three weeks ago, in an NFL wild-card heartbeat, America said "Eureka!" over No. 89. Wycheck isn't adept at passing a football, but the 250-pound son of a Philadelphia cop completed the biggest Titans pass (er, uh, lateral) ever.

He's no Kurt Warner or Steve McNair, but if Wycheck's quivering projectile, triggering Tennessee's instantly legendary "Home Run Throwback," had fallen shy or flown high or been inhaled by NFL instant replay, the dudes from Nashville wouldn't be playing Super Bowl XXXIV.

"If I go to my grave being most known for the Music City Miracle, well, that's good with me," Wycheck said. "It's especially okay if the Titans finish this incredible story by winning the Super Bowl."

He's seen an M.C.M. videotape 25 or 30 times. "Not once did I fail to get chills," Wycheck said. "A great Titans season hung by a thread. Not many people weren't thinking Buffalo had it won, when Steve Christie made a clutch field goal with 16 seconds left.

* * *

"But then, a million-to-one shot came through. We had practiced our trick kickoff return all season. Doing it once a week. Figuring it'd never be used. Somehow, after all our drilling on Home Run Throwback, the 11 of us on Tennessee's kickoff return squad somehow thought there really was a chance.

"Boom! We hit the lottery."

Lorenzo Neal, a former Tampa Bay fullback, fielded a short and squirrely kickoff from Christie. Lo isn't known for high speed, so he flicked the football to a teammate. Still not a blazer. It was Wycheck. All part of a wondrous long-shot plan.

Moving right, the tight end made a quick stop, did a little pivot and flicked the ball back to the far left. Kevin Dyson, a wide receiver with fleet in his feet, carefully embraced Wycheck's toss at the Titans 25. It was nearly an illegal forward lateral.

"Buffalo messed up," Wycheck said. "The Bills lost contain. Lost concentration. Maybe it threw them off, seeing Lo Neal handle the ball, then pitch it to me. I mean, what's to fear from two big, slow guys?"

Dyson took Wycheck's pass (uh, lateral) blazed unbothered down the left sideline. All the way to end-zone heaven. Touchdown. Victory. Music City Miracle. A journey that wouldn't subside until reaching Super Bowl XXXIV.

"This can't be me, getting so much attention," Wycheck said to Super Bowl media. "I've always been the kid on the outside, pressing my nose against the window, trying to catch a glimpse of somebody famous."

Being a deep-rooted Philadelphian, he grew up an Eagles fan. One of his boyhood heroes was Dick Vermeil, who coached Philly to a Super Bowl. Same fellow who, at age 63, has earned a second chance for the NFL's highest prize with his St. Louis Rams.

"It clobbered me when Coach Vermeil quit the Eagles," Wycheck said. "That little boy on the outside looking in, well, he cried. Just as did Dick Vermeil. He was such a hero to me.

"Years later, after leaving the University of Maryland, getting my first NFL shot with the Washington Redskins, it awed me to share a locker room with Mark Rypien, Art Monk, Joe Jacoby and others who'd won Super Bowls under coach Joe Gibbs."

Still, second fiddle seemed Wycheck's destiny. He set a Maryland career receiving record with 134 catches in three seasons, but his job was eliminated. Terps tight ends became extinct when Maryland went to a run-and-shoot offense.

Wycheck's start with the 'Skins was under Rich Petitbon, but the coach was fired after one season. Replaced by Norv Turner. "He tried to make me a fullback," Wycheck said. "Norv said he wanted another Daryl Johnston, Well, sorry, I'm no Moose. I'll never be a great blocker. Tight end is my deal."

Washington cut him in 1995. Houston got an astonishing bargain. Wycheck's rights went to the Oilers for a $100 waiver fee. "From there, it's been some trip, playing in Houston, then Memphis and last season at Vanderbilt University.

"There were tough times, but my team got closer in adversity. Our rewards for preserverence are incredible. We finally get settled in our new city (Nashville), playing in our new stadium (Adelphia, not to be confused with Philadelphia). Then comes this amazing season.

"I hope I never tire of talking about the Music City Miracle. But, by Sunday night, I hope all us Titans have another great story to tell, about winning a Super Bowl, having stayed alive on the miracle. That's one that really could last a lifetime."

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