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Do You Remember?

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For Buffalo sports fans it was just another addition to the list of heartbreaking failures along with “Wide Right” and “No Goal”.  Do you remember where you were on January 8th, 2000?  It was the last time the Buffalo Bills played in an NFL playoff game – 11 years ago.  It was a game that went from what looked like an incredible comeback victory for the Bills to a heartwrenching defeat on just one play.

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In Nashville they remember it fondly as the “Music City Miracle”.  In Buffalo they have some completely different terms for it.  It advanced the Tennessee Titans on a nice playoff run with victories over Indianapolis and Jacksonville and on to the Super Bowl where they lost to the St. Louis Rams on the final play of the game when they came up one yard short of winning.   

In case you forgot, the Bills and Titans met in a wild card playoff game in Nashville and although Doug Flutie had started 15 of the Bills 16 games that season, coach Wade Philips made a surprising decision to start Rob Johnson at quarterback against the Titans.  The Bills struggled in the first half and trailed 12-0, but rallied in the second half with Johnson directing a late drive that set up Steve Christie for a go-ahead field goal with only 16 seconds left.  The Bills led 16 to 15 and all they had to do was prevent the Titans from kicking a long field goal.  

16 seconds isn’t enough time to move all the way down the field and get the field goal unit on is it?  The Titans didn’t need the field goal – they scored a touchdown by returning the kickoff 75 yards.  But the way they did it has Bills fans shaking their heads to this day.  The Titans used a play they called “Homerun Throw Back” – a play they practiced all the time.  The idea was to sucker the opposing team to one side of the field, then lateral the ball to the other side of the field and it worked like a charm.  Tight end Frank Wycheck tossed the ball from the right side of the field to receiver Kevin Dyson on the other side of the field and the only man Dyson had to beat was the kicker.

The officials on the field ruled the pass from Wycheck to Dyson was a legal backward pass.  It looked awfully close to being an illegal forward pass, but the referee used a video replay to confirm it was a good play.  The Titans had won and it cost Bills special teams coach Bruce DeHaven his job.  A year later head coach Wade Phillips was fired.  Four head coaches later and the Bills are still waiting to get into the playoffs.

I remember the details of the game clearly and I wish I didn’t.  That playoff loss ranks up there with all four Super Bowl losses and the 20 straight losses in the ’70′s to the Miami Dolphins.  I keep saying I hope I live to see the day the Bills or the Buffalo Sabres for that matter win a league championship.  The clock keeps tickin’.

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