The Music City Miracle: Story of the Homerun Throwback (forward) Titans v Bills ’99 AFC Wildcard

As we make our way to the NFL’s 100th season we have to take a look back at the great moments over the last century. These great games that go on to impact careers, eras, and Hall of Fame legacies take place in the NFL playoffs. At times you’ll have something momentus happen during the regular season but it’s the finality and visibility of postseason play where everyone is viewing an individual event at the same time that grow into lore.

A first playoff game for a team in a new city and stadium where the Titans had been 8-0 in the regular season. The ’99 campaign had a collegiate type spirit as the Titans finally had a home after bouncing around like nomads for 2 seasons.

Now they were going to take on the Buffalo Bills in the ’99 AFC Wildcard Game. It came with a sense of irony as you looked back at the tumultuous turn that saw the franchise’s descent from the beloved Houston Oilers to the nomadic Tennessee Oilers. It’s genesis was the ’92 AFC Wildcard game some 7 years earlier.

At the time the Oilers were nearing the end of a frustrating era in which they’re Run n Shoot offense had been the scourge of the league. Hall of Fame QB Warren Moon had put up video game numbers as he and his trio of 1,000 yard receivers in Ernest Givins, Haywood Jeffires, and the late Drew Hill torched defenses in the regular season. Yet in the postseason the football gods weren’t so kind.

Between 1987-1991 the Oilers had made the playoffs all 5 years yet never seemed to have that signature game from Warren Moon to get to an AFC Championship Game. Injuries and timely defense from their opponents seemed to undo this team in the postseason and their window for a championship run was nearing it’s end.

Moon was turning 36 and how long could he play at a high level?

The ’92 team went 10-6 and had to go to take on the 2 time AFC Champion Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park. They had beat the Bills 27-3 in the finale to set up the Wild Card tilt. In that game the Oilers knocked out Jim Kelly with a knee injury and wouldn’t have to face him in the Wildcard round.

Andre Reed scores the go ahead touchdown in the greatest comeback in NFL history.

In what should have been his signature win Moon blistered the Bills to go 19 of 22 for 4TDs and took a commanding 28-3 halftime lead. In the 2nd half the Bills turned the tables coming back from a 35-3 deficit to winning 41-38 in overtime. The greatest comeback in NFL history.

The collapse was devastating and the doubt and discourse whittled away fan support as the team descended to medicocrity over the next couple of years.

Finally Owner Bud Adams decided to move the team in 1996. He had watched Art Modell pull the plug in Clevleand & move the Browns to Baltimore the season before. Why try to win back a city that had tired of your failures when you can win anew elsewhere?? The Houston Oilers were no more and the Tennessee Oilers wandered the desert in search of a home.

They played the ’97 season in the Liberty Bowl and ’98 in Vanderbilt Stadium. Both were college arenas where they weren’t the main tenants and playing on a college campus. It didn’t have the look and feel of an NFL ball club as Eddie George and Steve McNair emerged as the team’s new stars. Then they made the decision to change the name of the team to reflect a new identity… the Tennessee Titans and would play in their own brand new stadium as Nashville became their new home.

A new energy hit Adlephi Coliseum immediately as the team was refreshed with new uniforms befitting the change. They played to raucous fans who showed an appreciation for having their own team. It never felt that way when they still had their Oilers name from their years in Texas. The team went 13-3 on the strength of Eddie George (1,304 yds / 9TDs) Steve McNair (337 yds rushing/ 8 TDs) and a smash mouth rushing offense while super rookie DE Jevon Kearse burst onto the scene with a rookie record 14.5 sacks.

The Freak was the playmaker on an aggressive physical defense and turned in the most impactful season since Lawrence Taylor in 1981. He was voted to his 1st Pro Bowl, All Pro, and took home the ’99 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. They won 7 of their last 8 including a 41-14 win over division winner Jacksonville in week 15. They were primed to make a run and 1st up in the wildcard round??

Those Buffalo Bills who were nearing the end of their run with future Hall of Famers Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas. Jim Kelly had already left the building after ’96 and the Bills began this strange odyssey of who should be quarterbacking??

Wade Phillips had taken over for Hall of Fame Head Coach Marv Levy and by all accounts favored Doug Flutie. He brought an energy to the team and an excitement even at this advanced age. Things seemed to pick up when he would go on a long serpentine run or scramble then hit an open receiver. An excitment christened “Flutie Magic”.

Eric Moulds was the new big threat in the Bills offense after a breakout ’98 (1,368 yds rec / 9 TDs) which was only bolstered by an NFL playoff record 240 yards in a Wildcard loss to Miami. Moulds was the future yet Andre Reed was still there to provide punch in the passing game.

Antowain Smith had become the featured runner as Thurman Thomas had shown wear after a Hall of Fame career. In ’99 he was injured with a lacerated liver that allowed him to return with fresh legs late in ’99 as Smith and Jonathan Linton had worn down toward season’s end.

One thing the Bills could bank on was the league’s #1 defense as Bruce Smith, Phil Hansen, and Marcellus Wiley provided a solid pass rush.

Yet all that paled in comparison to the ultimate betrayal that haunts Buffalo to this very day.

In an attempt to get a leg up on the franchise quarterback derby the Bills signed Rob Johnson before the ’98 season. He had started one game for an injured Mark Brunell while playing for Jacksonville. The offense would sputter under his leadership as he was often sacked for holding the ball too long. This is what prompted Phillips to replace him in ’98 & Flutie beat him out and started the 1st 15 games of ’99.

With a wildcard wrapped up and unable to improve their playoff position the Bills decided to rest Doug Flutie for the finale. It looked and sounded suspicious as Rob Johnson played the finale against a playoff bound Colts team also resting their starters. Then Coach Phillips dropped a bombshell and named Johnson the starter going into the Wildcard Game.

What?!?!?!?!!? The fanbase went bonkers and blew up switchboards and talk shows all week discussed Flutie v. Rob Johnson. Why would you disrupt the teams momentum to satisfy a front office pressuring you to start the $25 milion free agent?? Facing a Defensive Rookie of the Year coming off the ball with the intensity of a young Lawrence Taylor you decide to face him with an immobile quarterback?? What could possibly go wrong??

Less than 5 minutes into a game destined to be a defensive struggle, Kearse came screaming off the corner and sacked Johnson causing him to fumble out of the endzone. Safety 2-0! The Titans received the free kick and drove for a TD on a short field making it 9-0 just 7:00 into the game. It allowed Adelphia’s rowdy fans to stay at a fevered pitch as Buffalo fought uphill the entire game. Bruce Smith, in his last playoff appearance, kept Steve McNair under wraps sacking him 2.5 times.

The Bills clawed their way back in it and found themselves down 15-13 with 1:41 to go. Johnson had the chance to be a hero. Although he completed just 8 passes going into this final drive, he knew a playoff win could be the launching pad for his career. Johnson appeared calm amid the chaos and drove Buffalo to a last second field goal and a 16-15 lead! It appeared he had done it!! On one play he escaped his nemesis, Kearse and zipped his last completion to Peerless Price, all while scrambling with just one she on.

Once Steve Christie’s kick was good the Bills sideline exploded with emotion as the team brass scrambled to make reservations to go to Indianapolis for a rematch with Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and the 13-3 upstart Colts… all they had to do was get through the final :16

It was The Immaculate Reception of the new millenium since we were in January of 2000. The parallels were there as a city was hosting it’s 1st playoff game, a last second touchdown when the home team had no hope, and a long delay where the officials had to discuss the legitamacy of the scoring play. Only this time Instant Replay was used as an officiating tool. As a Billls fan I was screaming forward lateral and did so right before writing this…

The conclusive evidence is the 4th replay as Joe Theismann, Paul Mcguire, and Mike Patrick exalts “From THAT angle…” and I tried to argue for years it was a forward lateral.

It was the end of an era as Hall of Famers Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, and Bruce Smith were let go at the end of the season. They were the last of the Bills that had played in the 4 Super Bowls at the beginning of the decade. The football gods struck back for doing Flutie dirty and benching him going into the playoffs. It was only the 2nd time in NFL history where a backup was named to start the playoffs without an injury. Only the Jets in 1986 when Pat Ryan was named to start the ’86 AFC Wildcard over Ken O’Brien after the Jets lost their last 6 games was the other occasion.

As for the Titans… they rode this incredible momentum all the way to Super Bowl XXXIV where Kevin Dyson wound up in another famous play. Mike Jones tackling him at the 1 yard line as time ran out. Over the next 8 seasons the Titans were an elite team as Eddie George and Steve McNair became household names. Kevin Dyson had a good NFL career and is now Principle of a local school in the Nashville area.

The Music City Miracle didn’t become as famous as The Immaculate Reception…however had the Titans won a Super Bowl in the years that followed, it would have.

In January of 2000 it was played on ESPN and NFL Shows the rest of the month as it was truly a great play. One for the ages for everyone that wasn’t a Bills fan. We still bristle.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

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SUPER BOWL XXXIV RUNNER UP 1999 TENNESSEE TITANS

The Jacksonville Jaguars were well on their way to achieving a Super Bowl as a part of their 5 yr plan from expansion. An upset win over Denver in the 96 playoffs was the launching pad and after a few roster improvements were ready to do it in 1999!! They were loaded and would steamroll…*huh?*…I’m supposed to be talkin’ about who?*…alright tell Eddie George I’ll call him back…*ahem*

titans_championship_afc_ringWell everything was going according to plan when they traveled north to play their rivals Tennessee Titans with a lot on the line in a week 15 match-up. With the chance to gain homefield advantage, cement that they were the dominant team in the AFC Central (South not created yet), and with only 169 points given up were within striking distance of  the NFL record of 187 points given up by the ’86 Bears.

Man what an asswhoopin’!! The Tennessee Titans lit into them like the Jaguars had stole something from their mother’s house. A 41-14 destruction that ruined the psyche of the Jacksonville franchise while sending a clear message that Tennesse would be a force themselves come playoff time, but surely they wouldn’t see them again…would they??

Oh the agony when I see this ring being a Buffalo fan…sigh   The Music City Miracle was a damn forward lateral…yet I digress. **deep breaths** ahem… where was I?

Ahh yes the 1999 AFC Champion Tennessee Titans.  This team totally derailed the Jacksonville Jaguar franchise.

Although they finished with a 13-3 record, they were the wildcard behind the AFC Central champion Jaguars at 14-2. The two best records ever for two teams in the same division which came with a unique twist: Although the Jaguars lost only 2 games all year, they were both to Tennessee. The Titans finally had a home they could call their own after 3 yrs of wandering the desert once they left the Houston Astrodome in moving to Nashville.

34titan2The Titans were powered on offense by Eddie George from Ohio St. who bludgeoned defenders with his running style for over 1,300 yards.  Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews & John Runyan were leaders on a very physical line.  The late Steve McNair was a developing quarterback who had his struggles in 1999 but was a legitimate running threat himself. In that 41-14 thrashing he threw for 5 of his 12 TDs for the season. He had a short to intermediate passing game that complimented their running game.

However the story of this team was defense. Led by Blaine Bishop at SS, Barron Wortham LB, Marcus Robertson FS, and who could forget the rookie season of Jevon “The Freak” Kearse DE, who set the league record for sacks as a rookie with 13 1/2.  This team came off the ball with a physicality the AFC hadn’t seen since the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier in the 90s.

Going into the ’99 playoffs there was a changing of the guard.  Gone were the two time champion Broncos and with the upstart Colts in the playoffs there was an air of parity on the AFC side of the ledger. The Titans first step was the wildcard tilt over Buffalo at home. Behind with :22 left and the Bills having just pulled ahead 16-15…*I can get thru this*…. then the kickoff where Frank Wycheck throws the ball across field to Kevin Dyson who takes it to the endzone with :08 seconds left.

34logoIt was a miracle finish of epic proportions and the energy and momentum sent the Titans hurtling through the heavens where they took down the favored Colts in Indianapolis the following week.  Which earned the Titans an all expenses paid trip to Jacksonville for the AFC Championship Game. Even though they ran over Miami 62-7 in the playoffs, they were still fearful of Tennessee.

No way the Titans could come in and outhit them again.  Well by virtue of a 30-14 thrashing.  The Titans owned the Jaguars who were never the same after that ’99 Championship.

Now we know they go on to play a competitive Super Bowl against the Rams and came up one yard short but don’t forget that injuries are a part of the game.  The Titans lost FS Marcus Robertson to injury in the AFC Championship Game after a 1st half interception, and Blaine Bishop SS fell to an injury in the 3rd quarter of the Super Bowl.  Why am I bringing this up??  Kurt Warner’s 73yd touchdown to Isaac Bruce to pull ahead of the Titans 23-16 was his ONLY completion of the 4th quarter, and it was thrown on TWO backup safeties in Perry Phoenix and Anthony Dorsett.

McNair, in a display of immense heart, willed the Titans downfield on a last second drive to bring Super Bowl XXXIV to a crescendo. On the last play with :07 left from the 10, McNair hit Kevin Dyson hoping for another miracle finish. This time Ram Linebacker Mike Jones brought down an outstretched Dyson at the 1 as time ran out.

So did they come up a yard short or a few injuries short??

dyson-jones-012819-sn-ftrjpg_1egrhgfwlnzfu1x891fcq107kz

This is the jewel for their fine season….and it WAS a forward lateral….*sigh*

This article is dedicated to the memories of Steve McNair and owner Bud Adams.