Music City Miracle, revisited: The story of Frank Wycheck’s legendary lateral, forward pass controversy

Frank Wycheck will be synonymous with one of the greatest plays in NFL playoff history.  

Wycheck died over the weekend at his home in Tennessee at the age of 52. The former NFL tight end played 11 seasons in the NFL, beginning with Washington before signing with the Houston Oilers in 1995. He moved to Nashville in 1997 when the franchise became the Tennessee Titans and spent the remainder of his career in Music City.

A three-time Pro Bowl player, Wycheck never got his hands on a Super Bowl ring. However, he did come close in 2000 when he helped the Titans reach Super Bowl 34 against the Rams, thanks to the legendary “Music City Miracle” earlier in the playoffs. 

Not only was the miraculous play brought up recently because of Wycheck’s death, but there also was a play on “Sunday Night Football” with an eerily similar feel to Wycheck’s famous lateral pass. Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce completed a sensational lateral to wide receiver Kadarious Toney, who sprinted in for an apparent touchdown during Kansas City’s loss to Buffalo on Sunday.

However, the play was called back because of an offsides penalty on Toney at the line of scrimmage, leaving fans thinking about what could have been. 

It’s a play that is extremely uncommon to see in the NFL, and even rarer to see it actually result in a touchdown. But Wycheck was a member of a successful attempt, resulting in plenty of angered Bills fans to this day, while leaving the Titans faithful with one of the greatest postseason moments in football history. 

MORE: Why Travis Kelce’s lateral pass TD didn’t count in Chiefs vs. Bills

Here is everything you need to know about Wycheck and the Music City Miracle. 

When was the Music City Miracle?

The Music City Miracle took place on Jan. 8, 2000 during the playoffs of the 1999 NFL season. It was an AFC Wild Card game between the Bills and the Titans at Adelphia Coliseum in Nashville. 

Buffalo kicked a field goal to give the team a 16-15 lead with 16 seconds remaining in regulation. All that separated the Bills from a divisional round berth was a kickoff and a handful of seconds to burn. 

Instead, the Titans pulled off one of the most incredible plays in playoff history. Fullback Lorenzo Neal fielded the kickoff from Bills kicker Steve Christie and immediately handed it off to Wycheck. As the Buffalo defenders followed Wycheck to the right side of the field, he turned and passed the ball to wide receiver Kevin Dyson on the other side. 

Dyson took the pass and sprinted down the sideline untouched for the 75-yard touchdown, pulling Tennessee ahead for the miraculous victory. 

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The officials reviewed the play to determine if Wycheck’s pass was legal or not. After a booth review of the touchdown, it was determined that Wycheck’s pass was in fact lateral, not forward, making it a legal play and the call on the field was upheld, leaving the Titans with the win. 

Was Music City Miracle a forward pass?

There is much debate about whether Wycheck’s pass was an illegal forward pass or a legal lateral. 

The call on the field was that Wycheck threw a lateral pass to Dyson, making the play legal and thus the touchdown stood. However, there are plenty of doubters, including a majority of Bills fans, that felt as though there should have been a flag on the play. 

Wycheck discussed the pass multiple times in the years following the game, and his story has remained the same — the way he jumped and backpedaled after making the throw created an illusion that the pass was forward, not lateral. 

This is what he had to say on the matter during an interview with Go Long’s Tyler Dunne in October 2022:

“It’s kind of an illusion in a way,” Wycheck said. “Dyson was in front of me, but he stepped back. I kind of jumped and threw it like I was turning a double play. But then after I threw it, I backpedaled for some reason. So that’s what makes an illusion of it. You see Dyson go back, but also me move back. Everyone’s going to automatically think it’s forward because I’m behind the play after I drifted back. You can see my arm angle in that still shot throwing it backwards. That was my job: To throw it backwards.

“It was a lot closer than we wanted it, but I’m glad (the line judge) Byron Boston didn’t drop the flag or else the play would’ve been dead.”

Music City Miracle game stats

The affair between the Bills and Titans was extremely low-scoring. The two sides combined for just over 200 passing yards, with Buffalo contributing 131 while Tennessee had just 76. In total, the Bills out-gained the Titans 219 to 194 in the losing effort. 

Passing

Buffalo Bills

Player Comp-Att Yards TDs INTs
Rob Johnson 10-22 131 0 0

Tennessee Titans

Player Comp-Att Yards TDs INTs
Steve McNair 13-24 76 0 1

Rushing

Buffalo Bills

Player Attempts Yards TDs Fumbles
Antowain Smith 14 79 2 0
Jonathan Linton 5 25 0 0
Thurman Thomas 5 10 0 0
Rob Johnson 3 9 0 1

Tennessee Titans

Player Attempts Yards TDs Fumbles
Eddie George 29 106 0 1
Steve McNair 6 19 1 0
Rodney Thomas 4 14 0 0

Receiving

Buffalo Bills

Player Catches Yards TDs
Peerless Price 5 62 0
Eric Moulds 3 62 0
Bobby Collins 1 1 0
Sam Gash 1 6 0

Tennessee Titans

Player Catches Yards TDs
Jackie Harris 4 20 0
Frank Wycheck 4 29 0
Eddie George 2 4 0
Kevin Dyson 1 4 0
Chris Sanders 1 8 0

What happened to Frank Wycheck?

Wycheck’s family revealed in a statement that he died Saturday, Dec. 9. He was 52 years old. 

Statement from Frank Wycheck’s family on his passing. pic.twitter.com/NMoIw2nJmF

— Terry McCormick (@terrymc13) December 10, 2023

According to the family, Wycheck fell and hit his head in his home in Chattanooga, Tenn. He was found unresponsive in the afternoon. 

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