Perhaps the single greatest ending of any American football game ever. In the wild card playoff game between the Tennessee Titans and the Buffalo Bills, the Bills scored to put themselves up 16-15 with just a few seconds left in the fourth quarter. Barring an incredible play on the ensuing kickoff return, the Bills seemed assured of advancing in the playoffs.

Well it isn't called the Music City Miracle for nothing.

Titans tight end Frank Wycheck fielded the kickoff and ran forward about ten yards. Just as he was about to be tackled, he turned to his left and heaved the ball 30 yards across the field to a waiting Kevin Dyson. Dyson sped down sideline untouched to the end zone to give the Titans an incredible 22-15 win. Or so it seemed.

Immediately the Bills challenged the play, claiming that Wycheck's lateral was actually an illegal forward pass. After many minutes of reviewing the instant replays from various angles, the refs let the original decision of touchdown stand. The Nashville crowd went nuts, but Buffalo fans will go their grave claiming that the ball was thrown forward. For them the Music City Miracle will always be known as The Immaculate Deception.

The play, called "Home Run Throwback," was conceived of by Jeff Fisher and the Titans coaching staff. Fisher wanted a play similar to that of "The Play" (of California fame). It was practiced on a regular basis--but, like most trick plays, it never worked in practice.

The plan was for tight end Frank Wycheck to field the kickoff, but the kick was unusually short. It was fielded by fullback Lorenzo Neal, who immediately handed off to Wycheck.

Kevin Dyson, remarkably, was not anywhere near the top of the special teams depth chart and had never run the play before, but was used because Derrick Mason was injured. He had the play quickly explained to him in the moments before the kickoff.

The Bills challenged the play as a meaningless formality; since there were less than two minutes remaining in the game, it was the officials who decided to review the play.

Critical in the review process is the fact that there must be "overwhelming evidence" to overturn a ruling--meaning if it isn't plainly obvious from the replay, then the call stands as made. Referee Phil Luckett ruled the throw a lateral as it was being made, and the replay was more or less inconclusive, so the call stood. If Luckett had ruled it a forward pass then that call would have been upheld instead.

Make no mistake about it, though--Luckett was right. NFL Films created a CGI model of the play, taking into account the camera angles of the replays; and they proved--as conclusively as can be hoped for--that the ball did indeed travel backwards.

"The last thing I told my players was to get ready for a trick play," said Bruce DeHaven, the special teams coach for the Bills who was fired three days afterward. A clear scapegoat move, the firing was a controversial move that drew its share of criticism.

Indeed, the blame lies on the Bills special teams players. The players, mostly inexperienced, left their lanes to overpursue Wycheck, leaving a clear path on the other side of the field and a wall of Titans blockers.

If you believe in karma, then you probably weren't surprised by the outcome of Super Bowl XXXIV.

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