Frank Wycheck has seen the play more than 20 times over the past two weeks. Whether the sound is blaring from a network replay on the television at home, or the sound is off in a meeting room back in the Tennessee Titans' training facility, he admitted, "I still get the chills every time I see it. Sometimes I can't believe that was actually me out there."
Wycheck was one of the central figures in the improbable kickoff return the Titans used to beat the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the AFC playoffs. With 16 seconds remaining and Tennessee trailing 16-15, Wycheck threw a pass across the field to teammate Kevin Dyson, who caught the ball and ran 75 yards untouched for the game-winning touchdown on what will go down as one of the greatest plays in league history.
"It's very overwhelming," said Wycheck, a Philadelphia native who played college football at Maryland and spent two years with the Washington Redskins before being waived after Norv Turner's first season in town. "It probably won't hit me until I'm out of the league for a few years so I can really understand the kind of play it really was and the impact it had on our team."
The impact was immediate. The play allowed the Titans to advance to the second round, where they upset the Indianapolis Colts, 19-16, on the road last week to advance to Sunday's AFC championship game. They will face the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team they've beaten twice this year, at Alltel Stadium.
The play also touched off a raging national debate about whether Wycheck had thrown a forward pass or a lateral and whether instant replay had been used properly to determine the legality of the play. It was reviewed on the sidelines by referee Phil Luckett, who upheld the touchdown.
But there was no debate in the Titans locker room or the Wycheck household, especially after the league office sent the club a diagram that indicated his throw to Dyson was perfectly legal, by a margin of about eight to 12 inches.
"To me, there was never any doubt," Wycheck said. "Even when I threw it, I knew it was not a forward pass. I would have known in my mind if it was. There was no flag thrown, an official was right there and saw the whole thing and he never went to his pocket. I've seen the replays, I've seen the still shots, I've seen the diagram from the league office of where it released from my hand and where he caught it. There's no question it was okay."
Wycheck believes the main focus should have been directed toward the total breakdown of the Buffalo special teams. It was in Buffalo, because special teams coach Pete DeHaven was fired the next week by Coach Wade Phillips.
"It never should have been about replay," Wycheck said. "Every one of their guys was inside the hash mark coming over to where the ball was kicked [high, short and to the right side of the field]. They got fooled. That's the real big picture. They didn't stay in their lanes. They didn't cover."
Wycheck also remains amazed at so many oddities on the play, called "Home Run Throwback." Dyson wasn't even supposed to be on the field but was pressed into service because two players who usually filled the spot he occupied had been hurt earlier.
The kickoff was set up for a return by Isaac Byrd, standing more in the middle of the field. But Byrd got caught up in traffic on his way to the ball, and it was caught instead by Lorenzo Neal. He, in turn, quickly handed it to Wycheck, right behind him.
Wycheck said he saw Dyson "square up to me like he was ready to catch the ball. Actually, Byrd was supposed to catch it [if the ball had been kicked to that side] and Dyson was supposed to trail the play and get a pitch if Byrd got in trouble. Give Dyson credit, he instinctually must have known it was coming to him, because he was in the perfect spot. I just let it go, and he made a hell of a play."
Wycheck has had plenty of those on his resume since the Titans--then the Houston Oilers--picked him up off the waiver list in August 1995. Drafted in the sixth round out of Maryland as a tight end, his early claim to a touch of fame was catching then-rookie Heath Shuler's first touchdown pass in '94.
But the Redskins had converted Wycheck into a fullback that season, where he started nine games. Though he had played the position at Maryland, as well as running back and tight end, he did not see himself as a lead blocker in the NFL and admits he constantly struggled with the position before being cut.
"Norv was coming from Dallas and told me, 'You're going to be my next Daryl Johnston,' " Wycheck said. "I was thinking more of [tight end] Jay Novacek. Norv wanted to make me into a pure fullback. I tried it, I gave it my all, it just didn't work out. I felt I got so messed with mentally, they made me feel like I couldn't play. Everything I did was wrong. I couldn't grasp that part of the game."
Oilers offensive coordinator Jerry Rhome urged the Oilers to take a chance on Wycheck, then put him back at tight end and H-back. Wycheck had a breakthrough season, with 40 catches in '95. He's led the team in receptions each of the past four seasons, making the Pro Bowl each of the past two years.
"I think he's the best tight end in the NFL right now," Titans tailback Eddie George said. "He's bailed us out in crucial situations in big games. He's a special player for us. I guess you could say he's a magic piece."
The road to the AFC title game has not been easy for Wycheck or the Titans. Wycheck's first two seasons were marked by small crowds at the Astrodome and a lame-duck year in '96 after owner Bud Adams announced he was moving the team to Tennessee. In '97, the team played at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis across the state, meaning the Titans essentially were on the road every week, and again attendance was disappointing.
Last year, they played in Nashville at Vanderbilt "and the one thing that kept us going was knowing we'd have a new stadium this year," Wycheck said. "Coach [Jeff] Fisher did an unbelievable job just to get us to 8-8 last season. I think some other coaches might have folded the tent. This year, the owner said it was make or break, that he'd be fired if we didn't make the playoffs.
"Nobody wanted to see that happen, and the organization got him some players. Through everything, Jeff never strayed from his pattern. He never talked about his job security. He kept us focused, then we started winning early and it just snowballed."
Wycheck also has heard all the talk about the Titans being this year's so-called team of destiny. First it was Dyson's touchdown. Last week, they got another huge break when replay overruled an 87-yard Colts punt return to the Tennessee 3, ruling that return man Terrence Wilkins had stepped out of bounds at the Colts 34.
"But you can't get caught up in that destiny stuff, or the fact we've beaten [the Jaguars] twice already," Wycheck said. "We are a very confident group. We're not tense. We're relaxed, but I also know they're gonna be waiting for us. You still have to line up and play 60 minutes of good football, or you'll get beat.
"After the last game [a 41-14 Titans rout], they were in a state of shock. They were coming off the field saying, 'I can't believe we didn't come to play.' The feeling I got from them was, 'Hey, this is not supposed to happen like this in a big game.' But we all know we're in for a battle. They know it, too."