It wasn’t as easy to make sports bets on Jan. 8, 2000, as it is today, with states making sports betting legal and Tennessee being the latest to join the party on Nov 1. But let’s say there were still ways to get down a wager on an NFL playoff game like the Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans.
And given the stage, improbability of the game-winning play and the controversy that still lingers 20 years later, no gambler will ever forget the “Music City Miracle,” no matter which side you were on.
Let’s reset the scene: The Bills and Titans met in an AFC wild-card playoff game. The Bills were 5-point underdogs. When the Bills got a field goal with 16 seconds left to take a 16-15 lead, anyone with a Bills ticket was mentally spending the money. Even if the Titans somehow got a field goal in the last 16 seconds, the Bills would still cover the 5-point spread.
What happened next is not only one of the greatest moments in NFL history, it’s perhaps the most famous moment in sports gambling history, too.
Titans cover on one of NFL’s greatest plays
If you don’t know how this story ends, you haven’t been watching the NFL very long.
Fullback Lorenzo Neal fielded the kickoff and immediately handed the ball to tight end Frank Wycheck. Wycheck started running to his right. Then he wheeled and threw to his left, where receiver Kevin Dyson fielded it. There was immediately some question about whether it was an illegal forward lateral.
Dyson’s run only took a few seconds. It happened amazingly fast. It must have felt like slow motion for anyone who bet on the Bills.
Dyson turned upfield and immediately it was clear he had a big play. Then as he quickly moved downfield, television viewers could see he had a convoy of blockers. Dyson scored without being touched. Then the words that clinched the heartbreak …
“There is no flag!” play-by-play announcer Mike Patrick said, as many probably waited — and hoped — for a forward lateral to be called.
Bills fans were probably catatonic when Al Del Greco kicked the extra point to clinch the Titans’ cover. Not everyone felt like that was a bad beat though. If you bet the Titans -5, you had a once-in-a-lifetime cover.
‘Music City Miracle’ still controversial
The controversy over the play became part of the lore. Was Wycheck’s pass an illegal forward pass? No angle of the play is entirely conclusive, despite what any Bills fan will tell you. At best, the pass went straight down the line and therefore was legal. The play stood. When the NFL counted down the greatest plays in league history for its 100th season, the “Music City Miracle” checked in at No. 4.
If there were a list of greatest sports gambling plays, it might rank even higher. The moment Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson might rank above it. Perhaps there was some old-school bettors who cashed a Steelers moneyline ticket on the “Immaculate Reception.” Anyone who had a bet on the 1999 St. Louis Rams to win it all at 200-to-1 or 300-to-1 would say without hesitation that Mike Jones’ game-saving tackle on (wait for it) Dyson at the end of Super Bowl XXXIV a few weeks after the “Music City Miracle” was the best gambling moment ever. Everyone probably has a personal favorite moment in which a six-team parlay hit on a last-second 3-pointer, or a walk-off home run was hit by a big underdog.
But Dyson’s return, given the improbability of the play and the fact that it covered the spread, gives it a special place in gambling lore. Anyone who bet the Titans would agree. Bills bettors would rather forget. Good luck with that.
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