Inspired by recent efforts by fellow bloggers to point out prominent conspiracies, and in honor of Super Bowl Sunday, Zembla presents a look at one of the more suspicious professional sports moments of recent years. The "Music City Miracle" occurred in January of 2000, at the end of a playoff game between the Buffalo Bills and the eventual AFC Champion Tennessee Titans. The "miracle" in question was a 75-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, by Tennessee's Kevin Dyson, to win the game in the final seconds. It was a different sort of miracle that allowed Titan-supporting gamblers a chance to win at the last second as well.
This was the situation: Buffalo had kicked a field goal with only 16 seconds left on the clock to go ahead, 16-15. On the ensuing kickoff, Tennessee ran a trick play called "Home Run Throwback" in which tight end Frank Wycheck lateraled to Dyson, who ran untouched for the shocking go-ahead touchdown. There was a great deal of controversy over whether Wycheck had thrown a forward pass (which would have been illegal) or a backwards lateral. After a long review, the referees let the play stand, and Tennessee had a 21-16 lead. They tacked on an extra point to reach the final margin of 22-16.
There has been a lot of writing about this game, most of it focused on the amazingness of the play or the history of playoff heartbreak for the Buffalo Bills. Occasionally, the legality of Wycheck's "lateral" will be debated. Never have I heard anyone mention the bizarre strategy employed by Titans' Coach Jeff Fisher following the touchdown.
After scoring, NFL teams have two options. They may attempt an easy kick for one point, or try for a more difficult two-point conversion. The Titans had two choices: kick for the guaranteed six-point lead, or try for the two-point conversion and the seven-point lead. If the conversion failed, Tennessee would still lead by five. Either way, Buffalo was going to have to score an immediate touchdown on the next return.
Now, that touchdown would have been pretty unlikely. But, if it had occurred, that would have been a definite six points, and, given that NFL kickers convert 99% of their extra points, almost a definite seven points.
With the extra point, Tennessee led by six. In that game situation, a six-point lead is only incrementally better than a five-point lead; the only way it could help is if Buffalo got a touchdown, but blew the extra point. A seven-point lead, on the other hand, would have given Tennessee a certain trip to overtime as a worst-case scenario. It was a wild moment, true, but wouldn't one of the fifteen or so coaches on headsets tell Coach Fisher, "Hey, that extra point is useless - go for two!"? The answer lies with Las Vegas.
See, Tennessee was a 5�-point favorite over Buffalo. That meant, if you put money on the Titans, they had to win by six for you to collect. Was it coincidence that one of the most shocking and controversial plays in NFL history was followed by a spread-beating, otherwise-useless PAT (point after touchdown)? On that day, Tennessee fans celebrated, alongside Gamblo-Americans who Coach Fisher rewarded for their faith and gambling dollars. The Football Gods were not pleased. They like gritty comebacks, trick plays, and memorable moments, but They hate point-shaving. Is it a coincidence that later that postseason, the very same Kevin Dyson was tackled just inches away from scoring the game-tying touchdown in the Super Bowl? I think not.
By the way, the Raiders are favored by four points, so make sure to also keep the gambling scoreboard in mind while you enjoy the American footballing contest. Go Pirates!