ATLANTA -- One yard.
That was the distance between the Tennessee Titans and a chance to win the Super Bowl.
But as the years go by, as the tale is told and retold of Kevin Dyson's desperate lunge to tie up Super Bowl XXXIV in the final seconds Sunday night, that distance will shrink.
It seemed to shrink even as Dyson, still in shock that he had come up short, spoke in the moments after the St. Louis Rams had hung on for a 23-16 victory.
Dyson, you see, had every right to expect a miracle finish. He knows about these things.
It was he who pulled off the miracle finish in the Titans' playoff opener against the Buffalo Bills, grabbing Frank Wycheck's controversial lateral and racing 75 yards for the game-winning kickoff return.
Then on Sunday night, Dyson found himself at the center of another memorable moment.
Found himself on the other end.
With the time down to six seconds and the Titans needing a touchdown to tie, Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair faded back to pass from the St. Louis 10-yard line.
''We ran the play just like we do in practice,'' Dyson said. ''And they were lined up just like we expected them to. When we called the play, I didn't think anybody would be in the middle of the field.''
Instead, that's just where linebacker Mike Jones was.
McNair got Dyson the ball, just as planned, the receiver catching it at around the four-yard line as he slanted in.
From there, however, things did not go as expected.
''I knew that if I could grab this guy,'' Jones said, ''and wrap him up and get him on the ground, we would win the game.''
Jones did exactly that, holding onto the squirming receiver for dear life. Dyson twisted and stretched, trying to grow an additional 12 inches on his arm as his left elbow hit the ground at the one-yard line.
''When he got his hands on me,'' Dyson said, ''I thought I was going to break free. When I caught the ball, all I saw was yellow pay dirt, but he wrapped me up nice.''
The whistle blew.
On the play.
On the game.
On the season.
Dyson, in a futile act, rolled over and finally reached the end zone with the ball.
But he knew it was too late.
''I was just praying,'' Dyson said, ''that they would stop the clock for some reason.''
But he knew better.
''I don't know (if his knee was down),'' Dyson said, ''but they might not know either. They don't see everything. That's why they've got instant replay.''
But he knew better.
''I thought I was going to get in. To have a chance to win the Super Bowl, to come this far and be short by just half a yard makes me sick,'' said Dyson, cutting half a yard off the actual distance. ''It's completely the opposite of what happened against Buffalo ... It's ironic that it would come down to something like this. Maybe I should have pitched the ball back.''
Why didn't McNair take a shot at the end zone on that final play?
''You don't have to go to the end zone to score,'' he said. ''It wasn't ideal, but you give a guy an opportunity and put the ball in his hands. You make a judgment and hope that he can make the play.
''I thought he was going to score at first ... We run that play a lot and we've been successful with it. This time, we just came up short.''
As Dyson lay there in shock, Ram defensive back Dexter McCleon came over.
''He told me, 'You played hard,' '' said an appreciative Dyson. ''Even though he was on the winning side, he realized what it felt like to come down to being a half-yard short.''
To Jones, it felt great.
''As a defensive player,'' he said, ''you always dream about winning a game, but you dream about winning with an interception or a fumble recovery.''
Still, he didn't want to wake up from this dream.
''He made a great play,'' Dyson said. ''They should give him a game ball.''
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