NASHVILLE – While standing near the south plaza outside Nissan Stadium on Friday, Kevin Dyson wants to talk about time.
No, not just about 16 seconds – the amount of time left on the clock Jan. 8, 2000, in the AFC Wild Card playoff game after the Buffalo Bills took a 16-15 lead over the Tennessee Titans with a 41-yard field goal from Steve Christie, and the amount of time needed for Dyson to eventually find the end zone on the ensuing kick in what is dubbed the “Music City Miracle.”
It does come up, though. As one of the most memorable plays in NFL history, and as the player to score the winning touchdown, how could it not?
“To be able to talk about it and, in essence, talk about time – you talk about something that took place with 16 seconds left of the clock and you think you’re running out of time, and you find a way to be successful,” said Dyson, who has since traded in his uniform for a tan sport coat and navy blue dress pants.
There’s a larger point Dyson is trying to make in his prerecorded keynote speech for the Kentucky Super Preps Award Ceremony, which will be shown virtually this year on June 25, 26, 27 and 28 at 6 p.m. each evening on WDNZ TV11, as well as on the Bowling Green Daily News, Med Center Health and Kentucky Super Preps Facebook pages.
Dyson took advantage of the time remaining in a game over 20 years ago, but with his playing days behind him, he is now trying to take advantage of the time he has each day to be more than an athlete, and he wants to encourage others to do the same.
“I think the biggest thing is here we are, and we all talk about the equalizer – White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, you make millions of dollars to you’re living on welfare – the one thing we all have that’s the same is the same amount of time,” Dyson said. “We’ve got 24 hours to make the most of that and spend it how we need. What you do with it ... it’s up to you.”
MUSIC CITY MIRACLE
When Dyson took the field at what was then known as Adelphia Coliseum, he wasn’t expecting to see his name associated with one of the most memorable plays in NFL history for the next two decades.
He wasn’t thinking about running into the end zone from his team’s own 25-yard line. He wasn’t even supposed to be part of the play.
Then-coach Jeff Fisher wanted to run “Home Run Throwback,” a play he later said in an interview with NFL.com the team finished Saturday walk-throughs with. Fisher looked to Derrick Mason, but he had a concussion. He then turned to the first backup, Anthony Dorsett, but he was cramping.
So he turned to Dyson, who Fisher explained the play to before taking the field.
“People ask me, ‘What were you thinking?’ ” Dyson said. “About the only time I thought of anything, there was a moment – because I wasn’t even supposed to be part of the play – there was a moment when I was going out and they said, ‘Hey, get what you can. They’re going to lateral it to (Frank) Wycheck, he’s going to run, you get behind and he’s going to pitch it to you. You do what you can and get out of bounds and we’ll kick the field goal and we win the game.’ ”
Dyson says Lorenzo Neal was the “prognosticator” of the play, but didn’t find out until a talk years later when Neal said he told the others the ball would come to him. Dyson calls Neal “the best teammate ever” and “best blocking fullback ever in the National Football League,” having blocked for the likes of Warrick Dunn, Eddie George, Corey Dillon and LaDainian Tomlinson, but also that “catching was less than 50-50, and if I’m saying 50-50, then I’m giving him credit,” which is why he figured Neal knew the ball would come to him.
“He said he went on the field and they’re all trying to explain to me, ‘This is what’s going to happen, blah, blah, blah.’ I had seen it in practice, but I had never been a part of it. I found out that Lorenzo Neal went and said, ‘Hey, they’re going to kick it to me and I’m going to get this ball. Come get it and I’ll go block for you,’ ” Dyson said. “Like, what?”
Christie kicked off high and short to Neal. He handed the ball to Wycheck, who ran to his right before throwing it across the field to Dyson. The 6-foot-1 receiver took off.
With the time and score, Dyson’s initial thought was to stop the clock so the Titans could kick the winning field goal, but when he saw Christie go down after getting blocked, he had other plans.
“I didn’t want to get tackled,” Dyson said. “But when I saw him go down, I was like, ‘I’m about to score.’ ”
“I get a lot of credit because I scored the touchdown, but them guys had been working on it, they blocked and I did what I was blessed to do. I can run. That’s one thing. I’ve got these long legs for something.”
The play went to review to determine if Wycheck had illegally thrown the ball forward, but the ruling on the field was upheld. Two decades later, Dyson has no doubts it was the correct call.
“A lateral is, by definition, straight or back and the ball was straight,” Dyson said. “(It was) straight as a line. By definition it was a lateral.”
The Titans followed with victories over the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars the following two weeks, before falling to the St. Louis Rams 23-16 in Super Bowl XXXIV when Dyson caught a pass from Steve McNair and came up a yard shy of the end zone on the final play.
While known mainly for those moments in January 2000, Dyson appeared in parts of six NFL seasons – five came with Tennessee, and he also played in one game for the Carolina Panthers – before bouncing around practice squads and eventually retiring early in part due to injuries sustained during his career.
“I was 30 years old. I played six years, seven years in the NFL and my goal was 10. I would have been 33 years old and I got 10 years in. I still would have been a young man, but I didn’t even get to my own goal,” Dyson said. “I had to find a way of life after what I thought was life.”
After being selected out of the University of Utah by the then-Tennessee Oilers with the 16th overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, Dyson’s mother told him something before he moved to Nashville that stuck with him years later.
“She said, ‘Just keep in mind football is what you do. It’s not who you are,’ ” Dyson said. “It wasn’t any more evident to that statement than when I decided to retire because what do you do? I had been playing ball. It’s all I had known 24-7, 12 months a year. This is what I’m training for and I identified as a football player at that point in my life.
“That used to come back and resonate with me – this is not who you are, it’s what you did. I had to reinvent myself, I had to humble myself and start over.”
Dyson didn’t take school seriously growing up, he says, but his grades were decent enough that he was able to keep playing sports. His mother required a B average, and he did just enough to keep her happy to play. Dyson’s end goal was to be a professional basketball player.
Now, he’s working professionally in education.
Dyson has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Utah and master’s degrees in leadership administration and teaching principles 7-12th grade from Trevecca Nazarene University, where he later earned a doctorate in leadership and practical practice after defending his dissertation on the benefits of an online literacy program for Williamson County ninth graders while serving as an assistant principal at Independence High School.
“It’s interesting, I just had this conversation the other day and we were talking about that transition and finding your identity post-athletics,” Dyson said. “ ... When I was thinking about that and having this conversation with another professional athlete, we were talking about how we have transitioned and looked to do stuff and be successful at it, and a lot of guys don’t. It becomes about wasting time and having an identity as a football player.”
He now serves as the principal at Grassland Middle School in Franklin, Tenn. He was officially named to the position last May after serving in an interim capacity prior.
The students Dyson is responsible for don’t immediately know him as the “Music City Miracle” hero or an NFL star because of their age, but many of the parents do. After the kids learn, he says they’ve shown up to school with football cards, jerseys and YouTube clips to show the 44-year-old principal.
“That’s the interesting dynamic because they’ll come in and before I know it they’ve talked to me for 30 minutes about where they were or they’re big fans, and the kids are like, ‘I don’t even know who this dude is,’ ” Dyson said.
“ … But it’s always been kind of my in with kids. It’s kind of been that conversation starter with kids like, ‘Look, I’ve done it. I’ve been where you want to get to, but let me tell you what’s on the other side of the equation here.’ ”
The Kentucky Super Preps speech is the first time Dyson has talked about the “Music City Miracle” play at Nissan Stadium by himself, he says. He’s at the stadium frequently, serving as an analyst for Titans Radio on 104.5 The Zone, and is able to feel the energy of the cheers from the crowd, much like those he heard on Jan. 8, 2000 – the loudest outdoor event he’s been to, he says.
“It can be a little surreal, but I’m a little older now, man, and I’ve grown to appreciate it rather than expect it or need it,” Dyson said. “I’m definitely in that appreciation stage of life.”
It’s just one of the many aspects of life he’s is trying to take advantage of with the time he has. He says he’s looking at starting a podcast and branding himself. He’s also been writing a book – something he says he thought he’d never do.
“I’m always growing, man,” Dyson said. “Somebody told me a long time ago that you don’t shut down opportunities because you don’t know if they’ll ever open up again.
“ ... For me, I like different things now. Before, it was all sports. Now, I like a little bit of everything. I feel like I’ve got some things I’d like to share and I’m going to look into doing that. Through this pandemic, through all the stuff that’s happened of recent, it’s made me realize, man, that you’ve talked about it or thought about it, now you need to be about it and go ahead and pursue it.”
From the final 16 seconds of that memorable AFC Wild Card game, to his life after football, Dyson has taken advantage of the time he has on the clock and is hoping to inspire others to do the same.
He remembers his mother’s advice at the start of his career. He’s been a professional football player, a principal and is excited about several other avenues opening in his life, but what does Kevin Dyson aspire to be known for when his time is up?
“If you’re asking the 44 (-year-old) middle-aged man that I am now that question, I just want to be able to say that I was a good, decent person,” Dyson said. “ ... Whether I inspired a generation or not – some people are going to get it, some people will be inspired, some won’t – I just want to be able to not waste my time anymore and not take the time I have for granted and take full opportunity with my own kids, my own family and then the kids I come across or the people I come across.
“At the end of the day, man, I just want people to say, ‘He was a good dude.’ I can live with that.”