Mike Jones and Kevin Dyson Relive Super Bowl XXXIV 10 Years Later

Sean Mitchell speaks with Mike Jones and Kevin Dyson about the historic play that decided Super Bowl XXIV. RIP Air.

Last Saturday marked the 10 year anniversary of one of the greatest Super Bowls and one of the NFL’s most iconic plays and images of all-time.

Down 23-16 with 6 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXIV at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair threw the ball to streaking wide receiver Kevin Dyson who caught the ball at the four yard line but was met by St. Louis Rams linebacker Mike Jones, who wrapped his legs and slowed his momentum. Knowing he was about to fall to the turf, Dyson reached the ball out as far as he could in hopes of reaching the end zone.

His last ditch effort fell short and time ran out as the Rams celebrated their first NFL championship since 1951 while many Titans laid dejected and motionless after coming up just short of forcing the first ever overtime period in Super Bowl history.

“There’s not much I felt I could have done different,” said Dyson, 34, who is now the athletic director for Independence High School south of Nashville. “If I’d have cut the [receiver] route shorter he might have cut me off even faster and if I’d had cut it deeper he might have been able to knock the ball out. So when I think of the play, the formation of the route where we were, the alignment on the field and the field position he had to cover I honestly don’t think there was much more I could have done,” he added.

The image of “The Tackle” and Dyson’s outstretched arm reaching for the end zone has become one of the most legendary and instantly recognizable images in NFL history. The most famous is the photo by AP photographer John Gaps III, shot parallel to the goaline and showing Dyson’s left shoulder inches off the ground while his right arm, extended at 45 degree angle, held the ball only inches from the white end zone line.

“People ask me all the time what was gonna happen in overtime,” said Jones, 40, who currently is the linebacker’s coach at Southern University. “Even to this day, I never [thought] past the last play [in my mind]. We knew we had to stop the last play and didn’t really think beyond that.”

The game culminated a magical season for both franchises, neither of which was predicted to make the playoffs let alone the Super Bowl by most prognosticators before the 1999 NFL season. The Rams, who finished 4-12 in 1998 and hadn’t had a winning season since 1987 when they were still in Los Angeles, installed a new offensive system run by offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

“It was special,” Jones said referring to the team that year. “Everyone on the team had a great chemistry and liked playing with one another.”

The offense was originally supposed to be quarterbacked by off-season acquisition Trent Green but when he was hurt in a preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, the Rams had to plug in back up quarterback Kurt Warner. Warner, who retired last week after 12 NFL seasons, is famous for having gone from stocking shelves at a grocery store in Cedar Falls, Iowa before a stint in the Arena Football League to being elevated to the starting position and instantly became one of the league’s top quarterbacks. He finished the season with 4,353 yards, 41 touchdowns, a 65.1 completion percentage and a 109.2 QB rating, the third highest in NFL history. The Rams finished the season 13-3 and in the process scored a team record and league high 526 points, 4,580 passing yards and 6,639 total offensive yards.

One of St. Louis’ three losses during the 1999 regular season came at the hands of the Titans, whose 24-21 win on Halloween in Nashville ended the Rams 6-0 start. The game was the sign of things to come for Tennessee, who was coming off three straight 8-8 seasons in three different stadiums in their final years of being referred to as the Oilers.

After nearly 40 years under the name, most spent in Houston, the franchise was re-branded the Titans before the season and the team made a titanic leap forward, winning a franchise record 13 games and making their first playoff appearance in 6 seasons. The Titans escaped Wild Card weekend by defeating the Buffalo Bills with the Music City Miracle, a 75 yard kickoff return touchdown by Dyson set up by a controversial lateral by Frank Wychek that some considered a forward pass. The Titans never looked back in route to the Super Bowl, dispatching the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars, whose only losses in the regular season and playoffs were to the Titans.

When asked whether or not he smiles at the fact that he took part in two of the most notable plays in NFL history, Dyson said both “yes and no.”

“I got to do something rare [by being in the NFL and doing what I did],” said Dyson, who was also apart of the Carolina Panthers team that fell in Super Bowl XXXVIII. “But ultimately you want to be able to say you were a world champion and to say you got a ring to hang your hat on but we came up a little short.”

Super Bowl XXXIV went down as one of greatest Super Bowls of all time because it was one of the first in the string of close Super Bowls after years of blowouts, particularly during the NFC’s 13 game win streak over the AFC teams when only two Super Bowls were decided by ten points or less (XXIII, XXV).

After a slow start that saw neither offense reach the end zone and three field goals by the Rams, both teams scored a touchdown in third quarter to set up a thrilling and dramatic fourth quarter. In that final period, the Rams time of possession was only 1:42, meaning the Titans offense was on the field for more than 13 minutes of game time and far more in real time.

Although it was a boost for the team, Warner’s 73 yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Issac Bruce to break a 16-16 tie with 1:54 remaining (which was the Rams first offensive play following the Titans last score) meant the Rams defense had to dig deep inside despite having been on the field for almost the entire fourth quarter. The lack of rest took it’s toll on the St. Louis defense.

“We were tired at the end of the game,” Jones said. “They did a good job of sustaining drives and we didn’t do enough to get off of the field.”

Despite being tired, the Rams had to answer the call and prevent the Titans from making a game tying score. A holding penalty forced the Tennessee offense to start the final drive at it’s own 12 yard line with only one timeout remaining. Behind the awe inspiring play of McNair, the Titans drove all the way to the St. Louis 10 yard line with 6 seconds to play, leaving time for one play.

“I don’t think there was any doubt in any of our minds we were gonna get it done,” Dyson said. “We had overcome so much that year and found ways to win and we thought that moment was in the same boat,” said Dyson.

The Titans hoped to open the middle of the field so that a receiver or a scrambling McNair could find a seam and go into the end zone. Tennessee sent Dyson in motion on tight end Frank Wychek’s side of the field and hoped that Jones, who was assigned to cover Wychek, would give all of his attention to him while Dyson slanted across the field to catch the ball in full stride, breaking a tackle if need be to score a touchdown.

“The design of the play was for me to look at Kevin,” Jones said “I was covering Wychek but I was looking through him to make sure nobody came inside. So I was actually looking at Kevin–he was the one I was watching.” Jones said.

And watch him he did as Jones quickly turned away from Wychek and caught Dyson, who after a slightly low throw from McNair had little time to react to Jones clutch tackle. His legs wrapped, Dyson had no other choice but to reach for the end zone but his outstretched arm fell inches short of the end zone and a probable overtime period to follow.

“It was probably the lowest moment I’ve ever felt at the end of a sporting event,” said Dyson. “It was one of only time I could remember where I had the ball in my hands and wasn’t successful and it was hard for me to swallow,” he added, later mentioning his successes in other sports where he did come through.

Jones himself does not brag as much about the tackle as one may assume because of how routine making a tackle was to him.

“It was a great experience,” Jones, 40, said. “But it wasn’t as if it was an interception returned for a touchdown or a big sack. It was just one tackle that happened to be at the end of the Super Bowl on the last play of the game.”

The two have talked numerous times over the years about the play and although Jones ended up getting the better of two on the play, Dyson respects his humble nature when he looks back on the play.

“We speak around this time of year every year and one thing I can say about Mike Jones that has helped me though all this is how humble he’s been,” said Dyson. “He’s talked in the past about how that play easily could have gone the other way [if a couple things went differently],” he also said.

At the time, the game was only sixth Super Bowl to still be in doubt in the final thirty seconds and is currently one of ten to go down to the final thirty seconds.. Of those games, only three were decided on the very last play of the game (X, XXXIV, and XXXVI). As for the final play itself, ESPN.com rated it the 35th greatest play in sports between 1982-2007 and the second greatest Super Bowl moment of all time (as of 2004).

3 Responses to “Mike Jones and Kevin Dyson Relive Super Bowl XXXIV 10 Years Later”

  1. Patricia Ridley says:

    I am looking for a e-mail address for Mike Jones..due to a family emergency. Please if you can contact me with this information.

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