What has eluded most observers is how central of a figure Dyson was in Super Bowl XXXIV. He had only one catch (for 9 yards) heading into the final 2 minutes of the game, but suddenly, with 1:54 and no timeouts left, down by 7, the Titans turned to him. They drove 87 yards in 12 plays and threw to Dyson four times, resulting in an incompletion and three catches. The game’s last six plays: a third-down, 7-yard completion to Dyson for a first down at the 31; a spike to stop the clock; an incomplete pass intended for Derrick Mason; an incomplete pass intended for Eddie George; a 16-yard completion to Dyson at the 10-yard line with 6 seconds left; and the famous 9-yard completion to Dyson that ended up at the 1.
The climactic final play was Double Zag Z Sliver Detroit (there also was a number in the play call for the protection, but 14 years later Dyson can’t remember what it was). The Titans had never used the play in a game, but they had practiced it several times successfully. The problem was, they had always practiced it in the middle of the field. At the 10-yard line, the field was shorter, the defensive zones compressed, meaning defenders didn’t have to cover as much ground.
Dyson, lined up wide on the right side, two yards outside of tight end Frank Wycheck, went in motion to the right tackle, then motioned back toward his original position. He did this to make it more difficult for a defender to jam him at the line and to see if the Rams were playing zone or man. No one followed Dyson’s motion.
“I knew it was coming to my side when I went in motion and saw it was zone,” he says.
At the snap, Wycheck ran a seam route (straight up the field), and Dyson cut underneath him on a slant. Jones, the Rams' linebacker, ran with Wycheck for several strides, but because the play was in the red zone, he was able to pass off the tight end to a shallower-playing safety sooner than he would have at midfield, freeing Jones to chase Dyson. Dyson caught the ball at the 5-yard line, but Jones immediately grabbed him around the hips and slid down to his knees at the 3. Dyson made a desperate lunge, extending the ball with his left hand toward the goal line, but he was about 18 inches short. He remained on his knees long after the play and the game ended, stunned and disbelieving.
Dyson owns a DVD of the game, but all these years later he still hasn’t watched it. “I will eventually,” he says. “I want to see what everyone else was watching. But I haven’ watched it yet because I know the ending. I know what happens. I would love to watch that game and know this time I’m going to score.”
Then on Sunday, with his son by his side, he found himself staring at the climactic play on TV and he couldn’t turn away. Watching the slow-motion replays, he saw something for the first time that he wishes he had done differently. If he had to do it over again, he would have pulled up tighter to Wycheck when he completed his motion, using the tight end to make it more difficult for Jones to follow him.
“I could have sneaked under (Wycheck),” he says.
Dyson has made his peace with the play; to come up just a half-yard short of a touchdown on one of the biggest stages in the world is a feat in itself. At least he was a part of something big. He knows this, but there is this other nagging thought.
“I can’t remember anytime (in football) that I didn’t get it done,” he says, “and then in the biggest game of my life and the biggest moment ...”
In the state championship game, he had an interception, a pass deflection and double-digit tackles for Clearfield High. In the Freedom Bowl, he’d caught the winning pass for Utah. In the wild card game, he’d scored the game-winning touchdown to beat the Bills. In the Super Bowl he came up less than a yard short of a ring.
For Dyson, it would never be better than the 1999-2000 Super Bowl season — his second in the league. The following season he blew out his knee after just two games. A year later, he returned to action and had his best season statistically, with 54 catches for 825 yards and seven touchdowns. But in 2002 he tore his hamstring 11 games into the season. After the season he signed as a free agent with Carolina, where he was supposed to pair up with fellow Ute receiver Steve Smith, but Dyson tore his Achilles tendon in practice that summer. He returned to play in the final regular-season game of the 2003 season, catching two passes and returning a punt. He went on to play in the Super Bowl with his new team, and, once again his team narrowly lost, this time 32-29 to the New England Patriots.