NASHVILLE, Tenn. — ESPN’s SportsCenter included the radio play-by-play call of the Music City Miracle in a top 10 list of “top calls in sports history” on Tuesday in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Howard Cosell’s “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” call during the George Foreman-Joe Frazier boxing match for the World Heavyweight Championship.
The Cosell call didn’t make the program’s top 10, but the description of Frank Wycheck’s lateral to Kevin Dyson for a 75-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in Tennessee’s 22-16 win against Buffalo made the cut.
“Voice of the Titans” Mike Keith said he is still honored and humbled to have called the improbable play, and said its inclusion in such a list adds to those feelings.
Just before Steve Christie kicked a high and short kickoff to Lorenzo Neal, Keith asked, “Do the Titans have a miracle left in them in what has been a magical season to this point?
“If they do, they need it now,” he added just before the ball took flight and the trick play took shape. Neal handed the ball to Wycheck, and the tight end fired it across the field to the speedy receiver who streaked down the Titans’ sideline with a convoy of blockers.
As Keith alerted listeners of the yard lines that Dyson was crossing, former Titans color analyst Pat Ryan chimed in with, “He’s got something. He’s got something! He’s got it!”
“Five, end zone! Touchdown Titans!,” Keith proclaimed. “There are no flags on the field! It’s a miracle! Tennessee has pulled a miracle, a miracle for the Titans!”
Keith said use of the word “miracle” before the kickoff was “dumb luck,” but remembered how the phrase “Music City Miracle” quickly resonated during the postgame call-in show.
Keith said he considers the play, “not the call, but the play,” as significant as any play in the history of an NFL franchise because it springboarded the Titans past Indianapolis and Jacksonville for the AFC Championship and into Super Bowl XXXIV and made a significant early impression and memory for pro football fans in the Mid-South.
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the Music City Miracle.
When asked how to prepare to call a game-changing play, Keith said “you don’t,” but instead announcers try to benefit from previous experience they’ve gained, often in less famous settings. From there, announcers try to trust their eyes, even if the image is unbelievable.
“The most important thing to do in those situations is just focus on what you’re seeing, don’t focus on what you think, don’t focus on giving an opinion, don’t focus on trying to do too much,” Keith said. “The most important thing is just call what you see, and if you get it right, then that’s all that counts. Now, will that resonate with people? Will they say it was good, bad or (be) indifferent? You don’t know, but if you get it right, then you can live with whatever the response to the call is because you’ve called it.
“Lindsey Nelson always said, ‘If you can call minor league baseball and high school football, you can call anything because you’ll see about anything and you’re trained in the skills,’ ” Keith recalled. “I had 10 years of each, so that was really handy for that sort of thing because coming into the job, I had seen a lot of strange things and called a lot of strange things, obviously on a level that most people never heard, but it was good training and you always hope for young broadcasters that they can have that same thing because it gets you prepared, sort of, with the basics because if you’ve done those things, I can promise you that you’ve messed up enough calls that you’ve sort of learned how you’re going to handle different things when they come up.”
Keith said he’s still grateful for the opportunities to learn directly from Nelson, John Ward, Bob Kesling and Randy Smith and the chances to listen to former announcers like Cawood Ledford at Kentucky, Larry Munson at Georgia, John Forney at Alabama, Jim Fyffe at Auburn, Jack Cristil at Mississippi State and Paul Eells, who did Vanderbilt and Arkansas, when Keith was younger.
“You grow up hearing those guys, and you hear them in very different ways capture moments and you think, you know, I hope I can do that at some point,” Keith said. “And what they all have in common, is while their styles are all so vastly different, is they all love it.”
The top three calls on the SportsCenter list were:
3. “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” by Russ Hodges during Bobby Thompson’s ninth inning, three-run homer that lifted the New York Giants past the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951.
2. “I don’t believe what I just saw!” by Jack Buck during Kirk Gibson’s pinch hit home run for the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against Oakland.
1. “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” by Al Michaels as the final seconds expired in the United States’ 4-3 upset of the Soviet Union in the semifinal game of the 1980 Winter Olympics before winning the gold medal against Finland.
Keith agreed with that call topping the list and said Michaels “to this day, still captures a moment better than anybody.”
“I don’t know how he does it, and if you ask him about preparation or whatever, he would probably tell you a lot of the same things. You can’t know what you’re going to say in certain moments. You don’t stand there while you’re shaving and think, ‘If this happens, I’m going to say this.’ There’s a training, but there’s also an innate ability to hit it, and he hits it better than anybody.
“When he said, ‘Do you believe in miracles?’ that was such a great moment,” recalled Keith, who was 12 at the time and old enough to understand the Cold War. “That, to me, is not only the greatest sports call of all time, I think it’s the greatest radio call of all time because it so captured a sports moment and a country’s moment in terms of how we all felt. I didn’t know anything about hockey, but I was glued to that … that was so important to so many people, and to be able to be in that moment and get that sense of what everybody is feeling, is such a gift that he has, that to me, separates him from everybody else.”
The Music City Miracle recently turned 13, and Keith said he still enjoys talking with fans about their memories of the play.
“It’s always very humbling to hear every part of it and hear the way that it had an impact and that our call is at least a small part of that memory, which is very gratifying and very humbling,” Keith said.
Three years ago, Dyson, Wycheck and Neal reunited to discuss the play in celebration of its 10th anniversary.