NASHVILLE — Three-time Pro Bowl tight end Frank Wycheck, who threw the lateral that started the "Music City Miracle" kickoff return that launched the Tennessee Titans' run to the franchise's lone Super Bowl appearance, has died. He was 52.
Wycheck died at his Chattanooga home after an apparent fall where he hit his head Saturday morning, according to a statement from his family released through the Legacy consulting firm. His family said Sunday "with great sadness" that Wycheck was found Saturday afternoon.
His family will be following Wycheck's wishes to work with experts for research on CTE and ongoing traumatic brain injury. Funeral services have not been scheduled yet.
"The Wycheck family appreciates the love and support they've received, but asks the public to please respect their privacy during this difficult time," the family said in the statement.
Wycheck retired after the 2003 NFL season, his 11th in the league. He was diagnosed with two concussions in the span of a month in 2003, missed six games, then finished the season with the Titans' road loss to the New England Patriots in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. He decided to retire despite still being under contract and wanting a Super Bowl ring.
"The physical stuff, you can't hide from," Wycheck told The Associated Press in 2014. "If you have lingering effects and you go back into a game, from all my reading and studying on it ... it could prove to be fatal."
Wycheck worked in Nashville sports talk radio after he stopped playing. He also did color commentary for Titans Radio through the 2016 season. He moved home to his native Philadelphia, then relocated to Chattanooga this past summer to be near his family. His survivors include two adult daughters and three grandchildren.
Wycheck played at the University of Maryland for three seasons before being selected by Washington in the sixth round of the 1993 NFL draft. In 1995, he signed with the Houston Oilers and spent the rest of his career with the franchise, which moved to Tennessee after the 1996 season and became the Titans ahead of the 1999 season — when they made what remains their lone run to the NFL's title game.
The "Music City Miracle" came in the final moments of an AFC wild-card game against the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 8, 2000, in Nashville. That kickoff return ranked fourth among the NFL's greatest plays when the league celebrated its first 100 years in 2019.
The Titans led 12-0 at halftime, but the Bills went ahead by a point twice in the fourth quarter, the second time on Steve Christie's 41-yard field goal with 16 seconds to play.
Tennessee's Lorenzo Neal caught the ensuing kickoff and handed off to Wycheck. The 6-foot-3, 253-pound tight end tossed the ball across the field to Kevin Dyson, who sped 75 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in a stunning 22-16 comeback victory. The play left just three seconds on the game clock, and the Bills — who wouldn't make the playoffs again until the 2017 season — had no miraculous answer on the kickoff return, ultimately fumbling after a couple laterals of their own.
Buffalo fans still insist Wycheck's throw was a forward pass, although the on-field replay official that day did not agree. Wycheck told the AP in 2019 he never had a doubt his throw was a lateral.
"Just flick it back," he said. "That's just the way I kind of jumped and threw it. And then I fell backward, and that was like the illusion of it."
Tennessee hit the road for the rest of the playoffs, winning 19-16 against the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round and 33-14 against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC championship game. The Titans came up short on the final play in Super Bowl XXIV in Atlanta, losing 23-16 to the St. Louis Rams.
Wycheck finished his career with 505 receptions, 5,126 yards and 28 touchdowns over 155 games. At that time, he trailed only Shannon Sharpe (815), Ozzie Newsome (662) and Kellen Winslow (541) for most catches among NFL tight ends.
Wycheck played 137 games for the Titans, set a team record with at least one reception in 99 consecutive games and led the franchise in receiving for three straight seasons (1999-2001). He was inducted into the Titans Ring of Honor in 2013.
The lateral for the "Music City Miracle" wasn't his only throw. Wycheck was 5-of-6 for 148 yards and two touchdowns in his career, posting a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
In a released statement, Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk said the organization was devastated to hear of Wycheck's death, a man loved by many whose memory will be cherished. She noted he was always open while making key plays and "even part of a Miracle."
"Frank's name was synonymous with Titans football," Strunk said. "He was such a huge part of our team's success both on and off the field. He embraced this community and fan base immediately, and everyone loved him right back."