Mike Keith says it was his worst game of the season.
During a timeout midway through the fourth quarter of the Tennessee Titans’ wild card playoff game against the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 8, 2000, he walked to the back of the booth and began to talk to himself.
“Time and score. Down and distance. Keep it simple,” he told himself. “Don’t be cute because you don’t have it today. Stick to the basics.”
If he knew what was to come, he might have been terrified. However, the Titans’ play-by-play man — like everyone else — had no idea that with 16 seconds remaining in that contest Tennessee would pull off the "Music City Miracle," one of the most memorable plays in NFL history.
Whatever Keith got wrong prior to that 75-yard kickoff return, which featured a handoff and a lateral, it is almost universally agreed that he and then-color analyst Pat Ryan got that moment right.
Tuesday, ESPN listed Keith’s and Ryan’s account of the kickoff return among the top 10 sports calls of all-time. It was 10th on a list topped by Al Michaels’ “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” and included broadcast legends such as Jack Buck and Russ Hodges.
“I think it’s special because of Pat’s reaction,” Keith said Tuesday. “With his, ‘He’s got something. He’s got something!’ he let people in on the fact that something was going on. It shows you how unbelievably aware Pat Ryan, who had been an NFL quarterback, was of everything that was going on. I was not.”
Keith added that to this day, the first words out of many people’s mouths when they meet him are: “He’s got something.”
“No, that was the other guy,” he politely says.
Keith notes it is typical for a broadcaster to have one really bad game in a season, when words just don’t come out and the information does not flow as freely as hoped. In his first year in the role, that was his day.
“It was sort of a messy game,” he said. “The weather was bad. The score [before the return] was 16-15, so that tells you there were some odd things happening.
“I was worse than the game.”
As it turned out, though, his personal pep talk helped.
“I was doing exactly what I told myself, I stuck to the basics,” he said. “We didn’t get into a discussion of whether it was a lateral or not while the play was still going on. I did look for a flag and if I had seen one I would have tried to calm everybody down a little. Really, though, we got lucky.”
Keith called his inclusion on the ESPN list “beyond comprehension.”
“It’s like the guy who gets a pinch-hit home run in one of his only Major League at-bats versus a bunch of Hall of Famers,” he said. “I’ll take my pinch hit.
“The thing I think we really got right is that we captured how down we all were and then how up we all were in that space of time. … Our reaction was very honest. We were dumbfounded.”