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Wade Phillips: Dealing with a quarterback change, and the wrong kind of ‘miracle’

By Wade Phillips with Vic Carucci

This is the last of three excerpts from the book, Son of Bum: Lessons My Dad Taught Me About Football and Life, by Wade Phillips with Vic Carucci.

Doug Flutie was our starter for the Bills in 1999. We were 10-5 and already had a playoff spot clinched before the final game of the season, which was at home against the Colts, so we decided to rest Doug and start Rob Johnson. Rob ended up having his best game ever. He threw for 287 yards and a couple of touchdowns to lead us to a 31-6 win.

The next day, our owner, Ralph Wilson, called our GM, John Butler, to tell him he wanted Rob to start our wild card playoff game at Tennessee. It wasn’t a bad idea, considering the Titans were unbeaten at home and won all their games there by big scores. We had just played one of our best games of the whole season, and Rob played tremendously. Plus, if we weren’t playing well, Flutie could come in and give us a spark.

Rob was talented when it came to throwing the ball – he had arm talent. But he was a perfectionist. Everything had to be perfect – the route, the protection. If everything wasn’t perfect, he would hold the ball, and he got sacked a lot because of that.

If you watched him at practice, he was a better passer than Doug, and under some circumstances a better player. If you watched Rob in seven-on-seven, a pure passing drill with no one rushing the quarterback, he would always look great. But under other circumstances, he wasn’t as good a player as Doug.

I wasn’t worried about the players on the team who were in Doug’s corner being angry about the switch. If you’re coming off a big win like we were, I don’t think that happens. If it’s after a loss, I think it’s different. Once you lose and there’s a change, then all hell can break loose.

That decision was looking pretty good when Rob drove us down to set up what we all thought was the winning field goal from forty-one yards by Steve Christie with 16 seconds left. We still had a kickoff to cover, but everything seemed to be in our favor up until that point. Then, Bruce DeHaven, our special-teams coach who had been with the Bills a long time, came up to me and said, “You want to kick it deep?”

“Yeah,” I said.

He came up with another suggestion. “Why don’t we bloop kick it?”

“Oh, okay.”

A bloop kick is higher and shorter than a regular kickoff, and you do it to take more time off the clock than kicking it through the end zone and putting the other team on the 20-yard line (which now has been moved to the 25). Now I thought he was going to have Steve bloop it outside the numbers, where you’d have them pinned as far as the coverage could prevent the returner from going up the field or toward the middle. Even if the ball goes out of bounds, and you get a penalty that gives the other team good field position, so what? They would still have only sixteen seconds to score.

But what we did was completely the opposite, because we blooped it down the middle. Lorenzo Neal caught Steve’s kick and handed off to Frank Wycheck, who threw the ball across the field to Kevin Dyson who ran down the sidelines 75 yards for a touchdown. The officials said it was a legal lateral, but I was standing right across from where Wycheck threw the ball and I know it was an illegal forward pass.

I said, “Well, they’re going to call it back, because we’ve got instant replay.” In fact, I was so sure they would overturn it, I was thinking ahead to the clock needing to be reset to when the penalty occurred. I figured that would still only leave them enough time for one play, so we needed to get our prevent defense ready.

When the official came back and said, “The ruling on the field stands,” I just lost it. I took off my headset and threw it on the ground. All the air just went out of me.

“Oh, God,” was the only thing I could say.

This excerpt is printed with the permission of Diversion Books. For more information, please visit

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