The image of Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson’s outstretched right arm, with a football an inch away from the goal line on the final play of Super Bowl 34 loss against the St. Louis Rams is one of the most iconic and heartbreaking images in NFL history.
More than two decades later, Jeff Fisher — the head coach of that Titans team — is now leading the Michigan Panthers of the USFL.
While it’s unlikely the losses his current team has suffered are as painful as the Super Bowl loss he suffered more than 22 years ago, the Panthers have been the victim of multiple sorrowing losses in recent games.
The Panthers’ record dropped to 1-4 after a 27-20 loss against the Tampa Bay Bandits on Friday night. It was the latest of a string of close losses for Michigan, who had the ball in the final two minutes with a chance to tie the game, before a fumble from running back Cameron Scarlett ultimately doomed any comeback effort.
“We had a chance to win that sucker at the end and they made the play on the strip and caused a fumble and ended up kneeling on it. … Our team deserves a win,” Fisher said, ripe with the experience of plenty of previous losses under his belt.
Another look at that game sealing play 😍 pic.twitter.com/DEbfOE6mEa
— Tampa Bay Bandits (@USFLBandits) May 14, 2022
The fumble was one of two second-half turnovers for Michigan; the other being an interception in the Tampa Bay red zone after a pass from quarterback Shea Patterson was deflected at the line of scrimmage.
Michigan did not force any turnovers in the loss, much to the pleasure of Bandits Head Coach Todd Haley, whose team came into the night with a turnover differential of -6; the worst in the USFL.
“The most important stat you can have in a game that relates to wins [and] losses is plus-minus,” Haley said after the victory that improved his team’s record to 3-2. “We talked all week about the defense getting some turnovers. They did a great job in practice of creating some turnovers, once you get that first one good things start to happen. You stop pressing and that’s what we saw in this game. … Plus-minus wins and loses games, and tonight it won us the game.”
For the Panthers, this loss came a week after the team dropped a game they had seemingly all but won against the Philadelphia Stars. Trailing by one point with 5:17 left in the game, the Panthers methodically marched down to the Philadelphia three yard-line.
As time expired, Michigan saw victory slip away as kicker Michael Carriszosa missed a 21-yard chip shot, sentencing the team to a 26-25 defeat.
That ending was a rollercoaster of emotions 🤣🎢 pic.twitter.com/uhtJofH3VO
— Philadelphia Stars (@USFLStars) May 7, 2022
Carriszosa, who also doubled as the team’s punter, was released on May 10 and replaced by Cole Murphy. Murphy, a prolific kicker at Syracuse, made all four kicks he attempted in his debut on Friday, including a 41-yard field goal.
It is not too often a football team has a record of 1-4, but also a positive point differential. Yet the Panthers, who have outscored opponents 87-80 through their first five games, are an anomaly.
The Panthers are a strong defensive team, competitive and gritty. But more than anything, they are in need of a victory.