Is it over yet?
Dolphins, Patriots play through strange ending
FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) -- Trace Armstrong was puffing a delayed victory cigar and retelling the wacky finish when a Dolphins employee hurried him up.
The bus was ready. Time to go. Miami's sack specialist left the locker room and rushed into the frigid darkness -- again -- eager to flee Foxboro with that elusive AFC East championship.
"Twenty years from now," he said, "it will be fun to say you were a part of this."
It wasn't much fun when the Dolphins and New England Patriots were summoned from their locker rooms to play the final three seconds of Sunday's 27-24 Miami win.
The Dolphins (11-5) thought they finally had clinched the division title on Olindo Mare's 49-yard field goal with nine seconds left after losing their previous two games and trailing most of Sunday's game.
The Patriots (5-11) were relieved that their miserable season seemed to be over.
But the apparent final play of the game, first ruled a fumble followed by an illegal forward pass as time expired, was shown on replay to be an incompletion by Drew Bledsoe with three seconds left.
Jerry Seeman, the NFL's senior director of officiating, called from New York to tell Jack Reader, the officiating observer in the press box, that the game wasn't over.
So referee Johnny Grier, who first called both teams back to the field and then told them the game was over, had no choice and told them to return to the field surrounded by abandoned seats.
Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga's locker-room congratulatory speech turned out to be premature, some fans who had left came back in, and players toweled off quickly after already having showered.
Miami defensive end Jason Taylor told teammates to leave the crowded shower area and suit up again.
"Everybody thought he was kidding so he could take a shower," linebacker Zach Thomas said.
Players went back out without tape to protect their wrists and ankles or braces to guard their knees. Some were missing padding. And it was very cold.
"If I get pneumonia out of this, somebody is going to hear about it," New England defensive tackle Chad Eaton said.
But a lot was riding on the outcome. A Dolphins loss could shake up the AFC playoff picture, although they already had clinched a berth because the New York Jets had lost.
"I have never seen a game end like that one before," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, an NFL assistant or head coach since 1975.
Patriots wide receiver Terry Glenn said offensive coordinator Charlie Weis told the team, "If we made it down the field, it would go down in history as one of the great plays of all time."
Michael Bishop, with a stronger arm than Bledsoe, came in with the ball at the New England 40-yard line and floated a wobbly lob that fell in front of Glenn more than 20 yards short of the end zone.
It took 35 extra minutes to determine that Miami was the official winner, not necessarily shocking for a competition with a Florida connection.
It took 35 extra days between the election and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against Vice President Gore that gave the presidency to George W. Bush after he finally won Florida's disputed vote.
"If you're from Florida, expect anything," Miami tight end Hunter Goodwin said.
When all the points were counted and seconds ticked off, the Dolphins had their fourth consecutive playoff berth and first division title since 1994.
So next Saturday -- instead of shivering in subfreezing temperatures in Foxboro -- they'll welcome Indianapolis (10-6) to their own stadium for a first-round playoff game.
And the Dolphins don't expect to be standing on the sidelines as they did in the gloom of Sunday's late-afternoon finish, some in shower shoes with towels draped around their waists.
At least Thomas could joke when it was all over.
"We won two titles in one day," he said. "We won it once and then we won it again."