Thursday, January 27, 2011

January 27, 1991: Wide Right

TAMPA - Everything two teams worked for, starting in the heat of July and continuing through the cold of January, was coming down to this: Eight seconds left in the Super Bowl, the Giants leading 20-19, and the Bills lining up for a 47-yard field goal attempt. Six months of preparation and hard work, followed by 59 minutes of tough, grinding football, coming down to the right leg of the smallest man on the field.

Good snap, good hold, solid kick.

As Scott Norwood's kick sailed through the Tampa air, the Bills surely had to be holding their breath. While he was a reliable kicker in the cold Buffalo air, he hadn't been great kicking on a grass field. This kick was right at the edge of his range, right at the edge of where they would feel comfortable. They shouldn't have been in this position. Their fast-paced, quick-strike offense had been unstoppable during the season, never more so than in their 51-3 demolition of the Raiders in the AFC Championship Game. But that offense had been unexpectedly shut down by the Giants most of the game. They couldn't fathom how they had only scored 17 offensive points. And then they had given up that go-ahead field goal early in the 4th. No matter what the Bills did, the Giants always seemed to be one step ahead of them. They had made some headway on this final drive, but they would have preferred to be closer for Norwood's kick.

Good snap, good hold, solid kick.

As Norwood's kick sailed toward the goal post, many Giants felt sick. Some said they felt pins and needles. Everything they had done leading up to this game could be ruined in the next four seconds. They had started 10-0, but started scuffling. They had lost quarterback Phil Simms to a broken foot, but had perservered. They had beaten the powerful 49ers in the NFC Championship Game without scoring a touchdown. And they had executed a picture-perfect defensive game plan against the high-octane Bills offense. All that, and they still only had a one-point lead, still had to hold their breath and hope that they'd get a block, or that Norwood would miss. As the kick went away, they didn't get the block.

It was never good. Kicking from the right hashmark, Norwood kept the ball to the right, never bringing it back to the center. There was no hook, no sudden gust of wind. The ball was travelling straight. And it was going to the right. It never had a chance. The Giants had won the Super Bowl by a point.

But in the end, the celebration is the same. Whether you win by 30 or you win by 1, all that matters is that you won. Bill Parcells got the Gatorade bath, got carried off the field. He retired after the game, going out on top.

The Bills walked off the field in anguish; they would make it back to the Super Bowl three more times, but they would never come as close to victory. Buffalo fans still see Norwood's kick in their nightmares. The hopes of an entire season dashed in four seconds. Wide Right.

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