- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

Less than 10 seconds remained on the scoreboard clock as the kicker awaited the snap. When it came, he took the customary step and a half and drove his foot into the ball. It sailed toward the goal posts — and then wide right as the New York Giants celebrated and the Buffalo Bills held their heads in despair.

Scott Norwood had missed a 47-yard field goal that would have won Super Bowl XXV for the Bills. Final score: Giants 20, Bills 19, the first of four consecutive losses for Buffalo in the NFL’s ultimate game and certainly the most painful.

In six regular seasons, Norwood had made 115 of 155 regular-season field goal attempts, nearly 80 percent, but few people remembered those afterward. On Jan.27, 1991, at Tampa Stadium, he joined the ignominious ranks of Bill Buckner, Chris Webber and Ralph Branca as guys who cost their teams monumental victories.

After making 18 of 29 attempts the following season, Norwood left the Bills — run out of town, some said. No other NFL team picked him up despite his impressive lifetime record. Rightly or wrongly, his association with failure made him a pariah.

Today the 43-year-old Norwood is a financial adviser in Northern Virginia, his NFL career long behind him. As a child, he became well acquainted with the twists and turns of athletic fate; his father, Del, was one of the area’s most successful high school baseball coaches for decades. While playing football at Fairfax County’s Thomas Jefferson High and James Madison University, Scott endured his share of ups and downs. But nothing could have prepared him for his bad fortune in America’s premier sports event with untold millions watching.

In an interview with the Sports Central online news service, Norwood admitted he often replays the field goal attempt in his mind. It starts out true, then veers right at the last second. If the kick had come from several yards closer, it would have been true — and Norwood would rank with Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith and coach Marv Levy as an all-time Bills hero.

If.

“I didn’t get the job done, and I have to take responsibility for that,” Norwood said in the interview. “I planted my foot about six inches farther [from the ball] than I wanted to. If I didn’t do that, the kick probably would have been good.”

At a team rally in Buffalo the day after the game, 15,000 fans gave Norwood a standing ovation. Many of them — and Norwood — were in tears. But as the years went by and the team continued to lose Super Bowls by larger margins (13 points to the Washington Redskins, 35 and 17 points to the Dallas Cowboys), some diehards grew bitter toward him because he had blown the team’s best chance.

“That kick was all about the people in Buffalo and nothing else,” Norwood said. “Our first Super Bowl was an emotional time. I just felt bad about the people, and that’s why I cried.”

Of course, Norwood didn’t lose XXV by himself. The Bills were clearly outplayed by Bill Parcells’ Giants after Buffalo had rolled through the AFC East with a 13-3 record, defeated the Miami Dolphins in a divisional playoff and destroyed the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3 in the AFC Championship game. With Jim Kelly pitching, James Lofton and Andre Reed catching and Thurman Thomas running, the Bills were awesome on offense. And they didn’t waste any time scoring — their no-huddle offense caught many defenses unprepared.

But on Super Sunday, the Giants dominated everywhere but on the scoreboard. They controlled the ball for more than 40 minutes while running 17 more plays than Buffalo. Fullback Ottis Anderson barreled for 102 yards on 21 carries, much of that in the second half, when New York held a whopping 22-8 edge in time of possession.

Inexplicably perhaps, the Bills clung to a 12-10 halftime lead on Norwood’s 23-yard field goal and a 1-yard run by Don Smith, plus a safety when Bruce Smith nailed Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler. New York moved on top in the third quarter when Hostetler threw a 14-yard pass to Stephen Baker.

Both teams scored in the fourth quarter, but Matt Bahr’s 21-yard field goal midway through the period gave the Giants a 20-19 lead. In the final minutes, Kelly drove the Bills from their own 10 to the Giants 29. On fourth down, it was all up to Norwood — and to the football gods.

It has been said, ad nauseam, that football is a game of inches. Never was that truer than on Jan.27, 1991. But time does heal all wounds, to evoke another cliche, and that was illustrated during the summer of 2002 when Norwood returned to Buffalo publicly for the first time in 10 years to participate in a charity event featuring star quarterbacks Kelly and Dan Marino. Obviously, Norwood didn’t know what to expect, but when he was introduced, a crowd of 15,000 at Rich Stadium gave him the biggest ovation of the night.

“It made me feel great to hear that kind of response,” he said. “It made me feel very warm and appreciated for what I did do for the team over the years and not for what I couldn’t do.”

The occasion provided a nice postscript to a disastrous moment for Scott Norwood. Unfortunately, what he didn’t do will live a lot longer in a lot of memories.


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