The Wide Right Game Revisited: Simulating Super Bowl XXV

Jake WestrichSenior Writer IJanuary 25, 2012

12 Jan 1991: Kicker Scott Norwood #11 of the Buffalo Bills misses a 47-yard field goal wide right at the end of regulation during Super Bowl XXV against the New York Giants at Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The Giants won the game, 20-19.
Mike Powell/Getty Images

As Billy Cundiff of the Baltimore Ravens lined up for a game-tying field goal in this year's AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots, it was nearly a foregone conclusion he'd successfully tie the game. Joe Flacco had just moved the ball 65 yards down the field in a minute and a half, nearly completing a game-winning pass to Lee Evans that Sterling Moore was able to loosen from his grasp. And so the Ravens would have to settle for a 32-yard field goal. Ravens players and fans alike had moved their championship aspirations to overtime, but one tiny detail remained: Cundiff still had to punch the ball between the uprights.

When Cundiff's attempt sailed wide, the flabbergasted look shared by his teammates and coaches confirmed that they had all but added his three points to the scoreboard. Alas, the Patriots escaped with the 23-20 victory.

Few can relate to Cundiff's experiences better than former Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood. The goat of Super Bowl XXV, Norwood had the unfortunate circumstance of missing a game-winning field goal before 73,813 fans and a massive television audience. If anyone knew the pain associated with Cundiff's predicament, it was Norwood. His shortcoming resonated so strongly that Super Bowl XXV is now more commonly referred to as the "Wide Right Game."

What Should Have Been

Using the NFL simulation engine, we replayed Super Bowl XXV, pitting the Bills and New York Giants against each other 1,001 times. In our simulation, the Bills edge out the Giants 51.0 percent of the time by an average score of 24-23. The real-life outcome resulted in a 20-19 Giants victory, but had Norwood connected on his kick, the Bills' 22-20 win would have been nearly in line with our simulation.

"Wide Right Game" - 1,001 Simulations
Matchup Win% Avg Score
1990 Buffalo Bills 51.0 23.7
1990 New York Giants 49.0 22.5


Wide Right Game

Super Bowl XXV featured two teams with contrasting styles. The high-scoring Bills led the league in points scored, totaling 428 points during the 1990 season. In the AFC Championship, the Bills clobbered the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3. Quarterback Jim Kelly claimed a 101.2 QB rating on the season, the league's highest, and totaled 24 passing touchdowns. He was joined in the backfield by fellow future Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas, who rushed for 1,297 yards and added another 532 yards to the passing game that year. His 1,829 yards from scrimmage were the league's highest for the second year in a row (a feat he would replicate the next two seasons as well). Though not as renowned, the Bills defense did rank sixth in points allowed, led by defensive end Bruce Smith, whose 19 quarterback takedowns were second-most in the NFL.

The Giants, meanwhile, were built around defense. They surrendered a league-low 211 points during the 1990 season, finding their way to the Super Bowl with a 15-13 upset of the two-time defending champion San Francisco 49ers. Hard-hitting linebacker Lawrence Taylor epitomized Coach Bill Parcels' power football philosophies. Offensively, the Giants were a middling team, finishing 15th out of 28 teams in scoring and 17th in total yards. Quarterback Phil Simms had been lost for the season in their 14th game, with Jeff Hostetler proving a serviceable replacement.

Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida served as the setting for Super Bowl XXV. The game began with an exchange of field goals before the Bills were able to capture a 12-3 lead on a touchdown run by Don Smith and a safety by Bruce Smith, who sacked Hostetler in the end zone. The Giants pulled within two points with just 25 seconds remaining in the half on a 14-yard pass from Hostetler to Stephen Baker, and the two teams headed to the locker room with the Bills holding a 12-10 lead.

The Giants started with the ball in the second half and proceeded to engineer a drive that lasted nine minutes, 29 seconds, a Super Bowl record, and added seven points to the scoreboard. In total, the Bills possessed the ball for less than eight minutes in the second half, and less than 20 minutes in the game thanks to the Giants' methodical, clock-controlling offense.

The Bills recaptured the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter as Thomas broke free for a 31-yard touchdown run. The Giants responded with a field goal on the ensuing possession and held a 20-19 advantage. After a punt by each team, the Bills got the ball at their own 10-yard line with just over two minutes on the clock. The final drive included three scrambles by Kelly and runs of 22 and 11 yards by Thomas, as the Bills were able to advance the ball to the Giants' 29-yard line. Kelly spiked the ball with eight seconds on the clock, setting up Norwood for a 47-yard field goal attempt.

A kick of that distance was anything but a chip shot for Norwood. He had made only one of five attempts at 40 or more yards on natural grass in his six-year career. On the season, Norwood had connected on 20 of 29 field goals, and his career long stood at just 49 yards. Still, the Bills likely rationalized that the odds of Norwood connecting were higher than a Hail Mary throw to the end zone.

As the kick went up, announcer Al Michaels made the call: "No good! Wide right!" The Giants secured their second Lombardi Trophy in five years.


Norwood remained the Bills kicker the following season, but his form continued to show decline from his All-Pro season of 1988. He was successful on 18 of 29 field goal tries in 1991 and subsequently lost his job to Steve Christie the following season. Norwood never kicked in the NFL again after being cut by the Bills.

Super Bowl XXV was the first of four consecutive trips to the Big Game for the Bills, but they never came as close to a victory as they had against the Giants. The Bills and the Minnesota Vikings share the distinction for the most Super Bowl appearances, four, without a victory.