As Scott Norwood lined himself up to kick the Bills to victory in Super Bowl XXV, the pressure was too much. As a 12-year-old in Buffalo, all I knew were the Bills; they were all I cared about, and this was Buffalo’s chance to turn things around.
I was agitated, anxious, and unreasonable, so while they prepared for the kick, I turned the TV off. It was an initial reaction to plan for the worst. My family immediately erupted with pleas for me to turn the TV back on, and I did, before the kick happened.
My second action was to ask God for help. My family had never gone to church, nor had we ever really been religious, so this was a strange reaction, but nevertheless, I prayed. “Hi, God? I know you’re busy, but I know we don’t really talk much. I never ask you for anything. Anything! If you do exist, and are real, please show me. Give me this. Please.”
We all know what happened next. Over the years, I have tried numerous versions of this. Appealing directly to the Football Gods—which resulted in the Tennessee Titans beating the Bills on one of the most ridiculous, and hilariously fun (unless you’re a Bills fan), plays ever constructed in football history, the homerun throwback.
I prayed to the Hockey Gods—which proceeded to end the Stanley Cup finals in the most controversial way possible, as well as squashing numerous requests for Sabres wins or comeback attempts.
I prayed to the Baseball Gods—who seemed to really really like Derek Jeter for a long time, who allowed two steroid kings to enter the record books as home run champions, who wouldn't let my Tigers get out of the cellar for years, and who wouldn’t give good guys like the Atlanta Braves' pitching staff a break.
As I have aged and experienced more hardships, I have slowly learned that maybe sports isn’t as important as I once ranked it. I promised myself I would be different, now, and try harder to prioritize. And yet, there I was, sitting in the stands at Ralph Wilson Stadium watching the Bills and the Raiders duke it out.
Going into the game, it seemed like the Bills should have won the game handily. With the Raiders going through off the field turmoil and facing player injuries, the Bills, coming off two well-rounded victories over two of the NFL’s upper-echelon teams, were easily in the driver’s seat.
But that is why they play the games, I guess. The Bills' passing offense didn’t click for the first three quarters and the Bills' running game, while somewhat better, continued to prove fairly anemic. Trent Edwards didn’t hit his short game early and clearly couldn’t find a rhythm, thus disallowing the Bills to sustain drives and keep the Raiders off the field.
But the Raiders got their chances, and did enough to score 23. The way the Raiders scored was very much like how the Bills scored against Seattle—fake. None of their scoring drives, save for the big TD pass, was longer than 27 yards. A couple of big returns setup some short drives for field goals. A couple of turnovers gives the Raiders the ball in good field position and they capitalize.
Lucky for the Bills, the Raiders' quarterback was JaMarcus Russell, and he is just bad. If the Raiders had J.P. Losman running that offense, they would have killed the Bills. Killed them. Also lucky for the Bills.
[Side Note: The Raiders ran a few plays with McFadden at QB and they worked fairly well. McFadden just handed the ball to Michael Bush. I couldn’t understand why they worked, as it was fairly obvious he wasn’t going to throw. It's little things like these which annoy me about coaches.]
The Bills did good things. Overall, they contained the Raiders' rushing attack and held them to under 100 yards. The Raiders got their yards at times, but the defense was stout. The offense wasn’t as good. I think I was wrong when I said the Bills don’t face a real defense until late; the Raiders' defense is good, and Rob Ryan is a good coordinator. He did what I said and had Edwards both pressured and somewhat confused for three quarters.
Strangely, he backed off somewhat in the fourth quarter, and this changed the game. I don't know if he backed off because the guys were tired, because the Bills changed schemes, or because the Bills just figured it out, but the game changed significantly. The Bills began exerting their will, and drove 96 yards in 16 plays on the suddenly porous Raiders.
Maddeningly, the Raiders struck back almost immediately, on a third down quick slant to Johnnie Lee Higgins. The Bills were clearly thinking run, and Higgins outran everyone to the house. Interestingly, Donte Whitner was flagged for a penalty for tackling Huggins five yards into the end zone as Huggins as showboating into the end zone and dancing it up after the TD, and Whitner wanted to do a "not in my house" play.
One has to wonder the impact of that play on the Bills psyche, as the Bills immediately punched back again and drove 69 yards, mostly on the arm of Edwards, for another touchdown.
After the next kickoff, the Bills held the Raiders to a quick three and out, to one of the loudest crowds I can remember. The only louder crowds I remember were Monday Night 2007 against Dallas, and, of course, the Houston comeback game in the early '90s.
It became pretty clear how the game was going to end when Edwards and offensive coordinator Turk Schonert, as in the previous two drives, began orchestrating another harmonious drive. They gashed the Raiders for a good 25 yards to get to the 21-yard line, then, as they had only one time out left, that was close enough for Lindell.
It wasn't perfect, but it worked. I would have liked to have seen the Bills try to score a touchdown, as they clearly had all the momentum and had the Raiders on their heels, but Dick Jauron is Dick Jauron. He isn't Manny Ramirez.
Even though the Bills were down two, the looks on Raiders’ fans faces around us made it feel inevitable. For many Buffalo fans it may have felt inevitable, but for me, knowing Buffalo’s history, it is never over until the clock says zero.
Waiting for the clock to count down for the Bills to call timeout seemed like forever. So many thoughts were running through my head. I had seen the New England-Miami score already; Miami killed them. If the Bills win today they are alone in first place in the division. Seriously! The Bills are about to go 3-0!
Lindell is the Bills' most clutch kicker and most accurate kicker ever. Edwards has already shown his clutchosity. This would be another comeback victory for him. Nine points down with four minutes to play? Are you kidding me? These are how his days at the office are going to be.
I wanted to close my eyes, look up and ask. I do this thing, where I kind of zone everything out and just sort of think internally. I can't really explain it.
With my arm around my fiancée to my left, and my sister standing next to her, and my son under my arm to my right, I took a moment and enjoyed everyone. I looked at the score, the Bills fans anticipating a win, and the Raiders fans anticipating the loss. I looked at the field. There stood 22 behemoths paid millions of dollars to play a game we all love to watch, wager on, write about, dissect, and argue about.
I strangely thought about how great of a game Josh Reed had. The same Josh Reed who fans hated and wanted the Bills to cut played his heart out, and made at least four or five critical catches and a few key blocks. I thought that this Bills team is a team that the fans of Buffalo who have been holding onto the mentality that we're still a blue collar town with a blue collar attitude should love, but has enough nuance and flavor for everyone. Things felt alright.
“God?” I asked.
Then I paused.
“No, never mind, it's just football,” I thought.
And with that, the kick sailed directly through the middle of the uprights.
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