Super Bowl XXV: Reflecting on the 20-Year Anniversary of the Closest Super Bowl
We are now just 10 days away from Super Bowl XLV, and everyone is anticipating a great game between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers in Dallas, Texas. How will this game compare to Super Bowls of the past?
Every year when we identify who is playing in the Super Bowl, I can't help but reflect on the chances that the Buffalo Bills had to win the big game. Today marks the 20th anniversary of Super Bowl XXV, which was held on January 27, 1991. Super Bowl XXV featured the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants, held in Tampa Bay, Florida. This was the closest game in Super Bowl history. The 20th anniversary felt like an appropriate time to re-visit that epic contest.
The New York Giants were seven-point underdogs, but found a way to beat the Bills 20-19, when Scott Norwood attempted to give the Bills the win. His now famous 47-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right, and the Giants under Bill Parcells had their upset win. The game also featured two of the most feared defensive stars of their era, as Lawrence Taylor and Bruce Smith were the best at their positions.
I was lucky enough to be in attendance for that game, as I flew in on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles, arriving in Tampa Saturday morning without a Super Bowl ticket in hand. I realize that wasn't the smartest thing I had ever done, but it was the first Super Bowl for my beloved Buffalo Bills, and I was going to do everything in my power to see them play in it. At least that is what I told myself.
This article is going to look back at that game, what has happened to the organizations since then and I will also pass on a few memories of the contest that I experienced.
Mission Impossible: Finding a Super Bowl Ticket in Less Than 24 Hours
Shortly after the red-eye flight touched down in Tampa, I got a ride to the house of some friends who had relocated to Tampa. They already had tickets for the game, so we started hitting up people on the phone to get a ticket. No such luck.
I then proceeded to the stadium, where I came upon a tent outside that was hosting a party for Super Bowl sponsors. Some media types were also invited, and one of them offered to sell me his ticket to get in, which cost me only $25.00. You have to remember this was 1991. No idea what it would go for now, but I remember being very surprised that I could get in to this exclusive party on a whim.
Once inside, I found ex-Bills quarterback Jack Kemp. Surely, he would be able to give me some advice on finding a ticket. He shook my hand, said good luck and went back to his conversation. I went over to the bar and shared a drink with quarterback Bubby Brister. Nobody had a ticket for sale.
Then the All-Time 25-Year Super Bowl team walked by in their matching sport coats. I saw people like Reggie White, L.C. Greenwood, Mean Joe Greene and Bob Lilly walk by. That was cool and I got some pictures of them. If only digital cameras had been around in 1991!
On the day of the game, I started walking around the stadium asking everyone that I made eye contact with if they had an extra ticket available for sale. That process continued without any luck. The hours ticked down and I found myself directly across from the main will call window with only 15 minutes left before kickoff. Discouraged, I sat down under a big tree right across from the window and felt that I was going to have to find a local bar if I was going to see the game.
Next thing I knew, a man walks over and asks if I am looking for a ticket. I said you better believe I am. He asked me what I was willing to spend, and I told him $400.00 which was everything I had left. Again, this is 1991! He then said sold, and I couldn't believe it. Our seats were on the 50-yard line, on the Bills' side of the field about 20 rows up. He saw the look on my face and told me that he should have charged me more. We laughed about it, but I had no regrets. I just had to get into the game.
War Time Super Bowl: The Gulf War and Tight Security
One of my memories of the Super Bowl was seeing the Black Hawk helicopters flying over the stadium. The United States was involved in the Gulf War, so security was extremely tight.
When we walked into the stadium, security forced you to surrender any electronic devices. You couldn't bring in a camera to the game, which was a shame, because with the camera I had, I would have had some great pictures from my viewpoint on the 50-yard line.
The stadium was packed and Whitney Houston sang a great rendition of the anthem to get the crowd going. We were approaching the kickoff!
How the New York Giants Reached the Super Bowl
The New York Giants wound up with a 13-3 regular season record. Ironically, they wound up playing the Buffalo Bills in the third-last game of the regular season. The Bills won 17-13, but both Phil Simms and Jim Kelly got hurt in the contest. Simms wound up not playing again the rest of the season due to a broken bone in his foot. Jim Kelly's knee injury cost him the final two regular season games.
The Giants had to turn to backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler, and he wound up winning the final five games of the season. Pretty special for a guy that had only started two games in his seven-year career. The Giants lived off their dominating defense, led by defensive coordinator Bill Belichick and head coach Bill Parcells. The Giants had the No. 2 defense in the NFL and they kept the score low for an offense that wasn't exactly over-powering.
The Giants won their first playoff game by knocking off the Chicago Bears 31-3. Not really much of a contest. Their big test was in the NFC Championship Game, where they faced the two-time defending Super Bowl Champions, the San Francisco 49ers. The Giants forced a late fumble, and with the help of five Matt Bahr field goals, defeated the 49ers 15-13.
The Giants team that year had five All-Pros: Erik Howard, Lawrence Taylor, Pepper Johnson, Bart Oates and William Roberts.
How the Bills Got to the Super Bowl
The Bills wound up with a regular season record of 13-3, identical to the New York Giants.
The Bills had the highest-rated passer in the NFL in Jim Kelly and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Bruce Smith. The Bills team was loaded, with nine Pro Bowl players: Bruce Smith, Darryl Talley, Shane Conlan, Cornelius Bennett, Steve Tasker, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Kent Hull and Will Wolford.
The Bills utilized the hurry-up K-Gun offense, which was installed by offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda and run by the general, Jim Kelly. Looking at the Pro Bowl selections, it seems odd that neither wide receiver Andre Reed, current Hall of Fame finalist, and James Lofton, Hall of Fame member, made the All-Pro team.
When Jim Kelly was injured in the game against the New York Giants in the regular season, Frank Reich came in to play the final two regular season games. Kelly's knee injury improved, and he returned in the playoffs to knock off the Miami Dolphins in the first round, 44-34. Then in the AFC Championship Game, the Bills humiliated the Los Angeles Raiders, 51-3 in the largest margin of victory of any AFC Conference Championship Game. No wonder there is no football in Los Angeles today.
The Bills were installed as seven-point favorites for the Super Bowl. That probably took into account that Kelly was healthy and Simms was not. Plus, Buffalo had beaten the Giants in the regular season, and the Bills offense was much more dynamic than the Giants'.
New York Giants Starting Super Bowl Lineup
QB: Jeff Hostetler
RB: Ottis Anderson and Maurice Carthon
WR: Mark Ingram and Stephen Baker
TE: Mark Bavaro
OL: Jumbo Elliott, Doug Riesenberg, William Roberts, Eric Moore and Bart Oates
DL: Eric Dorsey, Erik Howard and Leonard Marshall
LB: Lawrence Taylor, Pepper Johnson, Gary Reasons and Carl Banks
CB: Mark Collins and Everson Walls
S: Greg Jackson and Myron Guyton
Buffalo Bills Starting Super Bowl Lineup
QB: Jim Kelly
RB: Thurman Thomas and Jamie Mueller
WR: Andre Reed and James Lofton
TE: Keith McKeller
OL: Will Wolford, Howard Ballard, Jim Ritcher, John Davis and Kent Hull
DL: Bruce Smith, Leon Seals, and Jeff Wright
LB: Cornelius Bennett, Darryl Talley, Shane Conlan and Ray Bentley
CB: Nate Odomes and Kirby Jackson
S: Leonard Smith and Mark Kelso
For my money the biggest play of the game (outside of the Scott Norwood kick) occurred in the second quarter, and is pictured here. The Giants were up against their own end zone and Jeff Hostetler rolled out to pass. Bruce Smith came up from behind and reached out with his big paw and tackled Jeff Hostetler by his wrist.
As you can see from the picture, Hostetler didn't really seem to have outstanding ball control as his other hand and arm are away from the ball. If Bruce Smith could have somehow managed to slide his hand down Hostetler's wrist to the football, a fumble in the end zone could have been seven points, instead of the safety the Bills received. That was a huge five-point difference.
Earlier, Don Smith had scored on a short dive play to give the Bills their first touchdown. The safety by Bruce Smith wound up increasing the Bills' lead in the first half to 12-3. The Bills then went three and out and the Giants came back in the final drive of the half to score a touchdown on a pass to Stephen Baker that cut the lead to 12-10. It was an exciting first half and promised to be an exciting second half as well.
Bill Parcells worked his gameplan to perfection in the second half, as the Giants continued to take up massive amounts of clock by coming up with one long drive after another. The Giants wound up with 40 minutes of time of possession, compared to only 20 for the Bills. True, the Bills offense hurried up while it was on the field, but the Bills defense was wearing out from being on the field so much.
The Giants finished the first half with a touchdown drive, and they started out the second half the same way, with another touchdown drive. Ottis Anderson scored on a one-yard run and the touchdown gave the Giants a lead of 17-12. Bills fans will painfully recall this drive when Mark Ingram broke all kinds of Bills tacklers on a long third-down play to keep the drive going.
This was the point in the game that I started wondering if it was not going to be our day.
Thurman Thomas Scores from 31 Yards Out
The Bills came storming back and on the first play of the fourth quarter, Thurman Thomas broke through a hole and ran it in from 31 yards out to give the Bills the lead back again at 19-17.
The problem with all of this was that the Bills were scoring on very quick drives and the Giants were scoring on very long drives.
The Bills defense continued to get worn out as the second half went on.
Giants Come Back To Take the Lead for Good
The Giants had a long drive that went all the way down to the three-yard line before the Giants settled for a Matt Bahr chip shot. The field goal gave the Giants the lead at 20-19 with over seven minutes left to play.
From there, both teams traded punts. The end result was that the Bills had the ball at their own 10-yard line with 2:16 left to play. The stage was now set for one memorable drive for the record books.
The Bills' Final Drive
Jim Kelly led the Bills from their own 10-yard line all the way down to the Giants 29. Kelly basically pulled out all of the stops. Whatever was needed. He scrambled. He threw passes to tight end Keith McKeller. He drove the ball down the field when the game was on the line. His efforts from an historical standpoint should have rewarded him with the honor of authoring the Greatest Drive in Bills History.
When he left the field with eight seconds to play, and the ball sitting at the New York 29, Jim Kelly was excited, thinking the Bills were about to kick the winning field goal.
The scoreboard tells the whole story.
On first down, Jim Kelly had spiked the ball to stop the clock with eight seconds left. Both teams were out of timeouts, so there was no freezing the kicker issues to contend with.
Both teams lined up on their respective sidelines, and I seem to recall that most players were holding hands with each other.
The entire stadium stood up in anticipation of the moment.
Scott Norwood Attempts the Kick
As you can see from the picture, there weren't really any Giants in Scott Norwood's face. He gave it his best effort, and put a solid foot on the ball. The ball had the distance to have been good from at least 55 yards away, which is far outside of his normal range. Frank Reich gave Norwood a good hold as well.
Every time you watch a replay of the kick, you will see it float just outside of the goal posts by a yard or two. Each time I see the replay, I find myself trying to use body English to get the ball over for a score. I do it automatically without thinking about it.
As soon as the kick was signaled as no good, there was a huge roar in the stadium. For me, it felt like the wind had been taken out of me, and I remember holding my head in my hands for a long time in disbelief.
The Giants players streamed onto the field and started to carry Bill Parcells on their shoulders. The Giants won the Super Bowl 20-19. To this day, it remains the only Super Bowl that has been decided by one point.
Giants Celebrate Super Bowl XXV Victory
After that, all you could see was the Giants players whooping it up on the field. Their fans were screaming and hollering, as well they should. To the victor, goes the spoils.
For myself, I wanted to find a hole to crawl into. Bills fans were proud of our team, as it was the first Super Bowl appearance in our history. I tried to offer up some words of encouragement to other Bills fans I saw as we filed out of the stadium, but my voice was gone from all the yelling and screaming I did during the game.
The next morning I was back on a flight to Los Angeles, and reflected on the crazy adventure. The things we do to support the teams we love, right?
Buffalo Bills after Super Bowl XXV
Following Super Bowl XXV, the Bills would appear in the next three Super Bowls as well. They lost to the Washington Redskins 37-24 in Super Bowl XXVI and to the Dallas Cowboys twice. They lost Super Bowl XXVII to Dallas 52-17 in Pasadena and then again lost to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVIII 30-13 in the Georgia Dome.
I did happen to attend the Super Bowl in Pasadena, as that is where I lived at the time. It was a blowout game, but we stayed around to the bitter end and witnessed the infamous Leon Lett and Don Beebe play.
The Bills' streak of four consecutive Super Bowls will probably stand as one of the hardest team records to break in professional sports. Of course, I realize they didn't win any of them. But we all see how hard every playoff team tries to make it to one Super Bowl, much less two, three or eventually four in a row. That is an amazing feat.
From the Super Bowl XXV Buffalo Bills team, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith and James Lofton have been voted in to the Hall of Fame. In addition, Bills coach Marv Levy and Bills owner Ralph Wilson have also been voted in. Andre Reed is pending as a finalist for the upcoming Hall of Fame induction, and we are anxiously awaiting the results for a very deserving player.
Interestingly enough, USA Today ran a report with their All-Time Super Bowl team and none of the Bills were on it as starters. They did name Steve Tasker to the team however, as an alternate for wide receiver, but it was clear that they gave him the nod due to his outstanding special teams play. Tasker may still get to the Hall of Fame someday, and it would indeed be due to the outstanding special teams guy he was.
For Bills fans, we have now been out of the playoffs since 1999, and that appearance is now better known as the Music City Miracle game. Our patience has been tested, but our conviction is strong.
New York Giants after Super Bowl XXV
The Giants would go on to win one more Super Bowl after the win in Super Bowl XXV, which was Super Bowl XLII, when they beat the New England Patriots to cap the 2007-08 season. Ironic that the coach for both teams in the 2007-08 title game were assistant coaches for the Giants in Super Bowl XXV (Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin).
From Super Bowl XXV, the only Giants player that has been voted to the Hall of Fame was Lawrence Taylor. Giants owner Wellington Mara has also been voted into the Hall of Fame.
This season, the Giants finished the regular season with a playoff-worthy record of 10-6, but that wasn't good enough to win them a playoff spot.
Twenty years have come and gone since "Wide Right" hit the national stage. The game will be remembered for the kick that wasn't and for a very hard fought, close and exciting game. It also was the first Super Bowl in history that did not have a single turnover in the game, another factor in why it is an epic Super Bowl. Happy 20-Year Anniversary!
As a bonus, I will include a few more slides of just pictures from the game. End of analysis.
Super Bowl XXV MVP Ottis Anderson
Ottis Anderson won the MVP award for Super Bowl XXV.
James Lofton Makes Huge First Half Catch
Picture of James Lofton catching a long pass from Jim Kelly in the first half.
Some Players Were Emotional after the Win
Erik Howard seems stunned that the Giants won the Super Bowl.
Leon Seals Sacks Jeff Hostetler
Leon Seals gets a sack on Hostetler.
Andre Reed Set Record with 5 First Quarter Catches
Andre Reed makes a catch and looks to break tackle by Everson Walls.
Don Smith Scores Bills' First Touchdown of the Game
Don Smith scored on a one-yard rush in the first half.
Pepper Johnson Brings Down Jim Kelly
Pepper Johnson tackles Jim Kelly. The Giants linebackers unit had a solid game.
Dave Meggett Was a Thorn in Bills' Side All Game Long
Dave Meggett played a crucial role in keeping Giants drives alive in the game.
Cornelius Bennett Looks To Sack Hostetler
Cornelius "Biscuit" Bennett looks to sack Hostetler.
Giants Carry Bill Parcells off the Field
There you go, final slide. Hope you have enjoyed the presentation. Goodbye. Wave to the crowd, Bill.