Before I fill you in on my favorite Super Bowl, I must first preface it by stating that I’m a Philadelphia fan and the Eagles, Flyers, Philies and Sixers are religion. While I – like all Philadelphians since 1983 – spent the years prior to 2008 without a championship, there were numerous occasions in which I would see teams from the big brother city to the north celebrating a championship – of course New York City also has enough teams that was always a contender but that's neither here nor there. So, for me – a child at just four years of age – this Super Bowl didn’t sting as much at the time as it did seeing its most famous play in repetition for year after year, in what has become almost like folklore. Even though the winner wasn’t to my liking, there is no arguing that it was certainly one of the most exciting for those who remember.
It was Super Bowl XXV.
The date was January 27, 1991 and while the United States was tangled up in the Gulf War, back home fans were listening to Whitney Houston wail out the “Star-Spangled Banner” in preparation for what would become the closest Super Bowl up to that point – a game which is still considered one of the greatest ever played. The playoffs had brought us this matchup in which the New York “Football” Giants took on the Buffalo Bills at Tampa Stadium. The Bills were the heavy favorite thanks in part to their sweep of New York in the season series but if that wasn’t enough for the Giants, New York lost star quarterback Phil Simms for the season with a broken bone in his foot in their second meeting. The injury left backup Jeff Hostetler in charge – a guy who had only started two games for the Giants in seven years.
Hostetler didn’t disappoint on football’s biggest stage, finishing 20-for-32 with 222 yards passing, one touchdown and no interceptions. Without a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback, the Giants looked to beat Buffalo on the ground and hope its highly-touted defense could stop the Bills. New York handed the ball off 21 times to running back Ottis Anderson, picking up 102 yards and a touchdown. I might not have known the Giants too well but I certainly knew how good Lawrence Taylor was thanks to Super Tecmo Bowl for Nintendo.
But the Bills had weapons of their own – nine of them, to be exact.
With nine Pro Bowl selections that season, the Bills had plenty of talent spread around the roster, including NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bruce Smith. It was the Bills offense, however that was gaining all the attention due to its unusual no-huddle offense, led by quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas but the Bills had a hard time finding the endzone early on in the contest.
The Giants we able to strike first with a 28-yard field goal off the foot of Matt Bahr but the Bills soon responded to tie it up after one quarter of play. The Bills managed to boot three more field goals in the second but the Giants scored on a 14-yard pass from Jeff Hostetler to Stephen Baker, though New York still managed to trail 12-10 going into halftime.
The third quarter offered little scoring with the only points coming on a 1-yard touchdown run by Anderson, which gave the Giants a 17-12 lead. Buffalo responded just eight seconds into the fourth quarter with a 31-yard touchdown run by Thomas leaving the Giants plenty of time to answer – and New York did. With just under eight minutes left, the Giants took a 20-19 lead on a Bahr 21-yard field goal.
The Bills got the ball back and knew all they needed to do was take their time and kick a field goal to win but it’s never as easy as it sounds. As time ticked away, Kelly led the blue and red down the field to the Giants’ 29-yard line with eight seconds to play. And out came Bills kicker Scott Norwood to attempt the 47-yard game-winning field goal.
The ball was snapped. The ball was held. The kick was up and… no good. Wide right!
The kick didn’t have a chance from the moment it left his boot, perhaps thanks in part to the fact that the ball was held with the laces in, rather than out – something special teams coaches preach from the start of training camp. Bills fans watched as their first Super Bowl victory went sailing outside the goal posts, while the Giants and their fans began to go crazy.
Every generation knows where it was for the big moments of history, whether those moments have deal with sports, politics, or pop culture. Everyone remembered where they were for Joe DiMaggio’s hit streak or the Miracle on Ice and this moment was another staple in sports that the live audience would never forget where they were. As I stated, I was too young to remember many of the details of the game, I still remember my father complaining about having to put up with Giants fans who had transplanted an hour and a half south of New York. I have watched this game a number of times in its entirety over the years as I have grown more mature in my sports wisdom and though I cringe every time, I am enamored by the amazing ending.
For the Giants, it was the second Super Bowl victory in five years. Meanwhile the Bills would go on to lose three more Super Bowls in a row – a dynasty of a team never quite good enough to win it all. Those other losses were nowhere near as close as the heartbreaking classic of Super Bowl XXV.
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