Today – Thursday, January 27th, 2011, is the 20th anniversary of a game that lives on in Buffalo sports history as “Wide Right”, the Buffalo Bills’ first-ever appearance in the NFL’s Super Bowl following the 1990 season, that ended in heart-breaking fashion with kicker Scott Norwood missing a 47 yard field goal that would’ve won the game. It is still the only game in Super Bowl history in which the ultimate title match winner was decided on the game’s final play. There was a story on the sports segment of the local news today showing video of the game’s final play and its’ immediate aftermath, showing the agony on the faces of the Bills’ players and especially, coach Marv Levy. The reporter doing the story included a telephone interview he had done recently with Levy, recalling the Hall of Fame coach’s memories of the post-game locker room scene. He recalled that one by one, all the Bills’ players stopped to personally console Norwood, and many of them reminded the forlorn kicker of moments in the game when mistakes they had made had contributed to the loss, and that it was a total team defeat, not his fault. Buffalo fans obviously saw the game’s outcome a similar way, as they repeatedly chanted for Norwood at a rally the following week in downtown Buffalo to honor the team, then heartily cheered him when he relunctantly came to the podium to face the crowd (see link below).
When I watched the video of the end of the game on the sports tonight, a couple of thoughts crossed my mind – first, how young the players all looked, and secondly, how over the years these players have not only come to grips with the crushing loss, and three more Super Bowl losses to follow, but also how they’ve grown closer to each other as a family over the years, and come to appreciate each other as friends and “teammates” for life. Jim Kelly will always be remembered as the quarterback whose team lost 4 straight Super Bowls, but I’ve always felt that those losses prepared Kelly to deal with the battle his son Hunter faced in his short life. Four losses in football games, no matter how big the stage, tend to pale in importance when compared to dealing with what Kelly and his wife did with their young son’s illness, and when the big Hall of Fame quarterback had to face that battle, those football game losses left him armed with a large dose of proper perspective.
The game itself has faded into football lore, taking its’ rightful place as one of the greatest of all time, and over the years football insiders have come to appreciate how special it was for one team to “climb the mountain” four years in succession, even if the end result was four straight disappointments, as team members continue to be honored with inductions into the game’s shrine in Canton. Their accomplishments are the ultimate example of the old saying that’s been attributed to a lot of football’s past greats, including Vince Lombardi and Mike Ditka, that “it’s not how many times you get knocked down that’s important, but how many times you get back up and try again”. After all, nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills.