In the game that has become known is some circles as the “Subpar Bowl” due to so many games being settled early in the second half with final scores like 46-10, 55-10 and 52-17, there have not been that many Super Bowls decided by the kickers. Without a doubt, the most notable exception to the rule of Super Bowl blowouts was the Buffalo Bills’ loss to the New York Giants 20-19 in Jan. 1991.
In that game, the Bills’ kicker Scott Norwood, missed a 47 yard field goal attempt that would have won the game for his team. That is about the only thing that Norwood is remembered for and the first thing most fans think of when that classic Super Bowl comes to mind. It is unfair in my opinion, to put that loss squarely on the shoulders of Scott Norwood, however.
The Bills vaunted defense led by Bruce Smith allowed the Giants to control the clock for a whopping 40:33 and the receivers dropped several passes, including a couple on Buffalo’s final possession. If those passes had been caught, that field goal would have been more within Norwood’s range. In his career up to that point, Norwood had made only 1-5 field goal attempts of over 40 yards on a grass field. And guess what the surface was in Tampa that day? You guessed it. Grass. It is easier to kick on an artificial surface such as Norwood enjoyed at Buffalo’s Rich Stadium.
Therefore, it is unfair to say that Norwood “choked” when he barely missed a field goal that was beyond his optimum range. But rightly or wrongly, that is what Norwood will always be remembered for and here are some other instances in which kickers played a vital part in their team’s Super Bowl fortunes, for better or worse.
Super Bowl V featured one of the last NFL kickers who also played a position, Jim O’Brien of the then Baltimore Colts. O’Brien doubled as a reserve, altough seldom used, wide receiver. The long-haired rookie O’Brien stood out like a sore thumb on the straight laced Colts with the crew cut Johnny Unitas at Quarterback. O’Brien, a straight on kicker, kicked a 32 yarder with 9 seconds left to win the game as the Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys 16-13. The game was sloppy with the two teams combining for 11 turnovers, but it was the first of a handful of Super Bowls decided by the kickers.
O’Brien’s glory was short lived as his career lasted only 4 years. He made only 60-108 career field goal attempts for an abysmal 55.6%. Compare that to Scott Norwood’s career percantage of 72%.
In Super Bowl VII two years later, the Miami Dolphins defeated the Washington Redskins 14-7 to complete their perfect 17-0 season. However, in spite of the fact that Redskin coach George Allen ran a play suggested by President Richard Nixon, a play that resulted in a loss of yardage, this game is remembered mostly for only one thing. Miami kicker Garo Yepremian’s pass attempt after a blocked field goal try can still be seen on NFL blooper shows.
Yepremian, who had one of the first “skullet” haircuts, (a mostly bald head with a “mullet”) looked like he was trying to juggle a couple of hot plates while running across a waterbed. As a result, the Redskins grabbed the deflection and ran into the endzone for their only score of the day. The bonehead play did not decide the game, but did leave the outcome in doubt until the end. Not to mention possibly causing the uber-intense Dolphin coach Don Shula to have a stroke. Imagine if a perfect season had been ruined by such a play. At least Scott Norwood was trying to do his job rather than play Quarterback.
Later in the 70’s, in Super Bowl X between Dallas and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Steeler kicker Roy Gerela unwittingly played a big part in the Pittsburgh victory. it seems Gerela missed a short field goal only to have Cowboy Cliff Harris taunt him by patting him on the helmet and saying something. I’m sure Harris wasn’t asking Gerela what he got for Christmas. Steeler linebacker Jack Lambert, who played the game like a madman, immediately body slammed Harris to the ground.
Even though Gerela made only 3 extra points that day in the Steelers 21-17 win, he played a vital part in the game, even if it was unwitting. Gerela is tied for second in all time Super Bowl field goals made with 6 in three games. Of course, Gerela’s miss has been forgotten because of the melee that ensued. Unlike Norwood, his miss came in the first half. Also, Scott Norwood was not fortunate enough to have a Giant player taunt him. Due to the NFL’s stricter rules on taunting in place by then, that could have resulted in Norwood getting a second chance from 15 yards closer.
In the 49ers first Super Bowl victory of the 80’s, kicker Ray Wersching was 4-4 on field goals in a 26-20 win, accounting for 14 of the Niners 26 points. In addition to that, Wersching was instructed by Hall Of Fame Coach Bill Walsh, who passed away last year, to “squib kick” on his kickoffs. the idea was to limit the return yardage of the Cincinnati Bengals’ dangerous return man Archie Grifffin.
It worked even better than Walsh had hoped. Not only was Griffin stymied on his returns, but the former 2 time Heisman winner fumbled one kickoff, setting up a 49er field goal. In contrast, Scott Norwood might have had similar success on his kickoffs, but we only remember the missed field goal.
Lastly, who can think of field goals or kickers in football’s premier game without thinking of Adam Vinatieri? When employed by the New England Patriots, “Automatic Adam” as Vinatieri was known, Vinatieri kicked a game winning field goal in Super Bowl XXXVI to beat the heavily favored St. Louis Rams on the final play 20-17.
Then, 2 years later, Vinatieri became the first kicker in Super Bowl history to kick a second game winning field goal, this one to defeat the Carolina Panthers 32-29. He also made a field goal against the Philadelphia Eagles a year later.
Last year, in his first season in Indianapolis, Vinatieri kicked 3 field goals in the Colts win over the Chicago Bears on football’s biggest stage, bringing his career total to 10 made field goals in the Super Bowl. He also missed one, but unlike poor Scott Norwood, his miss was not on a game winning 47 yard attempt, so few remember.
To sum up, Scott Norwood’s missed field goal attempt in Super Bowl XXV was a little outside his normal range, although it had plenty of distance. It was just a football or so wide right. If Norwood had “choked”, the attempt would have been short or way off line.
If the Bills had played up to their capabilities as a team and tackled better, caught some of the dropped passes, and corrected some of the other mistakes, the field goal would not have mattered or at least been much closer. In which case, the legacy of the Buffalo Bills and Scott Norwood would have been much different.