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SUPER BOWL XXV / NEW YORK GIANTS 20, BUFFALO BILLS 19 : Giants Have It Under Control : Game: They dominate Bills with sustained drives, then escape with 20-19 victory after Norwood misses field-goal attempt with four seconds left.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The weight of his world, his future, his conference, modern football, no-huddle vs. hog-ball, came down like an anvil on the right foot of former free agent Scott Norwood, who had run the Super Bowl’s game-winning kick in his head a thousand times before, in back yards and bedrooms, and never missed once.

Until Sunday night at Tampa Stadium, when it mattered most, at the conclusion of a Super Bowl that had, to that moment, been a brilliant struggle of wills and wits.

Norwood lined the kick up from 47 yards, put his foot to it, looked up, and wanted to disappear into the Tampa turf. He left the biggest kick he had ever attempted wide of the right upright with four seconds remaining, leaving the New York Giants with a 20-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV before a crowd of 73,813.

It was New York’s second title in five years and the seventh in a row for the National Football Conference, but the Bills did all they could, save one last-second kick, to close the gap altogether.

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Like last week’s NFC title game, the Giants took this one down to the wire and left it up to a kicker. Last week, Giant linebackers formed a circle and prayed for their Matt Bahr, who kicked the winning field goal against San Francisco.

Sunday, the same group of linebackers gathered as Norwood approached the ball, this time praying for a miss.

Later, Norwood said he hoped that time and prayer would heal his pain.

“The Lord doesn’t give crosses to people that can’t bear them,” he said as he packed his equipment. “I realize the importance of the kick. I realize what might have happened if I had made it.”

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As he stood there fielding questions, linebacker Darryl Talley clutched Norwood’s right hand. “I’m still with you,” he said.

The shame of it is that Norwood won’t ever care that the game was a great one, full of twists and turns. Because of his miss, the Giants can claim that their philosophy of ball control and defense won out over the Bills’ state-of-the art, no-huddle offense.

“They call us predictable and conservative,” Giant Coach Bill Parcells said. “But I know one thing: Power wins football games.”

Because of one kick, it does. The Giants’ game plan of keeping the ball from Buffalo’s offense barely worked well enough to win. In the end, New York kept the ball twice as long as Buffalo, 40:33 to 19:27.

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In two touchdown scoring drives, one at the end of the first half, the other to start the third quarter, the Giants held the ball for 12 minutes 53 seconds. Including halftime festivities, the Bills went more than an hour without touching the ball on offense.

Trailing, 12-10, at the half, the Giants took the third-quarter kickoff and drove 75 yards in 14 plays, using 9:29. New York’s ball control was masterful, but Buffalo’s sloppy defense played a part.

Two third-down conversions defined the drive: On third and eight at the New York 27, Giant quarterback Jeff Hostetler threw a short pass to tailback Dave Meggett, who wriggled free of a tackler and gained 11 yards to keep the drive going. Later, in what might have been the play of the game, Hostetler tossed a short pass over the middle on third and 13 for receiver Mark Ingram, who broke four tackles on a 14-yard gain to the Buffalo 18.

“I had to make a couple of spin moves,” Ingram said. “I had to break a couple of tackles, and I just tried to get where the chains were. When I fell, I just looked over at the chains, and I saw that I was ahead of the stick. It was a good feeling.”

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That kept the drive alive and led to a one-yard scoring run by Ottis Anderson, giving the Giants a 17-12 lead with 5:31 to play in the third quarter.

Parcells thought the constant pounding from his offense took its toll.

“Our offensive linemen were saying that Buffalo was getting a little tired, especially in the third quarter,” he said.

Bill defensive end Bruce Smith said those conversions were the difference in the game.

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“We missed tackles, gave them first downs, and kept drives going,” he said.

There were times when the Buffalo offense seemed unstoppable. Maybe scoring too fast was the Bills’ problem. They regained the lead, 19-17, with 14:52 remaining on a 31-yard run by Thurman Thomas, who bounced off safety Myron Guyton on his way to the end zone. The Bills needed four plays to score, but used only 1:27.

The Giants then took the clock back, driving 74 yards in 14 plays, using more than seven minutes. They regained the lead on Bahr’s 21-yard field goal with 7:20 left.

The Bills failed on their next possession, but got the ball back on their 10 with 2:16 left. Kelly had time for one more run. He ran eight yards on first down before the two-minute warning. Two plays later, Thomas burst up the middle for 21 yards. Buffalo called its last time out at the New York 46 with 48 seconds left. Then came a six-yard completion, then an 11-yard Thomas run to the 29. Kelly stopped the clock with an incompletion with eight seconds left. His work was done.

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“If you write a Super Bowl script, this is probably what you write,” he said. “But I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”

Norwood, who hadn’t kicked a field goal longer than 48 yards all season, wanted to make sure he got enough leg into the kick. Norwood said he might have been thinking about it too much.

“It was just a matter of trying to put a little too much on the kick,” he said. “I didn’t get my hips through in the end. I didn’t pick (the ball) up until it got very close to the uprights. At that point, I quickly knew that it wasn’t good.”

Norwood thought he was ready.

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“You never can paint the picture exactly,” he said. “But I tried to simulate that in my thinking. I was very positive going into the kick, but that doesn’t guarantee success.”

There were goats, and there were heroes, such as the ageless runner Ottis Anderson, who rushed for 102 yards in 21 carries and was chosen as the game’s most valuable player, and Hostetler, who replaced starter Phil Simms and won five consecutive games and a Super Bowl title.

Hostetler was lucky to get to halftime with all his teeth. That he could pull his team to within two points of the Bills seemed a minor miracle.

The Bills’ defense haunted him, hurried him, hassled him, hounded him. Cornerback Kirby Jackson nailed him from behind on a safety blitz in the first quarter. Hostetler wobbled to his feet.

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Defensive end Leon Seals introduced himself to Hostetler with a crushing frontal blow in the second quarter. Hostetler hobbled to the sidelines, where he introduced himself to smelling salts.

Once, pinned at his seven, Hostetler faded to pass, tripped over teammate Anderson’s right foot, stumbled into the end zone and was tackled for a safety by Bruce Smith, who was on a collision course to the quarterback before the trip.

Leading, 12-3, after the safety, the Bills might have put the game out of reach after getting the ball back after the safety, but their drive stalled at the New York 45. The Bills pinned the Giants at their 13 with a punt with 3:49 left, and could have expected the Giants to run out the clock, get to the locker room, and draw up a new game plan.

Instead, Hostetler threw six yards to tight end Mark Bavaro, Anderson busted up the middle for 18, Hostetler tossed 22 yards to Ingram, Meggett ran 17 more, and the Giants were at the Buffalo 25 at the two-minute warning.

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Hostetler then overthrew fullback Maurice Carthon on a screen pass on first down. After moving the Giants to the 14, Hostetler bounced a pass intended for Stephen Baker in the end zone.

But Hostetler didn’t miss Baker on third and 10, throwing a perfect 14-yard scoring strike in the left corner of the end zone with 25 seconds left to cut the lead to 12-10.


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