On January 27, 1991 in Tampa Stadium one of the closest and most memorable Super Bowl games took place between the New York Giants who had dispatched the San Francisco 49ers 15-13 in the NFC championship game and the Buffalo Bills who had soundly defeated Oakland 51-3.
Two different styles of teams could not be found. The Bills had a wide open offense which could score bundles of points quickly with quarterback Jim Kelly at the helm and running back Thurman Thomas beside him in the backfield.
The Giants on the other hand were a conservative ball control team which emphasized the running game, making few errors, and a stalwart defense directed by coach Bill Parcells.
Both Parcells and Levy were future Hall of Famers and had Super Bowl coaching experience as Levy had been an assistant to George Allen in Super Bowl VII and Parcells had directed the Giants to victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI.
The Bills featured Jim Kelly with a 101.2 passing rating whose favorite receivers were Thurman Thomas who in addition to his 1297 yards rushing caught 49 passes for 532 yards. Andre Reed with 71 receptions and 945 yards and James Lofton, 35 catches with 72 yards were the other receivers.
On defense they had future Hall of Famer Bruce Smith at defensive end who had four fumbles, linebacker Cornelius Bennett with three forced fumbles and Nate Odomes and Kirby Jackson in the defensive backfield.
The Giants were piloted by backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler after Phil Simms had been injured earlier in the season. The main running back was Ottis Anderson with 784 carries on 225 attempts and Rodney Hampton with 455 yards on 109 attempts. Hampton also caught 32 passes for 274 yards and together with Mark Ingram with 499 yards on 26 catches and Mark Bavaro who had 393 yards on 33 catches were the main Giant receivers.
The defense was anchored by future Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, linebacker Pepper Johnson and defensive back Reyna Thompson. Taylor led a tough defense with 10.5 tackles and the defensive coordinator was Bill Bellichick.
In a meeting a few weeks earlier on December 15 in whitch both Simms and Kelly were forced to leave that game, the Bills prevailed with the help of a Scott Norwood field goal in the fourth quarter.
This game would be different for the Giants because they did not have Phil Simms, the veteran of Super Bowl XVIII and so would have to be conservative with their passing game which Parcells was anyway as one of his favorite sayings was, “Don’t ever throw the ball over the middle because of all the bad things that can happen there.”
The New York game plan was to control the time of possession and keep the Buffalo offense off the field which he did by using fullback Ottis Anderson to grind out yardage and use up time on the clock.
The Giants got on the board first with a Matt Bahr 28 yard field goal but Buffalo answered with 23 yard Scott Norwood three pointer with the key play being a 61 yard pass play from Kelly to future Hall of Famer James Lofton.
Using the hurry up no huddle offense the Bills moved 80 yards down the field to score on a one yard Don Smith touchdown run and on the next series of downs Bruce Smith sacked Hostetler in the end zone for a safety and the Bills led 12-3.
The Giants used up the rest of the quarter and scored a touchdown on a 14 yard reception by Stephen Baker with only 25 seconds left on the clock.
Urban Meyer and others have stated how important it is not to allow the opposing team to score in the last two minutes of the half, especially if receiving the kickoff to start the second half.
The Giants scored on a one yard Ottis Anderson run on the opening drive of the second half and led 17-12. Two drives later however the Bills’ Bruce Smith stopped Anderson on fourth down at the Bills’ 33 yard line and Kelly took the Bills downfield to score on a 31 yard Thurman Thomas run. The Bills led 19-17 early in the fourth quarter.
The Bills’ defense which had been on the field through the last part of the second quarter and virtually all of the third quarter needed rest as the Giants started another time consuming drive and would have resulted in a touchdown except for Cornelius Bennett’s knocking away a pass at the three yard line on third down after which Matt Bahr kicked a 28 yard field goal and the Giants led 20-19.
With 2:10 left on the clock Kelly and the Bills got the ball at the 10 yard line and quickly proceeded down the field with a 21 yard run by Thurman Thomas being a big play and Everson Walls solo tackle on him stopping what could have been an even longer run.
With no timeouts remaining for Buffalo Kelly got to the Giant’s 29 yard line to set up a field goal attempt for Scott Norwood from 47 yards out. Parcells called time to ice Norwood and with Marv Levi and the Bills’ bench on their feet holder Frank Reich took the snap and while the kick had enough distance it went slightly right-if Kelly could have gotten the ball a little more to the center of the field it might have helped but the Giants held on for a 20-19 victory.
For the Bills it would be the first of four consecutive losing Super Bowl games and in a couple of years Norwood would retire from the NFL.
I have watched parts of almost all of the Super Bowls but that moment of Norwood out there on the field trying to kick that field goal stands out as the moment I remember most.
For todays’ kickers who routinely kick over 50 yards it would be easier but if the Giants had not had the ball for over 40 minutes of the 60 minute game it might not have come down to that play.
Ottis Anderson got the MVP and the Giants would return in 2001.
Ron Griffitts a contribution columnist for the Daily Advocate