It's been years since Buffalo Bills fans' heart were collectively ripped out at the same time. Today is the anniversary of the Bills' first trip to the Super Bowl and the most exciting and devastating day in team history.
The Bills and their fans were riding high on pure excitement. After a complete dismantling of the Los Angeles Raiders on January 20, the Bills faced off against the New York Giants a week later. A cloud of fear and patriotism hung over the event, as the United States had just begun combat operations in the Persian Gulf. With both the Giants and Bills sporting red, white, and blue, the crowd was a sea of American pride with fans waving team flags alongside the American flag.
Before the game even began, the crowd around the world was treated to something special. Whitney Houston was at the top of her musical game and gave a performance of the national anthem that is so popular it became the first version of the song to chart on American music charts. In 2001, following the September 11 attacks, the song was re-released and became the first version of the song to ever crack the Top 10 reaching number six. The song is featured in the new Star Spangled Banner exhibit at the Smithsonian's American History Museum in Washington, D.C.
The Bills and the Giants entered the game using contrasting styles. Buffalo led the league in total points scored (428) on the arm and brain of Jim Kelly, while the Giants led the league in fewest points allowed (211) on the brains of Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. Something had to give.
To add to the intrigue, Buffalo and New York had squared off on December 15, with the Bills winning a 17-13 decision.
The Giants came out on offense in ball control mode. With starting quarterback Phil Simms out to an injury they handed the ball of to running back Ottis Anderson over and over and backup QB Jeff Hostetler only threw one pass over 20 yards. New York set a Super Bowl record by holding onto the ball for 40 minutes and 33 seconds of the game - more than two-thirds of the total game time.
The Giants and Bills traded field goals in the first quarter before Buffalo took a strong lead in the second. Following a Don Smith touchdown run the Bills pinned the Giants deep in their own territory after trading punts. On the next play Bruce Smith sacked Hostetlor for a safety giving the Bills a nine point lead.
The Giants got the ball back with 3:43 in the first half and changed modes going to a passing offense to score before the half. It worked to perfection and New York pulled within two points with 13 second left in the first half when Hostetlor connected with Stephen Baker.
The halftime show featuring New Kids on the Block was preempted on television for a newscast with Peter Jennings updating the progress of the Gulf War.
To open the second half the Giants returned to their ball control ways running a 14-play, 9:29 minute drive (another Super Bowl record) before Anderson pounded the ball in for a one-yard touchdown to give the Giants the 17-12 lead. After a Buffalo three and out the Giants received the ball again and drove it on the Bills defense. On fourth and two from the Buffalo 35, Smith made another huge play dropped Anderson in the backfield.
The offense was re-invigorated and lit up the Giants defense on the next possession, re-taking the lead on a 31-yard rush by Thurman Thomas early in the fourth quarter. This led to the already gassed Bills defense being forced back out onto the field. The Bills bent but didn't break forcing a short field goal to give the Giants the 20-19 lead.
After exchanging punts and taking precious time off the clock the Bills received the ball back for the final time with 2:16 remaining. Kelly led the Bills down the field to the Giants 29 with just eight second left on the clock.
The rest is well-known amongst football fans around the world.
Scott Norwood, an All-Pro in 1988, was 5 of 8 from that distance during the 1990 season. From a solid hold Norwood pushed the game-winning kick a couple feet wide right.
Anderson was named the game's MVP for his 21 carries, 102 yards, and a touchdown. Thurman Thomas had a great game in defeat carrying 15 times for an amazing 135 yards (nine yards a carry!) and a touchdown while catching five passes for 55 more yards. Andre Reed and Kelly both made great plays in the passing game as well but it wasn't meant to be.
The high-powered Bills offense that averaged 27 points a game to lead the NFL was held under 20 for only the third time all season in a meaningful game. Belichick's gameplan is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame but it could be argued that the Giants offensive gameplan was more effective at slowing down the Bills offense than the Giants defense.
The immortal voice of the Bills, Van Miller, had the call on that fateful kick:
Reich puts it down, on the way. It's long enough! And it is no good! He missed it to the right with four seconds to play!