Defensive end Bruce Smith is one of the greatest players in NFL history. In Super Bowl XXV following the 1990 season, on the biggest stage of his career, he put the Buffalo Bills in a position to win their first Super Bowl by sacking New York Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler for a safety.
A second quarter drive stalled at midfield when the ball uncharacteristically went through the hands of Andre Reed over the middle. Bills punter Rick Tuten punted, and with special teams ace Steve Tasker behind him ready to down the ball inside the five, Dave Meggett called fair catch at the 7.
On first down, the Giants ran a pass play, with Hostetler barely escaping the pass rush to complete a pass for seven yards. After 3-yard run was called back on a penalty, it was 2nd and 10.
Giants tight end Mark Bavaro had Smith covered but ran past him into a route. Smith blew past left tackle Jumbo Elliott and Hostetler stumbled out from under center, ending up deeper than running back Ottis Anderson anticipated. Smith sidestepped Anderson and attacked the faltering Hostetler, taking him to the ground. Elliot looked back at the line of scrimmage wondering where his help was, possibly at Bavaro.
The Bills took a 12-3 lead and with the Giants playing a grind-it-out offense to that point, a two-possession lead seemed almost insurmountable against the mighty Bills offense. Buffalo got the ball back after the free kick at their own 30 but three straight incomplete passes led to another punt.
Hostetler stumbled as the running back was getting his footing to block Smith and placed the ball on the ground to keep him upright. If he had lost his grip on the ball, even for a split-second, Smith would have been there and it may have been a 17-3 lead instead of a 12-3 margin. The nine-point lead was the largest the Bills ever had in a Super Bowl.
You can watch the play for yourself on YouTube but we can’t embed the video here due to NFL rules. Smith talked about the play here.