Typically, the Super Bowl is a pretty limp game, marked by turnovers and a lopsided final score. However, there have been several very good Super Bowl games - Joe Montana leading the 49ers in a final drive to defeat the Bengals; John Elway leading the Broncos to their first Super Bowl victory versus the heavily-favored Packers. But the best ever NFL Championship to my mind is Super Bowl XXV, played on January 27, 1991 at Tampa Stadium in Tampa Florida. You might remember that was the game the underdog Giants defeated the Bills by a single point. And, of course, Buffalo's placekicker, Scott Norwood, who decided the game with his last second kick.
Coming into the Super Bowl game, the Giants were seven-point dogs. They had failed to even score a touchdown in the NFC championship game against San Francisco, while Buffalo had scored 95 points in their two playoff games.. And maybe the best part of watching this game was seeing the competing strategies of the two teams. The Giants approach on offense was to line up with three tight ends most of the time and use their power running game to control the clock and keep the Buffalo Bills offense off the field. On defense, the Giants used the nickle and dime formations most of the game, daring Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly to throw into packed coverage, while at the same time having their defensive backs punish those receivers who did make plays. Buffalo went with their no-huddle offense, and used their running game to great effect.
At first, the strategies seemed to be playing to a draw. The first time they got the ball, the Giants took 6:15 off the clock and grabbed the lead with a Matt Bahr field goal. But Buffalo never flinched. They struck right back with a drive that consisted mostly of a 61-yard reception by James Lofton, and Scott Norwood tied the game 3-3 with a 23-yard field goal. Then Buffalo forced the Giants to punt, and when Buffalo got the ball, Kelly completed six straight passes on the Bills' way to a touchdown and a 10-3 lead. So far, the Giants had killed some clock, but had not noticeably slowed the Bills defense.
Super Bowl Champions New York Giants.
Thanks to flickr.com for the picture. Source: mobo85
Things got worse for the Giants in the next quarter. After trading punts, the Giants got the ball on their own seven yard line, and defensive end Bruce Smith sacked Giant's quarterback Jeff Hostetler for a safety. The Bills now had a 12-3 lead and seemed to be in great position. But they could do nothing with the subsequent free kick, missing a golden opportunity to swing the momentum of the game in their favor, and in the last 3:43 of the half, the Giants belied their slow-scoring reputation and marched down the field on a touchdown drive, capped by a Steven Baker touchdown catch with 25 seconds left. This made the score 12-10 at halftime.
In the third quarter things got interesting. Maybe Buffalo's defense was starting to wear down, because the Giants took the opening kick of the second half and used a full nine minutes and 29 seconds to score a touchdown. That was then a Super Bowl record, and was everything the Giants could hope for: it took time off the clock, tired out Buffalo's defense, kept the Bills' offense on the sideline, and gave them the lead. Maybe the best play of the drive, and the most telling one, was a third down pass caught by wide receiver Mark Ingram. Ingram caught the pass, broke five tackles, and converted a first down. Coaches will tell you that bad technique and fatigue both lead to broken tackles.
Super Bowl Champions New York Giants Parade. Thanks to flickr.com for the picture. Source: tedkerwin
The next Buffalo possession led to a punt, and you could almost feel the momentum swinging to the Giants. But the Bills were not out of it, nor even close. The Giants got the ball and moved it to the Bills' 35 yard line. But on 4th and 2, Bruce Smith stuffed running back Ottis Anderson for a 2-yard loss, and the Giants were forced to punt. When the Bills got the ball back, they fired right back. They moved the ball 63 yards on just four plays and finished with a Thurman Thomas 31-yard touchdown run that made the score 19-12 Buffalo. The Giants had conceded the run, and Thurman Thomas had made them pay.
But maybe the offense had actually scored too fast, because Buffalo's defense had to go back on the field quickly, and they could only slow down the Giants' advance. This NY drive featured more passes to tight end Mark Bavaro and took 7:32 off the clock. Buffalo's defense managed to stop the drive at their own three yard line, but Matt Bahr's field goal gave the Giants a 20-19 lead.
The Bills could only advance to their own 41-yard line on the next possession, and Giants were also forced to punt when they got the ball. The Bills got the ball on their own 10 yard line with 2:16 remaining. This was the moment football fans all love: strength against strength in crunch time. Jim Kelly responded admirably, and with a mixture of Thomas runs, scrambles and short passes, he got the Bills to the Giants 29 yard line.
From there, it is the moment that everyone remembers and needs no further recall: wide right from 47 yards.
This Super Bowl was loaded with great stuff: a fascinating strategic clash, the closest of scores, and a dramatic finish. And it had great individual performances: despite the packed secondary, Jim Kelly did not throw an interception; Ottis Anderson gained 102 yards on his way to the MVP award; Thurman Thomas rushed for 135 yards and gained another 55 in pass receptions; Bruce Smith had a safety and made a key fourth-down tackle for loss. This battle of New York was what the Super Bowl always claims it is and is too often not: a great, great game.
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