Wide Right

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On November Jan 1991, one of the most iconic Super Bowls in history unfolded in the Tampa Stadium. The Buffalo Bills, taking on state rivals New York Giants came to the cusp of one of the most dramatic upsets in the history of the Super Bowl, but missed out literally by a yard. With eight seconds on the clock and the Bills trailing the Giants 20-19, Bills kicker Scott Norwood made a field goal from 47 yards out but it went wide of the right post by a yard. Had he scored, the Bills would have gone 22-19 ahead and most likely won the Super Bowl.

Buildup to and the Unfolding of Moment

Coming in the wake of the US military intervention in the Middle East in what became the Gulf War, there had been undertones of possible postponement or even cancellation of the Super Bowl. In the end, the venue was heavily fortified, with heavy police and military presence to prevent possible retaliatory attacks on civilians. Cameras, phones and other electronics were banned from the stadium with nearly 74,000 spectators in attendance. All this fear and tension however cannot compare to the excitement and anticipation that is associated with the Super Bowl, and soon the political tension was forgotten as the business on the field got underway.

After exchanging two field goals in the first quarter, the bills took 10-3 lead early in the second quarter through a 1-yard touchdown by running back Don Smith. The Bills extended their lead to 12-3 after quarterback Jeff Hosteller was sacked in the end zone for a safety. With 25 seconds left in the quarter, wide receiver Stephen Baker scored on a 14-yard touchdown to haul New York to within two points at 12-10. The Giants went ahead in the third quarter through a one-yard touchdown by Ottis Anderson. The Bills regained the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter following a 31-yard touchdown run by Thurman Thomas. A field goal for New York by Matt Bahr stole the lead once again, with the scores now resting at 20-19.

With 2:16 on the clock, the Bills took the ball on their 10-yard line and struggled to work the ball slowly down the field through a stubborn New York defense. They managed a 61 yard drive thanks to hard work from Thurman and Tim Kelly to enter within field goal range. With 6 seconds left to go in the game, Norwood found himself with a chance at the sticks from 47 yards. If he made the field goal, the Bills would jump into a 22-20 lead that would be practically unassailable in the remaining time.

While Norwood was a fairly decent kicker, having delivered some clutch field goals for the Bills over the years, 47 yards was outside many players’ comfort one with field goals. At the time, less than half of field goal attempts from 47 yards had been successful, and Norwood had a particularly week statistic on grass. In seven years, having accumulated 108 games for the Bills, he had only made 18 field goals on grass. In the previous two seasons, he had only attempted one field goal beyond 40 yards on grass- which he missed- and was on 1 of 5 in his career from the same range. Nevertheless, Norwood put his foot through the ball and for a moment as it rose towards the upright, the entire stadium held their breath collectively. However it was soon clear that the ball would not split the sticks. The ball flew one yard wide of the right upright behind the south end zone.

On commentary duty, ABC’s Al Michaels described the moment in a short description, “No good… Wide right.” The last phrase stuck as a description of that play and the game itself. The play shaved off two seconds from the clock and for the remaining four seconds, the Giants were able to wind down the clock to win the Super Bowl.

Aftermath of the Incident

Although game experts do not fault Norwood for the attempt, he became a kind of pariah to the Bills faithful. His career never quite mended back, with the Bills bringing in a replacement for Norwood in the form of former Giants Kicker Bjorn Nittmo and later Steve Christie, effectively ending his career. As for the Bills, that would be their first of four consecutive aspects in the Super Bowl.

Some say that the kicker character in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is heavily based on Norwood’s kick.