Super Bowl XXV Remembered
The NFL post-season is in full swing and before we know it Super Bowl LV will be upon us. Reflecting what we did last year, in the run up to this years’ championship I thought it might be fun to do a series on the decade anniversaries of the big game.
This is the third in the series, following our look back to Super Bowl V & Super Bowl XV. Now we are travelling back 30 years to the culmination of the 1990 season and January the 27th 1991. For the NFL this matchup was a championship game with 73,813 fans on hand at Tampa Stadium in Tampa Bay.
There they witnessed the 13-3 New York Giants defeat the 13-3 Buffalo Bills 20-19 in a classic.
The Run up to the Game
1990 was the first NFL season to have a Bye week since 1966. For the 1966 season the bye had been introduced to account for the unbalanced nature of the league having 15 teams.
Having 16 games played over 17 weeks meant an extra week of rest. You could argue it increased player safety in 1990. But I think it was more likely a way to increase television revenue.
Bills on the rise
Buffalo were a team on the rise. They had fired Hank Bullough as Head Coach part way through the 1986 season. His replacement, Marv Levy had been leading a rebuild.
Levy, who had last coached the Chicago Blitz of the USFL in 1984 had formerly coached the Kansas City Chiefs and gone 31-42. He had seen success in the CFL with the Montreal Alouettes. There he had gone 43-31, made 5 post-season appearances and Won the Grey Cup twice.
Levy and the Bills had gone 2-5 in 1986 and 7-8 in 1987. Over the two seasons prior to this they had gone 21-11 winning two AFC East titles and appearing in an AFC Championship game. In 1988 Levy had been named Coach of the Year and it was clear this was an organisation trending in the right direction.
The New York Giants had held their nerve after a poor debut season for Bill Parcells as Head Coach. In 1983 Ray Perkins had resigned to coach Alabama & Parcells was chosen to succeed him. A 3-12-1 season did not bode well. But the Giants brass kept the faith and Parcells rewarded their trust.
From 1984-6 the Giants made the playoffs every year. The culmination of a 33-15 run being their 14-2 1986 season seeing them win Super Bowl XXI. It was their first NFL title since 1956.
A couple of down years followed but the Giants had been back in the playoffs in 1989. And over the 1989-90 period had gone 25-7 in the regular season.
It was clear that two well coached teams in good shape were meeting head to head in this one.
Buffalo had gone into the playoffs as the number 1 seed in the AFC. Which meant they opened up at home on Divisional Weekend with a game against in Division rivals the Miami Dolphins.
The Bills jumped out to a 20-3 lead but the game evolved into a shootout. By the end the teams had combined for 920 yards of offence (493 for Buffalo, 430 for Miami). And 48 First Downs (24 each). The Bills would win 44-34 to progress.
The AFC Championship game saw the Bills absoloutely crush the Raiders by a score of 51-3. It was 21-3 after one and over bar the shouting at 41-3 by halftime.
In the NFC side of the playoffs the Giants were the 2nd seed. They sat behind the top seeded 14-2 49ers who had beaten the Giants 7-3 in a bruising Monday Night Football game at the start of December.
First up for New York were the Chicago Bears. The Giants swept them aside 31-3. Largely due to a dominating defensive performance as the Bears were held to 27 yards rushing. Their lowest return on the ground since 1967.
Which set up a rematch with the Niners in San Francisco. How big was this game? We chose it as the defining game of the decade. The Milestone Game of the Nineties.
San Francisco had won back to back Championships and were seeking a third. But this brutal contest derailed them – just. With four seconds left kicker Matt Bahr knocked through the winning score as time ran out and the Giants won 15–13.
But the game is better remembered for vicious hitting and its ultra competitive nature throughout.
The Game Itself: Super Bowl XXV
The Super Bowl Silver Anniversary game delivered a classic that came right down to the end. It was arguably one of the best games in the first 25 year history of the big game.
In the midst of the Gulf War the NFL reach was extended. Reaching beyond North America and England, this Super Bowl aired for the first time in countries such as Australia and Russia.
By scoring 95 points in their 2 playoff games the Bills had put a lot of expectation into their No-Huddle offence. Because of this the Bills went in as favourites. Especially as they had beaten the Giants eariler in the season. New York had also lost starting quarterback Phil Simms in Week 15 of the regular season too.
But that was largely irrelevant by this point. Plus the Giants had overcome the demons of a defeat by San Francisco earlier in the season to be here anyway.
Both teams wore a Super Bowl XXV commemorative patch on their jerseys. But the question was who would look back on those patches with the fondest memories?
The First Half
The Bills high octane attack was absent to begin with as they punted on their first possession. And the Giants responded with an 11 play 58 yard drive that took 6:15 off the clock and led to a Field Goal and a 3-0 lead.
The contrast in approaches was made evident as the Bills instantly responded with a 6 play 66 yard drive taking just 1:23 off the clock. Scott Norwood hit a 23 yard Field Goal and the game was tied.
After the Giants punted, the Bills got rolling again. In just 4:27 of game time they went 80 yards in 12 plays culminating in a 1 yard TD run from RB Don Smith early in the second quarter. Having had the ball for less time than the Giants’ first possession the BIlls led 10-3.
After the teams traded punts the Bills got a safety as DE Bruce Smith took down Giants QB Jeff Hostetler in the End Zone.
New York had the ball with 3:43 in the half. For the first time they got away from ball control. Just over three minutes saw them go 87 yards in 10 plays to score a TD as Hostetler found WR Stephen Baker from 14 yards away. So they went in with the Bills holding a slender 12-10 lead.
The Second Half
The Giants received the kickoff and went straight back to their ball control, time consuming strategy. They kept the ball for the opening 9:29 of the half. At the time a Super Bowl record. They went 75 yards in 14 plays capped by Ottis Anderson running in to score from the 1 yard line.
Buffalo, who hadn’t had the ball for a huge swathe of game time and the halftime period (almost 2 hours in total) were foced to punt and the Giants got moving again. Eventually they gave up the ball on downs when Bruce Smith tackled Anderson for a loss on 4th and 2 from th Bills 35.
That woke the Bills attack up. They would go 63 yards in just 4 plays and retake the lead 19-17 as Thurman Thomas ran in a 31 yard TD.
New York launched another sustained drive going 74 yards in 14 plays and taking 7:32 off the clock. They made it the Bills 3 yard line but were held to a 21 yard Field Goal by Matt Bahr. Retaking the lead 20-19.
Wide Right – Super Bowl XXV has an iconic ending
The Bills fabled offence took over at their own 10 yard line with 2:16 on the clock. QB Jim Kelly led them on a frantic 8 play 61 yard drive.
With 8 seconds to play they made it to the Giants 29 yard line. Which would leave Scott Norwood with a 47 yard attempt to win it. It was at the limit of his range.
Norwood was 1 of 5 for field goal attempts of more than 40 yards on grass, and his longest field goal was 48 yards in this season. The kick, had sufficient distance, but passed about a foot to the right of the righthand goalpost.
Al Michaels called “No good…wide right.” And the phrase passed into the folklore of the Super Bowl. The Giants ran out the clock and walked away with the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The Bills fans gave their team a heroes welcome home, including kicker Scott Norwood.
The Giants had produced a blueprint for stopping Buffalo. Ball control offence and dominating time of possession. Whilst also defensively allowing Buffalo to run the ball more in order to keep them from throwing.
Of course the Bills only held the ball for 19:27 in total and if the final kick has been a foot to the left they would be remembered as the point a minute team who couldn’t be stopped.
Such are sporting narratives. Always retoractively fitted to suit the winning team. In this case the impact of that was to see the defensive gameplan (written by Bill Belichcick) go to the Hall of Fame.
Belichcik and Tom Coughlin would go on to win 8 Super Bowls between them as Head Coaches (6 for the former and 2 for the latter). Ironically both of Coughlin’s wins would come against Belichick.
This was the Giants day. But how does posterity remember these teams? Five of the Bills starters are in the Hall of Fame. For the Gaints – just one.
The MVP Debate
Ottis Anderson was named the Super Bowl XXV MVP. He had carried the ball 21 times for 102 yards (4.86 yards per carry) and 1 TD to key they Giants ball control approach. He also had 1 reception for 7 yards on 1 target in the game.
Anderson, who had scored in Super Bowl XXI for New York is one of only four running backs in NFL history to score rushing touchdowns in two Super Bowls and win Super Bowl MVP.
But should he have won it? What about Thurman Thomas? The Bills Back had 15 carries for 135 yards (9 yards per carry) and 1 TD. As well as 5 catches on 6 targets for a further 55 yards.
The truth is in the 54 year history of the Super Bowl only one MVP has been chosen from a losing team. And Chuck Howley didn’t really want the award after losing in Super Bowl V.
Had Norwood slotted the winning Field Goal, then doubtless Thomas would have been the Super Bowl XXV MVP.
What came next
Bill Parcells stepped away from coaching the Giants. And over the next two seasons they would go 14-18 with Ray Handley at the helm. Dan Reeves replaced him and won Coach of the Year in 1993 thanks to an 11-5 season. But his time in charge only led to a 31-33 run over 4 years.
Within a decade of this game the Giants were back in the Super Bowl. But a 34-7 defeat by the Ravens in Super Bowl XXV may not be something their fans look back on too fondly.
Real success came for Big Blue under the stewardship of Tom Coughlin. Who led them to 2 Super Bowl Wins. They were last in the Playoffs in 2016.
After Super Bowl XXV Buffalo would be come the first, and so far only team, to make 4 consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Over the next three years a 36-12 run would see them make it back to the next three title games. Unfortunately they would lose them all. The Bills ‘Near Dynasty’ would become the stuff of legend for a talented but snakebitten team.
The Bills would go 33-31 and make 2 playoff appearances over the following four years. Their best run was from 1995-1999 when they went 37-27 and made three playoff appearances. However, they lost three Wild Card games and once in the Divisional Round.
From 2000-2016 the Bills would not be competitive. A 112-160 run saw them miss out on the playoffs every year, and go through a number of coaching changes.
The arrival of Sean McDermott as Head Coach has seen in an uptick in the Bills fortunes. Since 2017 they have gone 38-26 and made the playoffs three times in four years.
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