As Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood prepared for the final and fateful 47-yard field goal attempt that would decide the winner of Super Bowl XXV in Tampa, Bill Parcells stood on the sidelines and thought about how devastating a moment this might be.
“I said to myself, ‘You know, it’s going to be a shame if we lose this game, because we really did outplay them,’ ” the former Giants’ coach, 74, told Newsday from his Jupiter, Florida, home on Thursday — a day after the 25th anniversary of the Jan. 27, 1991 game. “ ‘We played it our way, and it’s going to be a shame if we don’t win it.’”
Parcells then looked over at his own kicker, Matt Bahr, for some glimmer of optimism. The two had this unique form of unspoken communication, and all it required was a look from the coach to summon Bahr to his side. The kicker told Parcells something he hadn’t known about Norwood.
“’Bill, he hasn’t made a field goal on grass from 47 yards out all year,’” Parcells recalled Bahr saying. “’He’s going to overkick it. It’s just like a golf shot when you push it too far right.’”
With eight seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the Giants holding a 20-19 lead, Norwood held the fate of both teams. A successful kick, and the Bills almost certainly win, 22-20. A miss, and Parcells’ Giants win their second Super Bowl title.
Just as Bahr had predicted, Norwood pushed the ball, and the kick sailed wide right with four seconds left. The Giants’ sideline erupted in joy, and Jeff Hostetler, the first pure backup to win a Super Bowl, took a knee to end the game.
Twenty five years later, the game still stands as one of the greatest in Super Bowl history. It continues to resonate with those who played and coached in it.
“You just realize the further and further you get away from it how difficult it is to get to that point and how special it is,” Hostetler, 54, and the owner of a construction company, said from his Morgantown, West Virginia home. “You have the opportunity to win the game, because if you don’t win the game, it’s really pointless, but just to be able to perform in that situation, it gets more and more special as time goes by.”
The circumstances surrounding the game made it far more memorable than perhaps any Super Bowl before or since. Military operations for the Persian Gulf War had begun only 10 days earlier. Unprecedented security measures had been taken for the game and the high level of anxiety in the country had affected everyone associated with the game.
“One of my most vivid memories was waiting to be introduced in the tunnel and looking around at the American flags and realizing how big this game really was and what it meant at the time,” said Hostetler, who lives with his wife and family in Morgantown and has three married sons, all of whom live in Morgantown. “To have Whitney Houston singing the national anthem, and to see everybody with their flags in the stands and then the flyover [of F-16 planes], it’s stuff you don’t forget.”
The game might have held more importance to Hostetler than most. It was played just weeks after he had made up his mind to retire from the NFL because of his continued frustration at spending the first six-plus years of his career as Phil Simms’ backup. A few days before the Giants were set to play Buffalo in a Dec. 15 regular-season game at Giants Stadium, Hostetler told his wife, Vicky, he would be finished with the NFL at the end of the season.
“I told her at the dinner table, ‘We’re done,’ ” Hostetler recalled. “I was a financial planner, and I was ready to start that up back in Morgantown. I just had enough of the frustration and disappointment. It was time. I grew up on a farm and I grew up Mennonite, and my dad was a farmer and he always had things breaking down. One of the things he said was that you never give up. You just keep plugging. But I was ready to give up.”
Hostetler could never have known how quickly things would change. In a 17-13 loss to the Bills, Simms suffered a broken foot, and Hostetler would be the quarterback for the rest of the season and into the playoffs. After a divisional-round win over the Bears at home, he faced Joe Montana and the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game in San Francisco, with the 49ers hoping to capture their third straight Super Bowl title.
Incredibly, the Giants won, 15-13, as Bahr kicked five field goals and Hostetler pulled off the unlikely win over the greatest quarterback in NFL history at the time.
A week later, he won the Super Bowl.
“I learned that very quickly, things can change in an instant,” Hostetler said. “I knew the Lord had me there for a reason, but His timing isn’t always our timing. I feel I’m truly blessed.”
As it turned out, Hostetler’s Super Bowl performance was more challenging than most people know. He divulged that he played most of the game with a concussion from a second-quarter hit by Bills defensive end Leon Seals.
“I felt like my body was pancaked and I was a couple inches thick,” he said. “I was just trying to gasp for breath and felt woozy. I don’t know how I got to the sidelines, but I do remember them giving me smelling salts and taking a couple deep breaths. I remember seeing the faces of the [team] doctor and [trainer] Ronnie Barnes and this look of horror because I wasn’t reacting. They just disappeared and turned away from me.”
As he sat there trying to gather himself, Hostetler leaned back and looked up.
“I’m there by myself, and I see this big helicopter gunship and you could see the guns sticking out to the sides, just hovering above the stadium,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow.’ And then I realized the offense is up. That was an intense time, and it’s a memory I’ve never forgotten.”
‘GIVE YOUR TEAM
THE BEST CHANCE TO WIN’
Parcells can never forget the win, or the run-up to the unlikely sequence of events. He might have done his best coaching job that year, especially guiding the team after the late-season loss of Simms.
“When you have a defense like we had, I knew we had a chance,” he said. “That wasn’t any ham-and-egg outfit. We had some good players. So it’s just the idea that I was trained as a coach to know there are ways to win these games. Mickey [Corcoran, Parcells’ high school basketball coach] imparted this in my brain, and it never left me. Your job as a coach is to figure out how to give your team the best chance to win.”
Parcells’ used plenty of psychological ploys. At a team meeting before the 49ers’ game, he brought a large, plaid suitcase into the room.
“I just told them, ‘You can pack for two or three days, or you can pack for 10 days,’ ” said Parcells, who made it obvious he was packing for the 49ers game as well as the following week’s game against the Bills. There was no bye week between the two games.
After a practice during the week leading up to the Super Bowl, Parcells made it clear he thought Hostetler was capable of winning the game, despite the fact no pure backup had ever won the Super Bowl.
“I told the team, ‘Hey, Jeff Hostetler’s not going to be the reason we lose, boys. It’s going to be somebody else in here, but it won’t be him,’ ” the coach told his players. “I think that got everybody to where they’re thinking, ‘Hey, Bill really thinks we can do this.’ ”
Parcells also pulled one of the all-time great ploys to help motivate third-year left tackle Jumbo Elliott, who was tasked with blocking Bills All-Pro defensive end Bruce Smith.
“I said, ‘Listen, I want you to get into a fight with Jumbo,’ ” Parcells told his star linebacker, Lawrence Taylor. “ ‘It’s going to give me a chance to make a point with the team.’ ”
Taylor was initially reluctant to fight Elliott, but he eventually agreed.
“I give [Taylor] the wink, and he goes after him,’” Parcells said. “He’s yelling at LT . . . So I say, ‘Hey, Jumbo, maybe he’s just worried about Bruce Smith winning the Super Bowl for them.’ Jumbo said, ‘Don’t worry about Bruce Smith. I’ll take care of him.’ ”
Elliott wound up having a terrific game against Smith, who finished with just three tackles and one sack. Elliott’s blocking helped running back Ottis Anderson win the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
“We knew we had a chance to win, but I think Bill wanted to make sure everyone, including Jumbo, knew what the deal was,” said Anderson, who finished with 21 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown. “There were some comments that Bruce Smith had made about Jumbo, so Bill did his part to get him ready.”
It all came together on one momentous night for the Giants, who shocked the Bills and produced a moment in time that still binds them together in loyalty. The 1990 team held a 25-year reunion last September, and Parcells was moved by how close the players and coaches remained as they gathered for a celebratory dinner.
“The players are hugging and kissing each other, and their wives had never seen this before,” Parcells said. “One of the wives is a psychologist, and she said, ‘Coach, can I ask you a question?’ She said, ‘What is this?’ I said, ‘This is a blood kinship, and it was formed 25 years ago. As you can see, it’s colorblind, and it’s going to last the rest of their lives.’ ”