Posted: Thursday January 27, 2005 11:22AM; Updated: Friday January 28, 2005 1:34PM
Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal at the end of Super Bowl XXV, but he's not the only one to blame for the Bills' narrow loss to the Giants.
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New England's Bill Belichick and Philadelphia's Andy Reid are two of the premier head coaches in the NFL. But even the biggest of winners sometimes make mistakes while performing on the game's grandest stage, when the pressure is at its greatest and the spotlight is at its hottest.
Coaching blunders are a part of Super Bowl history. Make enough calls and you're going to make your share of miscues or open yourself up to an onslaught of second-guessing. Even in the game that you prepare for like none other. Will Belichick or Reid learn that painful lesson first-hand in this year's Roman numeraled extravaganza? To the winners go the spoils. The losers get their strategies dissected.
Here are our top five nominations for the most dubious Super Bowl coaching moves of all-time:
1. Baltimore's Don Shula in Super Bowl III -- Everybody remembers the Jets half of the quarterback story that day, with Joe Namath guaranteeing victory and striking the first major blow for AFL equality with New York's monumental 16-7 win. But some still maintain that if Shula had handled his own quarterback situation better, the game might have turned out differently and Namath's legend never would have been burnished. (Not to mention that the rest of us wouldn't have had to suffer through the "guarantee'' phenomena in professional sports for the next 35 years or so).
Johnny Unitas was considered the greatest quarterback of his era, and maybe all time, but he wasn't the Colts starter against the Jets. That honor went to veteran Earl Morrall, who had rather improbably won the NFL's regular-season MVP award after replacing Unitas, who missed most of the season with an injured elbow. But Morrall was awful in the biggest game of his career, completing just six of 17 passes for 71 yards and three first-half interceptions.
Despite Unitas being the greatest comeback quarterback of his time, Shula didn't insert his Hall of Famer into the game until the Jets had built a 13-0 lead with less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter. By then, Morrall had led seven scoreless Colts drives, and the Jets had seized control of the game's momentum.
Unitas wasn't exactly sharp himself -- he finished 11 of 24 for 110 yards and one interception -- but he did lead Baltimore to its only touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Critics have long wondered what might have been for the 15-1 Colts had he entered the game to start the third quarter, when New York's lead was only 7-0.
2. Green Bay's Mike Holmgren in Super Bowl XXXII -- Is it ever wise to allow your opponent to score the go-ahead touchdown in the final two minutes of the NFL's championship game? Holmgren thought so, and ordered his defense to let Denver running back Terrell Davis waltz in from the 1-yard line with 1:45 remaining, giving the Broncos their eventual margin of victory in a 31-24 upset of the Packers.
It was a controversial move from the moment the decision came to light, and the postgame debate grew even juicier when it was revealed that Holmgren believed the play came on first down, rather than second-and-goal. Holmgren's thinking was obvious: With good odds that Denver was going to get that final yard and take a seven-point lead over his favored Packers, why not let the Broncos score and prevent them from milking the clock in the process, thereby greatly reducing Green Bay's chances to mount a game-tying touchdown march.
But Green Bay, putting the ball in the hands of three-time league MVP BrettFavre, saw the strategy backfire. The Packers got the ball at their 30 with 1:39 to play and two timeouts remaining. They made it as far as the Denver 31 before the drive stalled, and the Broncos and John Elway finally had their long-awaited Super Bowl title.
Why did Holmgren go against conventional football wisdom? Maybe because of how the Packers had ended their previous defeat, a Nov. 16 game at woeful Indianapolis. In that game, the Colts had the ball at the Packers 1 with the score tied late in the game. They chose to run the clock down to almost nothing before kicking a chip shot field goal to win 41-38. Against Denver, Holmgren wanted to give Favre one last shot. He did, but not without first becoming the only Super Bowl coach to instruct his team to allow its opponent to score the game-winning touchdown.