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A Life After Wide Right
Karl Taro Greenfeld
July 12, 2004
Thirteen years after missing a Super Bowl-winning field goal, the ex-Bill views his worst moment as a step in the right direction
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July 12, 2004

A Life After Wide Right

Thirteen years after missing a Super Bowl-winning field goal, the ex-Bill views his worst moment as a step in the right direction

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She waits near the players' entrance—the wives are not allowed into the locker room—and she waits and she waits.

In the Buffalo locker room there is a mixture of anger, disbelief and confusion. The emotional rush of that last drive, in which Kelly took the Bills down to the 30-yard line with eight seconds left, was such that even after Norwood's miss it's hard for the players to absorb what has happened. Some of the Bills are still milling around near the coach or standing near the entrance, as if this is some sort of second halftime and the team will soon be going on to play a third half. Levy tells his team that he has never been more proud of any group of men, and that he could not have asked for anything more from his team—well-intentioned banalities that can't begin to heal the hurt. Then he surveys his team and watches as Reed begins to pull off his jersey and Kelly wipes his face with a towel. Levy wants to talk to his kicker. He finds Norwood and walks over to sit down with him on the wooden bench in front of his locker, between him and wide receiver Steve Tasker.

"I didn't know what to say to him," says Levy. "I was searching for words to buck him up, but I knew how he felt. We engineered that drive to get him in field goal range. It was a 47-yard kick off natural grass. Fewer than 50% of those are made. He had been such a great kicker for us over the years, and he won a few games for us with his leg, but you don't think about things like that at a time like that."

As Levy is trying to console his kicker, linebacker Darryl Talley and cornerback Nate Odomes approach Norwood and explain that if they had made a crucial tackle in the third quarter on a third-and-13 pass play, then the Bills would have never been in the position where they needed to make that kick. Then Reed comes over and says that if he had hung on to a few key passes in the second quarter, then the Bills could have put the Giants away. Teammate after teammate visits with Norwood and reinforces the message that this was a team loss. Fellow special teams player Tasker, who watches all this from his locker next to Norwood, recalls, "None of the players on that team blamed him. They knew you could take back any one play and the game might have been different."

Then the reporters are let into the locker room. They've rarely bothered to speak with Norwood. But today, of course, he is trapped in the incandescent TV lights and on the business end of three dozen microphones. His special teams coach, Bruce DeHaven, stands by him as he answers every single question from every single reporter. He will stay in the locker room a full hour after most of his teammates have gone. How does it feel, Scott? Were you nervous? Did you feel like you hit it good? What are you going to do now? What do your teammates think? How does it feel to miss that kick and lose the Super Bowl?

DeHaven asks him every few minutes, "Have you had enough? Do you want me to get rid of these guys?" And Scott shakes his head and replies, "I think I owe it to the fans to answer some questions."

Sports psychologists will tell you that openness is the first step to healing from this sort of loss. They use words like process and grieving and cleansing, but Scott just sees it as his duty. His father would simply call it showing up.

"The biggest thing about that kick," says Norwood, "was not how it impacted me, but how it let the team down. But I had prepared as well as I could. I had done the best I could. I could look at myself in the mirror."

In the 1998 film Buffalo '66, a place-kicker named Scott Wood misses the field goal that costs Buffalo the Super Bowl. Billy, the character played by Vincent Gallo, loses a $10,000 bet on the game and comes to view the kicker as the cause of all his frustrations and shortcomings. He goes looking for the kicker, intending to murder him. In the movie the kicker in retirement becomes the owner of Scott Wood's Solid Gold Sexotic Dancers—a shirtless, sequined, bow-tie-wearing fat man who offers up naked women as a palliative for Buffalo residents devastated by his missed field goal.

Norwood was offered what he calls a "large sum" of money to play himself in Buffalo '66. He turned it down and says he has never seen the movie. "I think if he saw that film, he would be hurt by it," says Gallo, a Buffalo native. "I love Scott Norwood, but I used the kicker character because Scott became symbolic of all of Buffalo's problems." While there is no doubt that Buffalo fans suffered with Norwood after his kick, Buffalo is one of the few cities where Scott is remembered for the totality of his career and the great character he showed both before and after that Super Bowl. When he returned to Buffalo after the game and appeared at a post-Super Bowl rally, 25,000 fans showed up and cheered for Norwood almost as loudly as they did for Levy and Kelly, chanting, "We love Scott!" The fans understood, perhaps subconsciously, that Norwood's failure could become either an albatross or an opportunity, just as their city's rust-belt decline had prompted them to find hidden depths of character and strength.

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