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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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" Scott Norwood is one of my three or four favorite Buffalo Bills," says Gallo, "because of what he went through." Buffalo has not won a major sports championship since 1965, the third-longest such streak of futility for any city that has at least two major sports franchises. (Only San Diego [1963] and Cleveland ['64] have suffered longer.) As Buffalo would return to three more Super Bowls in the greatest run of NFL title-game appearances since the Browns of the '50s and then get blown out each time, Norwood's wide right would take on even greater significance. It became clear those few feet between the ball and the right upright were as close as those Bills would ever get to a Super Bowl championship. "Look, a lot of things happened out there," says Scott. "A lot of other players didn't make plays, but that doesn't excuse me. I'm a player and I'm paid to perform, and I failed in that instance."

After the 1991 season the Bills sign a promising new kicker, Steve Christie of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and waive the 31-year-old Norwood. If he was not associated with that missed field goal, Scott believes, he would get a call from another team looking for a kicker. But the phone never rings. He no longer bothers to show up at the Washington-Lee High School field to practice his placekicks.

The first years out of football are the hardest. He refuses to discuss the Super Bowl with reporters, and when he returns to Fairfax County, he becomes almost a recluse, carefully avoiding the media. "An experience like that has to be a blow to his ego," says Kim, "and then he's out of football and he has to find his place. It was very hard for him to talk about it." Scott retreats into his family, moving into a house with Kim in Clifton, Va., near his parents. He goes hunting with Del and Steve, the three of them heading out to Kmart before every deer season, buying ammunition and camping equipment, new boots and camouflage vests before setting out for Long Island, off the coast of Maine, where Del has hunted since he was a boy. They seldom shoot at anything, the three of them, instead taking long walks through the wilderness. Del doesn't really like the act of killing deer, but the ritual of pitching tents, setting up camp, making a fire and spending time with his boys in the woods keeps him coming back season after season. The laconic talk around the fire is reassuring to Scott, the crackle of burning wood and the chirping of crickets an aural reminder that life still has meaning and purpose and fine moments.

Scott seeks to put his business degree to work selling insurance, mortgages, annuities and trusts. It's hard work, especially the cold-calling, having to dial his way through a list of phone numbers every day and say, "Hi, I'm Scott Norwood, and I have a great opportunity today for you to take care of your family." It takes weeks and months of cajoling to get a prospective policy buyer or annuity purchaser to write that check. For the first time in his life, he finds that just showing up isn't enough.

Everywhere they go, to movie theaters, to doctor's offices, to restaurants, Scott knows what everyone is thinking: He's the guy who missed. "I would try to talk to him about other things," Steve says, "but you just knew it was on his mind."

"I saw him working through it," says Sandra. "He would come and tell me, 'This is real tough for me, but I'll get through it.' And we would all tell him, 'Scott, it's football. There are other things out there in life.' "

Scott wants children, suspects that he may find some distraction in the richness of family life, but there, too, he is disappointed as he and Kim struggle to conceive. "They had some problems having kids," explains Steve. "Who knows; maybe that was related to all that stress?" There are moments when, after returning home from work, he confides to his wife that he doesn't understand why he has been put on this particular path. Why should this have happened to him? And Kim stops him right there and says, "Look, life is full of so many different moments—yes, that was awful what happened—but you were an All-Pro. If someone said, 'We'll take back that kick, but you also have to lose everything you accomplished in football,' would you do it? No way. So you take the good with the bad, only our bad is just really, really bad."

But the good is so very, very good. Twins, Carly and Connor, are born in 1995, and then Corey is born in '96. Still, this healing is a gradual process. The missed kick appears in his consciousness at odd times, and suddenly, in the middle of a phone conversation, wide right will replay itself, and every time it is a sickening moment. Then, over a few seasons—but he no longer calls them seasons; they're years now—thanks to the continued good health of his children and the love of his wife and family, he begins to understand that without that failure, that defeat, he might not have everything he now has. It is an obvious truth but one that comes to him with a most unlikely feeling: gratitude.

"I like the people we've become," he tells his wife at one point, not smugly, but in wonder. How can you measure the health and happiness of three beautiful children against a field goal? Three kids versus three points? "If everything always worked out for you, then you don't have that sense of appreciation," Norwood says. "You can always think you understand what it means to have things not work out, but until you live it, you don't really know."

Scott dusts off his Pro Bowl jersey and has it framed, along with a complete set of his football cards, over the big screen RCA in his wood-paneled den. There's a leather sofa and two chairs, and a desk with a computer where sometimes, in the evening, after he and Kim have gotten the kids bathed and into bed, he will sit and listen to the house settle and consider his future. Everyone seems to be buying, selling, moving. There's a real estate boom afoot, every baby boomer in America seems to be in escrow, making a bid, securing a second mortgage, adding on, remodeling, and he thinks maybe that's for him. He likes the implied optimism of offering people a stake, rather than the pessimism of selling insurance or annuities. Through a friend, a Bills fan, he hears about an opening and men, just like that, he leaves his career in financial planning in 2002 and joins Re/Max, the real estate brokerage.

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