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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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Stolid and squinty-eyed, he makes an unlikely real estate agent. You arrive at an open house, you don't expect the kicker who missed in the Super Bowl. But years have passed, and now those who don't remember or who never knew outnumber those who do, and even for those who recall the missed kick, it is no longer a source of embarrassment or disappointment but rather a curiosity, like finding an old letter from a girl you once liked but thought you'd completely forgotten. In this housing market, though, in this era of low interest rates and buoyant real estate prices, there is room for even a taciturn, thoughtful broker in his little Chevy Prism. He's not a great financial success, but he has a feeling that things are about to turn around. A few more listings, another handful of referrals. Every day potential buyers are calling him, and he takes them out in the Prism and shows them properties, a few listings south of Clifton, a new development out in Chantilly. And when he talks about life, he nods and leans forward a little, because he is now looking ahead, not back.

Del stands by him, recognizing mat his son is finally getting over the missed kick, but he never mentions it, that's not his way. He takes the grandchildren to Orioles and Redskins games, begins to teach and coach them the way he taught and coached his own children. And he can take pride in the man his son is today, a fellow who keeps showing up. It is a tribute to the closeness of the family that all three siblings, Sandra, Steve and Scott, settle within 20 miles of the Annandale home in which they grew up and where Del and his wife Anne still live. Del, at 74, drives himself to ball games, and on a humid July night arrives early at Camden Yards to watch the Orioles take batting practice. After the game, as he's cruising home on the beltway, heading south into the suburban incandescence of Fairfax County, his black Maxima rear-ends a tow truck, stopped in the fast lane without hazard or brake lights. Del dies on impact.

Scott gets the call from Steve the next morning. He gets dressed and heads to his mom's house in Annandale. "That's a lot harder than any missed kick," Scott says. "You realize what matters pretty quickly."

Norwood lines up for the kick with just a few seconds left. The rest of the team is gathered on the sidelines, holding hands, panting, exhausted. The gray-haired coach kneels down, watching with squinted eyes. The kicker stands in place for a moment, at an angle to the ball, and then charges, putting cleated foot to the ball and sending it soaring over the defense.

The Boomerangs have managed to salvage a tie, and Carly Norwood, who takes many of her team's free kicks, runs off the field as dad, assistant coach Scott Norwood, scratches his chin and worries that he didn't evenly divide the playing time. It's hard keeping the nine-year-old soccer players shuttling on and off the field, and often he'll forget to remove a girl who has been in for a while. Parents can usually be counted on to complain if their daughters have been out for too long, but sometimes even they lose track. The scarlet-uniformed Boomerangs gather around for their "two-four-six-eight, who do we appreciate" chant, and then Scott and Kim and the rest of the parents join hands in a tunnel as the girls run through. Several other children join in and run through after the team, and there is some discussion among the players about whether the tunnel is actually more fun than the game.

A few yards away from the sidelines, Connor and Corey are playing in the shade of a crab tree, the purple blossoms taking flight from the boughs in the spring air and wafting across the field to where Scott and the rest of the parents are gathering cones and coolers. These are the games that represent, somehow, American sport at its best. Of course we are a million miles from the sleek arenas and enormo-domes of big-time professional sports, but this Southeastern Youth Soccer league game is part of a cultural continuum connected to those playoff games and Super Bowls, and no one knows both ends of that spectrum better than Scott Norwood. And he will tell you that these sweet afternoons coaching kids or playing pickup soccer are the soul of our athletic obsession, the part that all of us can and do share. And as Corey runs up to Scott and tells him that some kid named Hunter just hit him—"Then don't play with Hunter anymore," is Scott's answer—he thinks about what he had to endure just to get here, with all the rest of us, coaching our kids on a Saturday afternoon.

American sports, Scott will tell you, will break your heart. But they will also, in their most basic form, nurture your soul. He thinks about Del, and about showing up. That's how you really win in life. Not by kicking Super Bowl-winning field goals or covering yourself in glory, but by showing up. And as you look at this life, at Carly sipping from a juice box as Kim braids her hair and Connor and Cory climbing all over Scott as he walks in his steady gait toward the family's Plymouth Voyager, you think, know this guy. He's sort of like me.

The children draw pictures. Crude, stick-figure football players in navy-blue-and-white jerseys and Crayola crimson helmets—the kids find it difficult to render the Bills' charging buffalo logo—in field goal formation. The holder kneeling down. The kicker following through. And in these revisionist drawings by Carly, Connor or Corey Norwood, the kick is never wide right. It is always straight down the middle. It is always good. They represent a portal into one possible alternate universe. A Mr. Destiny retake in which the goat becomes the hero, the failure a success.

The pictures are a jumping-off point for a thousand what-might-have-been conversations, thoughts and musings on how the life of the Norwoods could have been different if Scott had made that kick in Super Bowl XXV. Kim sits the kids down and says to them, "It's all right that your father missed that kick. Your dad went out there and did his best—and sometimes, even when you do your best, things don't work out. And you know what?" She looks at each of them.

Three expectant faces gaze back.

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