His Stocky Man, in brown, rubber-soled shoes, gray Dockers and a tan polo shirt, walking across the narrow street from his car, the white Chevy Prism with the cracked windshield, he is a failure. An abject, wretched failure. And yet he is, incontrovertibly, a winner, a success. He stands there in his wraparound sunglasses and breathes the wet spring air and talks to you about interest rates and square footage and backyard park adjacencies and finished basements in this northern Virginia suburb. Houses. Condominiums. A nice parcel out by Centreville. In Chantilly. Mortgage rates are low. Now is the time to buy. He speaks in a quiet, slow, gravelly voice. Thoughtful. You lean in to hear him. His steady monotone wins out over your urge to interrupt.� He finishes talking and looks away, at the waving poplar trees and the unweeded grass, the minimall in the distance and the Mobil station where kids are filling up their bike tires with air. You look at him and you know you know him. He hands you his card. This is an upscale area, he explains, comfortable, a bit pricey perhaps, but great for families. A strong sense of community. The card says SCOTT NORWOOD, REALTOR, and it is red, white and blue. He looks at you to see if you recognize the name. He lives with this, a combination of burden and opportunity. A salesman needs any edge he can get, and he knows that merely being recognized as a former NFL kicker can help win over the husbands but rarely the wives. The wives must be reminded that this is the guy who blew that kick, who, you know, lost that Super Bowl for the Buffalo Bills; then there is understanding and sympathy. And that could help cajole a couple into bidding on a split-level colonial at the end of a cul-de-sac.
But he never asks for the pity. He has known anger and disappointment. Has felt responsible for a city's stifled aspirations. But he will not accept pity.
We are a fickle nation, quick to dismiss failure and embrace success. Prove yourself a champion, and we will love you forever, overlooking murder raps and drug busts and spousal abuse. But fall short on the field, and we may never forgive, no matter how you conduct yourself away from the game. So consider how it would feel to live as the answer to a trivia question, the punch line to a joke, a synonym for misses and muffs and screwups, or, perhaps even more humiliating, the MacGuffin in a Vincent Gallo movie (Buffalo '66). That is the burden Scott Norwood has borne since Super Bowl XXV. And you know what? He has not only survived, but he has also thrived—and not as some lovable loser, a Throneberry or Uecker who uses his haplessness as a huckster's tool.
The measure of a man should no more be his worst moments than it should be the color of his skin or the cut of his suit. It is how we deal with those moments that make us who we are, and that is the most American measure of success: to fail once, to pick yourself up and try again. We are a nation of losers made good, descendants of those who settled here in search of a second chance. To fail is not American, it is human. But it is American to overcome that failure.
It took years for Scott Norwood to get here. To walk down this sidewalk and point to this house and say that it will go in the mid-4s. To raise his three children who have his blue eyes and his beautiful wife's blonde locks and to take up his position as man of the house. This man, in his journey, has transformed himself from taciturn failure to stolid hero. It is a small sort of heroism, quotidian, really—the heroism of failing at something and still persevering. Of missing a field goal wide right in the most televised sporting event in the country, and then having to get up the next morning and continue to live your life. We've all known moments of failure, of blowing an exam, of being fired, spurned, disgraced, yet these moments are seldom public. How do you go on when every time you walk into a liquor store or a gas station, there is someone pointing at you, reminding you of your worst moment? You see, this is also a particular kind of American heroism—the simple, quiet heroism of continuing to be a dad and a husband despite knowing, deeply, that life can be a bitch.
The path to Scott Norwood's failure, and the redemptive success of overcoming that setback, begins at Thomas Jefferson High in Alexandria, Va., where a stocky, 5'10", 17-year-old sweeper is heading back to the locker room after soccer practice. The football coach, Mike Weaver, stops him and says, "Hey, son, I hear you can really kick the ball."
Scott is a quiet boy, the discomfort of adolescence reinforcing his taciturn nature so that when he speaks it is as surprising as a voice coming from a statue. "I'm O.K., sir."
"We need a kicker, son," says Coach Weaver, "Why don't you come out for the team this season?"
Scott nods. He's been a standout soccer player since he was old enough to tie his shoes and would make the All-Metropolitan team twice at Thomas Jefferson. But such is the straightforwardness of his world view that he has never thought about applying his skill at kicking a ball to another sport.
At dinner that night at the Norwoods' house in Annandale, his father, Del, who will later be inducted into the Virginia High School Hall of Fame as a baseball coach, listens as Scott recounts his conversation with Weaver. A Maine native and the coach at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va., Del pitched in the minor leagues and was invited to camp with the Boston Red Sox, but never made it to the majors. Yet as much as he once dreamed of the big leagues, he now enjoys playing with and coaching his three children in baseball and soccer. Scott's older brother, Steve, is a pitcher and outfielder for the University of Virginia who will later be drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers. His younger sister, Sandra, is a standout in field hockey, basketball and soccer. Del had been a little disappointed that Scott, when he reached high school, had chosen soccer over baseball. But the nature of Del's commitment to his children was that he would have supported Scott if he had chosen ballet. So when Scott mentions the possibility of kicking for the football team, Del asks him if this is something he wants to do.