That's the extent of the Bills' hangover from their devastating 20-19 loss to the New York Giants in January. The defeat doesn't seem so devastating half a year later, for the team or for Norwood, whose 47-yard miss from the right hash with eight seconds to play made the Giants the Super Bowl champions.
Buffalo players say the loss isn't an open wound. They say they went so far last season and had so many great days—like the 51-3 thrashing of the Los Angeles Raiders for the AFC Championship—that a one-point loss to a terrific team in the Super Bowl is hardly a negative. There really are no negatives here. Neither retirement nor Plan B free agency robbed the team of a single first-stringer. The NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, end Bruce Smith, had arthroscopic knee surgery on July 22, but he is expected to be fine for the Sept. 1 opener against the Miami Dolphins. And no one west of Giants Stadium has figured out how to stop quarterback Jim Kelly and Buffalo's no-huddle offense.
Not since the '72 Dolphins has a team coming off a Super Bowl loss been so highly regarded, and Miami went on to win the next two Super Bowls. NFL observers tend to be impressed by a team that piled up a total of 95 points and 995 yards in two playoff victories. Opposing players believe in the Bills too, especially after their performance in the AFC Championship.
"That game," says Raider defensive end Howie Long, "was the most amazing thing I've ever seen in sports. I've never seen 11 guys on the same page like that. They were running a no-huddle with no conversation! You know, Cincinnati comes to the line and Boomer Esiason says about 50 things: 'Minnesota! Bombay! Thirty-two! Ruth! Leroy! Green, green!' Kelly came to the line that day, looked us over and said, 'Set, hut!' And he'd complete a 32-yard post. They played the perfect game."
Can they do it again, and again? "I think we're still on the upswing," Norwood says, "because we're so young and we jelled so late last year. I think falling short last year keeps us hungry mentally."
Mentally, by the way, Norwood seems to be line. He figures pure adrenaline might be what pushed his plant foot—the left one—four or five inches ahead of where it should have been, thus helping push his decisive kick wide right. "There's no avoiding the magnitude of the kick, but I'm not going to let it ruin my life," he says. "You try not to get sucked up into the emotion of the moment, but it was hard. It was like a frenzy out there." Which is how life could be in Buffalo next January, after Super Bowl XXVI.
3. Was last season the beginning of the end for the 49ers?
Absolutely not, although it sure seemed that way when we last saw the Niners on Jan. 20. Running back Roger Craig was standing alone and aloof in a corner of the Candlestick Park dressing room after fumbling away the NFC Championship to the Giants. When offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren approached Craig and told him that one play never decides a game, Craig burst into tears on Holmgren's shoulder.
That game had so much symbolism, and it portends much for San Francisco's future. Craig had the huge fumble, and quarterback Joe Montana was kayoed late in the game by New York defensive end Leonard Marshall, and the 49ers rushed for a piddling 39 yards. Still, San Francisco should have won, instead of losing 15-13. What this means is that the Niners have one heck of a defense. In eight quarters against the Giants last year, San Francisco did not give up a touchdown. This, finally, will be the year that the Niner defense outshines the offense. "They had the most incredible defense in the league," says Giants quarterback Phil Simms. "They're so fast, and they fly to the ball like you wouldn't believe, even their linemen."
Linebacker Charles Haley and ends Kevin Fagan and Pierce Holt (31 sacks among them in '90) will anchor the game's best front seven. "The real football minds can see the ability of this defense," says Keena Turner, a former 49er linebacker and now an assistant to team consultant Harry Edwards. "Good players doing the little things right have turned this defense into a great force."