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New Game, Old Story : Bills' Norwood Not Allowed to Forget 47-Yard Field Goal He Missed Against Giants

January 22, 1992|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MINNEAPOLIS — They don't talk much about the great field goal Scott Norwood made, the 48-yard kick against Mother Nature in 1989, the one where the snow was blowing so hard into his face at Rich Stadium that Norwood stood on the field looking like Nanook of the North.

"We were playing the New Orleans Saints in our stadium, with snow on the ground, in a snowstorm," Buffalo Bill teammate Steve Tasker said this week. "It was a blizzard. And he kicked a 48-yard field goal in a driving snowstorm. It was the greatest kick I've ever seen. I've never told him this, but when I was standing on the sideline, I thought (Coach) Marv (Levy) was crazy for sending him in there. And he went out there and put it through."

They don't talk about Norwood being the greatest scorer in the Bills' history, which he is, or that he has made 145 field goals in a seven-year career.

They will talk about that day , Jan. 27, 1991, for as long as Norwood lives. Probably longer.

Like it or not, the memory and Norwood became soulmates the instant he missed a 47-yard field-goal attempt against the New York Giants that cost Buffalo its first Super Bowl championship.

Norwood claims that the miss did not make him a regular on Suicide Hotline.

"Many 47-yarders are missed in the NFL by kickers throughout the history of theleague," he said Tuesday. "This one was focused on more than any other because of the circumstances, not so much because of the kicker's ability. I go out and do the best I can with every kick.'

Buffalo fans, surprisingly, did not call for Norwood's head, as they did in 1966 after Booth Lusteg missed a 23-yard field goal that would have defeated the San Diego Chargers in a regular-season game.

Walking back from Old War Memorial Stadium after the loss, Lusteg was mugged by three irate fans. Later, when police asked Lusteg why he didn't report the crime sooner, Lusteg replied: "Because I deserved it."

Buffalo, however, embraced Norwood on the day after his game-losing kick in Super Bowl XXV, chanting his name during a pep rally at City Hall that drew 30,000 fans.

Norwood, conveniently hiding behind teammates, was pushed to the podium, where with tears in his eyes, he dedicated the 1991 season to the fans and guaranteed that he would be back.

"I got a lot of terrific fan mail," he said. "It was a situation where it was unexpected and terrific support."

Norwood said the kick did not change his life. Yet, while teammates basked in the spotlight of returning to Super Bowl week, Norwood went through the painful motions. Levy and special teams coach Bruce DeHaven recommended to Norwood that he not answer questions about last year's miss, but the kicker stepped up to the podium Tuesday to face the inevitable media crush.

"It's out of my control," Norwood said. "You can talk about it, write about it every day for the rest of my life, if you like. That's your choice. My choice is that I'll remain positive right now and not worry about what is written in the past."

But the same questions, some postulated differently, came in waves. Norwood's jaw tightened a little more with each response.

"It's something I keep regurgitating, the previous kick, the previous kick," he said. "My focus is toward the future. I've been asked the question over and over in the off-season. It's something that's been beaten to death.

"Regurgitate, regurgitate. You keep asking me these questions. My choice is not to go backward. I'm going to go forward. You have to understand that. I'm not living in the past."

Yet Norwood followed Super Bowl XXV with his worst season, converting a career-low 62% of his field goal attempts.

Some predicted the end to his Buffalo career after a Dec. 8 game against the Raiders during which Norwood missed three field goals and an extra point.

Norwood finally ended the suffering, much of it his own, with a game-winning kick in overtime.

Through the hard times, his teammates have publicly supported their kicker.

"He's a family member," cornerback and punt returner Clifford Hicks said. "There's a genuine friendship among the members of this team. We look out for each other . . . even kickers."

But it was difficult to imagine that teammates, who gave up real blood for the cause, would tolerate for long the misfortunes of a kicker.

Walking to the locker room after the victory over the Raiders at the Coliseum, star tailback Thurman Thomas muttered to a Bill executive: "If the . . . would have missed the last one, I would have dropped him from the plane over North Dakota."

Hicks put it more diplomatically. "We just wanted to get back to Buffalo," Hicks said, smiling. "He was making us tardy to make that plane."

Still, Norwood said the game, like the Super Bowl, had no lingering effects.

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