Wide and to the right: The kick that will forever haunt Scott Norwood
The kick will go forever to the right. There is no way to change the football's course. Scott Norwood will keep his head down as long as a human being can, and then he will look into the Tampa sky, and the ball already will be three quarters of the way toward its destination, and he will hope forever for a late reprieve. A sudden change of wind? A touch of spin? A miraculous flip or flop? No. The ball will land forever where it landed at the end of Super Bowl XXV. Wide. To the right.
"I would like to kick it again," he says softly. "To have another chance."
No. There will be no second chance.
He will stand forever in the center of that faraway field as the New York Giants begin their party around him. He always will be their sad-faced maître d'. Step right up, boys. Bop till you drop. Enjoy yourself. I am going home. Rules are rules, and life is life, and the score has been entered in the eternal record book. Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19. He could have been the hero, the biggest hero of all Super Bowl time. He was not.
"I wanted to hit the ball solid and I did," he says. "I wanted to get the kick off fast and I wanted to get it high, so it wouldn't be blocked. And I did. I just didn't get my hips into it enough. I just ... there's a thing with the plant foot ... oh, it's technical. You wouldn't understand unless you kick."
Almost three weeks have passed since his game-ending, 47-yard field goal attempt missed -- wide, to the right -- and he is back in Virginia, back where he was raised, back where he started playing sports, back with friends and relatives. He has been treated almost as if he had contracted a strange illness in Florida. Everyone has been wonderful. He has heard from people he knew long ago. A friend from junior high school called. Junior high. A coach who had tried to recruit him to a college called. How long ago was that? Hadn't talked to the man since the last recruiting visit. Close friends. Distant friends. Letters. Strangers.
The messages have been simple: One kick is not a career. That is the general theme. We're proud of you. Didn't he overcome a lot to find a spot in pro football? Didn't he travel the hard way, a free agent out of James Madison University, cut by the Atlanta Falcons, lost in the old United States Football League, beating out nine other training-camp kickers in 1985 to find a job with the Bills at last? Isn't he their alltime leading scorer? Wasn't he the next thing to untouchable in 1988, when he drilled 32 out of 37 attempts and went straight to the Pro Bowl? Think about the good. Don't think about the bad. Don't.
"The response has been overwhelming," he says. "Really. It's just snowballed. It's transcended just sports. It's said things about human nature. Good things."
For a couple of days, thoughts of the kick never left him. He dragged them back to his hotel room after the game as if they were unruly children who would not keep quiet. There was not much sleep that first night. What could he have done differently? What? The entire kick took 1.3 seconds. It takes as long to say the words -- "one-point-three seconds" -- as it does to live them. He lived them over and over again. The Bills continually marched up the field, working against the decreasing numbers on the scoreboard clock. He continually kicked into a net, getting loose, until he knew he was ready. He stood on the sideline until he was sent into the game. Again and again and again. What could he have changed? He was going on a lifetime of repetition.
The crowd did not exist. The noise did not exist. He went over his keys in his head: Get a feel for the timing. Keep your head down. Establish a target line. One-point-three seconds. Kick. He was kicking again when morning came. He could not let go.
"Maybe you overdo the analysis," he says. "The truth is that, at 47 yards, the percentages are against you. If it were 30 yards, O.K., but 47 .... At that distance, the average in the NFL is under 50 percent. You're working against the numbers. Maybe you break everything down too much. A quarterback doesn't get two throws a game and then sit down and analyze where his feet were and how his arm worked on the one he missed. It's 1.3 seconds. You go out and do it."
He still was shaky when the Bills returned to Buffalo. There was a civic reception on the steps of city hall, and he wanted to fade into the background. He felt he had let a lot of people down. Then a strange thing happened. The crowd was huge, estimated between 25,000 and 30,000 people. A civic leader was talking. The people started chanting, "We want Scott," right in the middle of the fellow's speech. The chant became louder and louder. Norwood was pushed by his teammates from the background to the microphone. He does not particularly like to give speeches.
"I just spoke from the heart," he says. "The people were wonderful. They passed me notes of encouragement. They held signs. Wonderful."
Time is helping. The kind words are helping. In a couple of weeks, he will start lifting weights again, and he says that when the weather breaks for good and the ground becomes firm, he will start kicking. His father, as always, will hold for him down at the high school field. He will not be the hero of heroes, and that one kick never will land where he wants it to land, because it is history. He will be like most of us. He will move along to the next chapter. He will keep going.
He will carry his regrets.