Marv Levy, the Buffalo Bills coach who sometimes doubles as amateur psychologist, had a point to make on the day the Bills won their second straight AFC championship.
Fifteen minutes into his post-game question-and-answer session, Levy took a subtle jab at the assembled media.
"Any Norwood questions, guys?" he asked with a telling grin.
There were no Scott Norwood questions for Levy that day, though. The Bills' place-kicker had nailed a 44-yard field goal in the gusting winds of Rich Stadium that helped send Buffalo back to the Super Bowl with a 10-7 victory over Denver.
A year ago, as Super Bowl XXV ticked off its final seconds in Tampa Stadium, Norwood was wide right on a 47-yard field-goal try that would have beaten the New York Giants. Instead of victory, the Bills swallowed a 20-19 defeat. Norwood has had to live with the bitter aftertaste since.
Now, knowing that Norwood was going to go under another Super Bowl microscope, Levy wanted to make sure no one overlooked the contributions his kicker had made this season. And Levy wanted to give him a pat on the back. Norwood is 4-for-4 in postseason field goals, hitting from as far away as 47 yards.
"He deserves some credit for what he's done," Levy said. "I hate to see him catch a lot of crap when it goes against him and [reporters] shrug your shoulders when he's done something meaningful."*
Levy needs a confident Norwood if the Bills are going to have a chance to beat the favored Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXVI in Minneapolis on Sunday. The matchup of Norwood against the Redskins prolific field-goal kicker, Chip Lohmiller, could turn out to be decisive.
Toward that end, Levy said he will advise Norwood not to talk about the missed 47-yarder when Super Bowl interviews begin anew today. "He's talked about it up to here," Levy said. "I'd advise him not to. He's kicked well. As these other kickers, Eddie Murray and other guys, who come in here will tell you, you start taking his season percentage . . . and compare it with some guy that kicks in the Superdome, that's truly comparing apples and elephants."
Comparing apples and apples, though, Norwood's field-goal percentage of 62.1 this season was the lowest of his seven NFL seasons, well below his 72.3 career mark. He made 18 of 29 kicks. He hit from 50 and 52 yards early in the season. In November, he made nine straight field-goal tries.
But Norwood had no finishing kick. He missed five of his last six field-goal tries. Despite the hazards of kicking in the Arctic-like conditions of Rich Stadium, his worst day of the season came in the sunshine of Los Angeles Coliseum on Dec. 8.
Against the Raiders, he missed from 49, 32 and 42 yards and blew an extra point. Yet, he salvaged a 30-27 victory with a successful 42-yard kick in overtime. Afterward, teammate Thurman Thomas said, "If we'd lost, we would have dropped him over North Dakota on the way home."
Indeed, there were indications early that the Bills were nervous about Norwood's ability to bounce back from his Super Bowl miss. In a move to let Norwood concentrate solely on field goals, Levy turned over kickoff duties to Brad Daluiso in the third game. Daluiso has remained on the roster in that capacity and perhaps as an insurance policy in case Norwood, 31, fell apart.
Norwood's critics were watching closely when, in the regular-season finale, he missed two more field goals, from 52 and 37 yards, in an overtime loss at home to Detroit. Norwood pointed to the inclement conditions at Rich that day. His critics pointed to the impending playoffs.
But Norwood rediscovered his kicking groove in postseason victories over Kansas City and Denver, hitting from distances of 33, 20, 47 and 44 yards. His critics were muzzled for the time being. After the Bills beat Denver, he said he was grateful to get a second shot at the Super Bowl.
"There is no situation I'd rather be in at this point," he said firmly. "I'm thankful for the opportunity, confident in myself."
Norwood apparently is going to follow Levy's suggestion. Asked last week in Orchard Park, N.Y., about last year's Super Bowl, he said, "That's ancient history."
In the end, his legacy may not be the missed 47-yarder, but the way he has handled his year of adversity. Norwood, the Bills' all-time leading scorer, knows what is waiting in Minneapolis. It is the ghoulish memory of Super Bowl XXV and that 47-yard kick that veered right.
"I don't dread this," Norwood said of the media buildup to the game. "It's part of the business. When it comes time to buckle it up . . . it will have nothing to do with it. As long as you guys [reporters] aren't out there rushing field goals and running around the football field, the hype isn't important."