It was the drive that failed.
Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field-goal try with four seconds left in the game Sunday, leaving the Buffalo Bills 20-19 losers to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV.
The Bills were valiant losers, but losers nevertheless before a Tampa Stadium crowd of 73,813.
New York's winning points came on a 21-yard Matt Bahr field goal with 7:20 left after Buffalo had taken a 19-17 lead on Thurman Thomas' 31-yard run eight seconds into the fourth quarter.
The Giants then withstood two Buffalo possessions to clinch their second championship in five years in the closest Super Bowl ever.
There were heroes galore in this one, but the game's Most Valuable Player, the first Pete Rozelle Award winner, was New York's Ottis Anderson. The NFL's oldest running back pounded out 102 yards on 21 rushing attempts and scored one of the Giants' two touchdowns.
Anderson's power running set the tone for the Giants victory, but quarterback Jeff Hostetler, tight end Mark Bavaro, wide receivers Stephen Baker and Mark Ingram and running back Dave Meggett also played major roles.
Hostetler completed 20 of 32 passes for 222 yards, including a 14-yard TD pass to Baker in the final minute of the first half.
Thomas was the Buffalo offensive player who came up biggest in the biggest game in the franchise's history. He ran for 135 yards on 15 carries and caught five passes for 55 more.
If the Giants were to win this game against the high-scoring Bills and their no-huddle offense, most observers thought their best chance lay in controlling the ball and dominating the time of possession. That's exactly what they did.
New York had the ball for more than 40 minutes (40:33). The Giants owned the third period, holding the ball 11 minutes and 52 seconds. Still, they outgained the Bills by only 15 yards, 386 to 371.
"That was our whole plan," said Giants coach Bill Parcells. "We wanted the ball; we didn't want them to have it. And I think we accomplished that. . . . We had it quite a bit."
"It's very tough to beat a team that has a very good running game AND a very good defense," said Bills coach Marv Levy. "We came close but . . ."
Norwood got no hook into his ill-fated kick. The veteran kicker watched as the ball sailed toward the west end zone stands, then dropped his head as it stayed wide by less than two feet.
The kick was barely inside Norwood's range, but a Easterly breeze increased his range by a bit.
"I knew it was a long kick. I may have tried to emphasize a little too much getting lot of leg into it," said Norwood.
Although the missed field-goal attempt undoubtedly will be blamed for depriving the Bills of victory in their first Super Bowl appearance, there was plenty of blame to pass around if anybody wants to point fingers.
"The disappointing thing was that we should not have been in that position to begin with," said Bills center Kent Hull. "It didn't come down to the kick; we had trouble before that."
The Bills' offense, which some viewed as unstoppable, went flat on three successive series in the second quarter, failing when Buffalo had a chance to take control of the game.
Buffalo's defense came close to collapsing, too, despite some huge plays turned in by Jeff Wright, Shane Conlan, Cornelius Bennett and Leon Seals, in particular.
On four possessions beginning in the final 3:49 of the first half, the Giants gained 259 yards and scored 17 of their 20 points. The Bills had difficulty stopping third-down plays all day. The Giants converted 9 of 16 for 56 percent. Yet the Bills had their moments when they came through in the face of adversity.
For example, after the Giants had taken a 17-12 lead in the third quarter, New York was moving again and threatening to make it a blowout. Bruce Smith stopped Anderson for a loss on a fourth-and-two play from the Buffalo 35.
The offense took over and scored in four plays, with Thomas squirting off the right side, bouncing off a defender, then exploding to the outside to score on a 31-yard run.
It gave the Bills a 19-17 lead, but the defense couldn't hold on, although it tried mightily. The Giants were kept out of the end zone even though they had a first and goal from the Buffalo 3
before they were forced to settle for Bahr's second field goal of the game, a 21-yarder that made it 20-19.
The next Buffalo series was ended by a big hit by Giants nickel back Perry Williams, causing Bills rookie receiver Al Edwards to drop Kelly's third-down pass that would have kept the drive alive near midfield.
Buffalo got the ball back for one last stab at it with 2:16 left after Hostetler's run on the quarterback draw out of the shotgun was stopped 2 yards short of a first down on third and three at the Bills' 49.
That forced a New York punt, and when Edwards fair-caught the ball at the Buffalo 10, the Bills were 90 yards and 136 seconds away from glory.
They never got there. Give the Giants a lot of credit. Three times during the drive, their coverage forced Kelly to pull the ball down and run with it. Those runs ate up valuable time.
The Bills used their final timeout to stop the clock with 48 seconds left after Kelly ran 8 yards for a first down at the New York 46.
Then they got lucky when the clock was stopped with 29 seconds left so video replay official Mark Burns could review a 6-yard pass reception by tight end Keith McKeller. The play was upheld and play went on. On second and four from the 40, the Bills gambled on a run by Thomas and he ran around the right side for 11 yards to the New York 29.
This probably was as close as the Bills reasonably could expect to get. Kelly spiked the ball to kill the clock with eight seconds showing. New York then called a timeout to give Norwood more time to think about his kick.
The Bills were stopped by New York's nickel defense (five defensive backs) on the game's opening series and the Giants then marched 58 yards in 11 plays before Bahr kicked a 28-yard field goal to make it 3-0. New York displayed a variety of alignments and personnel combinations on its opening drive, even using two halfbacks -- Anderson and speedster Dave Meggett -- together on some plays.
When the Bills started their second series, they were looking at a New York defense that had six defensive backs and only two down linemen. Somehow, though, the Giants left nickel back Perry Williams in single coverage on James Lofton on the left side and the Bills exploited it.
On second down, Williams deflected Kelly's long bomb on the "go" pattern into the hands of Lofton, who was downed at the Giants' 8 for a 61-yard gain. It was Lofton's only reception in the game.
The Bills couldn't finish the drive off, however, and on fourth and goal at the 5, Norwood kicked a 23-yard field goal to tie it at 3-3 with 9:09 gone.
The next time the Bills got the ball, they took it 80 yards for a touchdown in a 12-play drive that featured the receiving of Andre Reed, who caught four passes for 44 yards. Don Smith went through right guard from 1 yard out to score, giving the Bills a 10-3 lead.
The Bills stopped themselves on their next three possessions, but increased their lead to 12-3 when Hostetler tripped over Anderson's right leg, fell as he was fading to pass in his end zone and was downed for a safety by Bruce Smith.
The missed chances were fateful lapses as it turned out.
On one possession, the Bills faced a third and six at their 45. When Erik Howard of the Giants was called for a 5-yard encroachment penalty, it became third and one at the 50. Even though the Giants stayed in the 2-3-6 defense, which is vulnerable to the run, the Bills did not adjust. They came out in their shotgun formation and passed. The play might have succeeded, but Reed dropped Kelly's pass on a crossing pattern.
On the next Buffalo series, Reed couldn't hold Kelly's deep ball down the right hash mark; Kelly overthrew McKeller and, then on third down, Kelly started to run, changed his mind and threw a bad pass that was almost intercepted by the Giants.
Some good work by Thomas went to waste on the Bills' next series. He popped through the right side for an 18-yard gain, ran for 4 yards, took a screen pass 10 yards, then a flat pass 8 to bring up a second and two at the Giants' 44.
Everson Walls then broke up a long pass for Lofton before a 5-yard false-start call against Bills tackle Will Wolford made it third and seven at the New York 49. Reed caught his seventh pass of the half on third down, but gained only 4 yards as Carl Banks made the stop for the Giants. Reed had only one catch the rest of the game, a 4-yarder that was the only reception by a Buffalo wide receiver after halftime.
"They tried to protect the areas of the field where we like to run," said Lofton. "They took away our 5- to 6-yard routes and took away our 12-yard routes. The field was probably open deep more than we took advantage of, but that's the way football goes."
The Giants took over at their own 13 with 3:49 left in the half. It didn't look like a particularly threatening situation for the Bills because of New York's deliberate offense and Hostetler's inconsistency to that point. It didn't turn out that way.
In four plays, including an 18-yard run by Anderson, the Giants moved the ball 62 yards, an ominous sign.
Later in the drive, Hostetler hit a key third-and-six pass in the left flat to Cross for a 7-yard pickup to the 14. Bennett batted down Hostetler's next pass with 39 seconds left and the New York quarterback threw too late and too low for Baker on second down.
If the Bills could have held for one more play, they might have gotten out of the half with a 12-6 lead. That didn't happen, however.
Baker ran a sideline pattern in the end zone against Nate Odomes and got open for Hostetler's 14-yard pass. Bahr's extra point left it 12-10 at the half, reviving the Giants and leaving them very much alive.