Buffalo's Super Bowl dream sailed wide of the goal post Sunday, bringing a heartbreaking end to the Buffalo Bills' 25-year quest for professional football's highest honor.
Bills fans, who have suffered through the lean years, sat stunned in Tampa Stadium after Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal with 4 seconds left.
But they refused to blame Norwood for the crushing 20-19 loss to the New York Giants and praised their team for making the Silver Anniversary Game one of the most exciting Super Bowls.
"I think this is the best Super Bowl," said Dick Beyer of Akron. "It took 25 years to find a real Super Bowl."
Fans said there was no need for the Bills, or the city that so closely identifies with the team, to apologize for the loss.
"The Bills don't have anything to be ashamed of," said Mike Persico of North Buffalo. "They can hold their heads high."
New York Giants fans, who remained after the game to savor the victory with choruses of "New York, New York," agreed.
"I've been to a number of Super Bowls," said Giants season-ticket holder Len Hausler of East Brookville, N.J. "This was the best."
But there was no denying the disappointment that Bills fans felt as they watched the huge video screens and saw Giants owner Wellington Mara and head coach Bill Parcells accepting the Lombardi Trophy, symbol of the Super Bowl.
After the Bills' 13-3 season and their two spectacular playoff victories, it was not the way the script was supposed to end.
The Bills and their high-powered offense were favored to beat the Giants, and Bills owner Ralph Wilson and head coach Marv Levy were supposed to have been holding the trophy.
The last-second loss put a damper on the hundreds of victory parties Bills fans had planned and promised a long trip home.
It was an emotional evening for the 73,813 spectators, because of a game that kept them on the edge of their seats with four lead changes, and because of the patriotic fervor that seemed to take hold of the crowd.
Security tied to the Persian Gulf war might have made spectators feel like prisoners in the stadium.
Everyone entering the stadium was scanned with a metal detector, a helicopter gunship circled overhead throughout the game, and armed SWAT teams were seen on the stadium roof.
But the NFL and Disney World served up a red-white-and-blue halftime show that had fans waving American flags and cheering video images of American soldiers in the Persian Gulf.
Super Bowl XXV served as a perfect antidote for war-related tensions that had been building throughout the week, leading to the cancellation of a number of Super Bowl events deemed inappropriate. Even the weather finally cooperated Sunday, as temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s allowed fans to watch in shirt sleeves.
Once the Giants kicked off to the Bills and the game began, attention focused on the two best teams in professional football.
Even Giants fans had sympathy for the way the game ended.
"I just feel bad that after seeing all these guys battle it out all evening, it had to come down to a field goal," said longtime Giant supporter Rose Albanese of Lincroft, N.J.
But followers of the Giants are used to that.
Matt Bahr's last-second field goal against San Francisco 49ers last week put the Giants into the Super Bowl.
Norwood seemed to be near tears in the Bills locker room after the game.
"There's a lot of people I let down today," Norwood said.
But teammate Jim Kelly as well as Bills fans in the stands refused to let Norwood shoulder the blame.
"It's hard after such a great season," said Jeff Barbeau of Getzville. "I hate to see it end this way. Norwood played well all season, and you have have to take your hat off to all of them."
News Staff Reporter Susan Martin contributed to this story.