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Janine Talley: The whirlwind week that was Super Bowl XXV

You would think the events of Super Bowl XXV would be ingrained in my skull like a Lifetime movie in HD. Instead, they’re like faded photographs you’d find in a dusty box in the attic. I was young and surrounded by so much chaos that most of what was happening around me didn’t register … except for the end of the game. That moment is etched.

I had the seat in front of Kim Norwood, Scott’s wife. Before that day, we were acquaintances, but on the evening of Jan. 27, 1991, we spent the eight most agonizing seconds in Super Bowl history hand-in-hand.

Backtrack a week. The morning of the AFC Championship Game, Darryl came home from the team hotel early, dropped off our game tickets and parking pass, kissed us goodbye and headed to the stadium.

I don’t recall being more nervous before any other game. My occupation rested with our 3-year-old daughter, Alexandra, and all of the morning routines required of a mother for a small child. Once she was set we headed to the stadium.

Darryl had one of the best games of his career, intercepting two passes and returning one for a 27-yard touchdown. By halftime, the Bills had outscored the Raiders, 41-3. The weather was so bitter, I took Alexandra to the hospitality room inside the administrative building. (Back then there was no general indoor stadium seating.)

We watched the second half on a small television suspended in a corner of the room. Many players’ families had the same idea, and the tiny room was soon packed to capacity. There was an incredible outpouring of emotions as it became apparent the Bills were indeed going to be the AFC champions.

As the players trickled into the hospitality room to collect their families, each was greeted by an eruption of cheers. When Darryl arrived the room went wild. He scooped up Alexandra and I followed.

Swarms of Bills fans were out of their minds with elation. Years of bad jokes and life at the bottom of the NFL totem pole were behind them. Thousands gathered in the players’ parking lot and they posed an obstacle, even for an NFL linebacker.

Darryl tried to juggle Alexandra in one arm, sign autographs with his free hand and steer me toward my truck. He was pulled from all directions as I was shoved out of the way so that fans could maul him. I put my head down, grabbed Darryl by the back of his coat and followed his lead. By this point, I just wanted to get Alexandra safely into the truck.

Once home, the key wasn’t even in the door and I could hear the phone ringing. That first phone call eventually became one endless phone call. While some callers meant well, just wanting to wish Darryl a hearty congratulations, most wanted one thing: Super Bowl tickets.

Later that night players, wives, and extended family celebrated at Jim Kelly’s house. Somehow Bruce Smith managed to silence a crowd well into party overdrive. He gave a moving speech about how collective hard work and never-quit attitudes made for a team headed for the Super Bowl tomorrow.

Tomorrow? Tomorrow! I sobered up quickly and began a full-on panic. How was I ever going to get Darryl packed and ready for the Super Bowl in less than 12 hours? Twenty-five years ago, there wasn’t a two-week cushion between the championship games and the Super Bowl.

Darryl had about two hours of sleep before meeting Bruce at his house for a live interview with “Good Morning America.” After that, he headed to the stadium, where the team was briefed on the week ahead.

Early Monday afternoon, he tore through the front door and met me upstairs while I finished his packing. He showered, threw on a suit, grabbed his bags, kissed Alexandra and me and headed back to the stadium where he boarded a bus bound for the team’s chartered flight to Tampa.

On the kitchen counter sat a single sheet of paper with the Buffalo Bills logo on it. It outlined flight information and where the team was staying along with the hotel’s address and phone number. That was it. I was on my own.

For the next three days, phone calls poured in from family, friends and people I didn’t know with only one question: Would they be getting a ticket to the game? There were people calling we hadn’t heard from in years. Darryl, it turned out, has a lot of “cousins.”

The NFL allotted 20 tickets per player; two were compliments of Mr. Wilson, and the remaining 18 were for purchase. Our 20 were spoken for. I had to tell every one of the 30 gazillion people who asked that we had none.

The Wednesday night before we left for Tampa, the phone rang. It was Darryl, and he was calling to tell me to throw some extra clothes for him and me into the suitcase, we were headed to Hawaii. Art Shell had chosen him as the “need” player on the AFC Pro Bowl team. He was realizing two dreams at once. I had more packing to do.

Thursday morning is vague. The only things I remember about the chartered flight are the plane was large, with seats running down the middle of the aircraft, the coaches’ wives sat in first class, there was no alcohol served, and the appetizer was shrimp.

Once in Tampa, we were bused to the Holiday Inn. Alexandra and I shared a tiny, corner, bare-bones room with one bed, a dinky television and a carpet with so much sand in it that it crunched as we walked. I envisioned a half-dozen Spring Breakers passed out, undergarments draped over the lamps, the bathtub housing a keg of beer bobbing in a sea of half-melted ice.

There are few things I remember after that. I know our access to the players was very limited. The first night, Darryl was able to have dinner with us. After Thursday night, I can’t tell you where I ate or with whom.

I can also clear up a falsehood that has become an urban legend: The players did not stay out partying the night before the game. They were sequestered in their hotel and had an 11 p.m. curfew.

Each floor had NFL security familiar with the players, and those guards secured ingress and egress to elevators and stairwells. No one entered or exited until curfew was lifted.

The morning of the game the Bills held a buffet breakfast for the families. We were issued tickets for the meal. I held the envelope containing the tickets and I passed them out to our guests. The envelope was short two.

I located a Bills’ staff member and informed them. They passed the information along to someone within the organization whom I’d never met before who asked, in front of a full lobby, if I was trying to get over on them by requesting two additional tickets.

I was mortified. Had I been older, and not loopy from an Ativan supplied by my aunt to calm my game-day nerves, I would’ve told him to shove the tickets. Instead, I stood there like a stooge and let him berate me over wanting to join my guests for powdered eggs and cold sausage.

After breakfast, we were herded to the parking lot to board our assigned buses. We left for Tampa Stadium early afternoon with a police escort fit for the president. The interstate was desolate except for our caravan. It was a surreal experience.

With the Gulf War in full swing, security at the venue was on high alert. The lines to enter the stadium were insanely long and body and bag searches were rigorous. The game didn’t start for five hours and there was absolutely nothing to do besides buy souvenirs and sit in our seats; by game time I was miserable.

When we made it to our seats, I saw our entire contingency scattered about. With no uniformity to our seating arrangements, a Giants fan sat snugly to my immediate left. Directly behind me sat Kim Norwood.

Fast forward to eight seconds left and her husband about to attempt a 47-yard field goal to win the game. As Scott positioned himself on the field, I turned to look at Kim. She was trembling. As tears welled in her eyes, I put my hand in hers and held tight.

You know the rest.

Janine Talley writes an occasional column for The Buffalo News.

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