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Norwood’s ‘wide right’ misses the point: It was just a game

It’s time for another Niagara Square rally.

If that’s what it takes to exorcise Scott Norwood’s demons, I suspect people here would be happy to don their Bills gear and chant outside of City Hall until the guy’s soul and spirit are healed.

The revelation in a recent story by The News’ Tim Graham that Norwood still is haunted by the infamous “wide right” kick that would have won the Super Bowl a quarter-century ago was as heartbreaking as it was absurd.

The Bills went on to lose three more Super Bowls, and more than 200 other games, in the mostly hapless seasons since. All of them – however big or small – were still just games. Nobody died. Nobody lost a house or had a family shattered. For all of the civic and psychic weight people annually place on the fate of the Bills, it’s still just entertainment. Wins and losses are ultimately filed under Fun and Games, not Life and Death. Give yourself a break, Scott.

We don’t need to raise the bigger-picture point to absolve Norwood. Even granting the loss to the New York Giants a significance it doesn’t deserve, any semi-knowledgeable fan knows he wasn’t to blame. The game should never have come down to a kicker known more for accuracy than leg strength having to hit a 47-yarder off a chewed-up grass field while in the grip of final-seconds pressure.

Simply put, the Bills played a dumb game. As numerous Giants players and coaches noted in subsequent years, they understood going in they couldn’t by conventional means stop the Bills’ high-powered offense. In a stroke of genius by Bill Belichick, then New York’s defensive mastermind, they essentially conceded the run to protect against the pass. The Giants gambled that the Bills’ strong-armed, ego-driven quarterback Jim Kelly, who called the plays, would be disinclined to repeatedly hand the ball off.

The roll of the dice paid off. Kelly played into Giants’ hands, too often passing against a defense designed to stop it. If the Bills had simply run more often, they likely would have won comfortably and Norwood wouldn’t have been thrust into sporting infamy.

Twenty-five years later, the man is still beating himself up, over a beating he had little to do with. It’s hard for even the hardiest of spirits to move on after fate puts you in its crosshairs. For Norwood, who sounds like a sensitive soul, it apparently has been especially tough.

If it’s any consolation, the more logical scapegoat is Kelly, who called a poor game. Or the coaches, who allowed him to do it. Or a defense that was beaten by the Giants’ backup quarterback. Although Norwood was the most important guy on the field at the end, he was the least of the Bills’ problems that day.

But there’s no sense in exonerating one player at the expense of others. Or in endlessly rehashing what can’t be changed. You take the hit and move on. And that is what happened the day after the game.

Nearly 30,000 people packed Niagara Square to celebrate a valiant effort, to thank the team for a great ride and – oh, yes – to assure Norwood, who was specifically called out by the crowd, that he wasn’t to blame. He was embraced as a favored son, his noble failure a reflection of aspirations that – just as in real life – don’t always pay off. Sometimes, you just have to persevere. Which is something this city knows a little about.

That day remains among Buffalo’s finest civic moments; an eye-dewing display of class, appreciation and acceptance that revealed the character of this community to a nation that was presumably perplexed by the public embrace of a losing team.

At the heart of that embrace was Norwood. If any absolution was sought or required, for Norwood or any of them, it was granted that day.

I don’t know if it will take another mass rally, or simply its modern equivalent – a social media outpouring of affection – to cleanse the emotional backwash from a quarter-century ago.

But it’s long past time for the guy who was never to blame to forgive himself.