By David Schoenfield
Page 2

I remember watching Scott Norwood miss his kick with a bunch of buddies in college, and thought it was a terrific finish to a rare, dramatic Super Bowl.

I remember watching Mark Rypien pick apart the Bills with my dad, and we were happy because Rypien was from Washington state, where we lived, and we had once seen Rypien win a state basketball championship in the most storied game in Washington prep history.

I remember watching the Cowboys embarrass the Bills at a Super Bowl party and sitting through the last remains of the dried-up salsa until the bitter Don Beebe-chases-down-Leon Lett ending.

Scott Norwood
There isn't a Bills fan alive that doesn't remember this moment.

I don't really remember the fourth Super Bowl too much, although the record books tell me the Bills actually led at halftime.

The record books also say the Buffalo Bills are the only team to play in four straight Super Bowls. Heck, only one other team -- the '71-'73 Miami Dolphins -- even made it to three in a row.

But the Bills lost those four Super Bowls by an average score of 35-18. And now? Now the Bills have been slapped with another mark of indignity: they appear on the ESPN25 list of biggest flops of the past 25 years.

This, of course, is ridiculous. Comparing the Bills to Ryan Leaf or Todd Marinovich or Gerry Faust or Anna Kournikova's tennis career? It's like comparing Grady Little to Casey Stengel.

It's so ridiculous, in fact, that it's time to get the Buffalo Bills off the hook. There is no shame in losing four straight Super Bowls. There is no shame in losing four games you weren't supposed to win anyway.

Yes, 'tis true. The Bills shouldn't have won any of those games. They have no reason to hang their heads. They are not -- by any stretch of the overactive imagination of the ESPN25 voting panel -- a flop. And here's why.

Jan. 27, 1991: Giants 20, Bills 19
The Bills entered as 6 1/2-point favorites -- the only one of the Super Bowls, in fact, in which they were favored -- in part, because the Giants were missing starting quarterback Phil Simms; in part, because Buffalo's no-huddle offense, which led the NFL in scoring, was deemed unstoppable after racking up 44 and 51 points in two AFC playoff victories.

However, there were cracks in the machine. The Bills had gone just 4-3 against teams with a winning record (including a 17-13 win over the Giants in Week 15). The offense was not unstoppable -- it was actually just seventh in the NFL in total yards. And, the AFC was weaker than the NFC -- it had lost the six previous Super Bowls by an average margin of 26 points.

Jeff Hostetler
Giants backup QB Jeff Hostetler performed beautifully against the Bills.

Like the Bills, the Giants had gone 13-3; they had allowed the fewest points in the NFL; and they also had two impressive playoff wins -- 31-3 over Chicago and 15-13 over 14-2 San Francisco.

Bill Parcells wanted to keep the ball away from Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and company and he executed the game plan to perfection, as the Giants kept the ball for a Super Bowl-record 40 minutes, 33 seconds. Backup up QB Jeff Hostetler played well -- he didn't throw an interception in three playoff games -- and the Giants didn't commit a turnover. Still, the Bills had a chance at victory with Norwood's 47-yard field goal attempt -- no gimme, by the way.

Jan. 26, 1992: Redskins 37, Bills 24
The Bills faced one of the most underrated NFL teams of all time in the 1991 Washington Redskins. While Buffalo racked up an impressive 458 points, that was only second in the NFL to Washington's 485. And while the Bills' leaky defense ranked just 19th in points allowed, the Redskins allowed the second-fewest points.

Plus, Buffalo went 13-3 against a weak schedule -- it played only four teams with a winning record all season -- while Washington went 14-2 against a schedule that featured 10 teams that finished .500 or better. Washington's two losses were by a combined five points. Eddie Epstein, in "Dominance: The Best Seasons of Pro Football's Greatest Teams," ranks the '91 'Skins as the second-greatest team of all time.

So, in retrospect it's surprising the Redskins were only 7-point favorites heading into the game. In the end, despite Bills' All-Pro defensive end Bruce Smith saying before the game that the Bills would show the Redskins they had a good defense, Washington was simply too powerful. Rypien threw for nearly 300 yards and the Redskins had over 400 yards of total offense. Kelly was just 28 for 58 with four interceptions. And the best team won the game.

Jan. 31, 1993: Cowboys 52, Bills 17
The 'Boys were back and the 'Boys were good. Dallas had won a franchise-record 13 games, and defeated Philadelphia 34-10 and a 14-2 San Francisco squad 30-20 to reach the Super Bowl. The Bills, meanwhile, were just 11-5 and lucky to even be in the Super Bowl after rallying from a 35-3 deficit to beat Houston in the first round of the playoffs.

The Bills once again featured a high-powered attack -- third in the NFL in points. But the Cowboys were second in points and had a defense to match (first in the league with the fewest yards allowed). The Cowboys were 6 1/2-point favorites; the spread got smaller as the game approached. The smart gamblers -- remember, the NFC had won eight straight Super Bowls at this point, most by large margins -- were laughing all the way to the bank.

The game, of course, turned into a nine-turnover fiasco for the Bills. They had become a national joke.

Jan. 30, 1994: Cowboys 30, Bills 13
To their credit, the Bills fought off age and humiliation to return to a fourth straight Super Bowl. Their once-feared offense was no longer lethal -- they were just seventh in the NFL in points and yards gained. And while their defense appeared stronger -- fifth in the NFL in fewest-points allowed -- it was actually weaker than ever, as Buffalo ranked dead last in the NFL in yards allowed.

Jim Kelly
Jim Kelly didn't play his best in Buffalo's four Super Bowl losses.

In other words, this really wasn't a Super Bowl-caliber team. The oddsmakers understood this; even though Buffalo and Dallas both finished 12-4, the Cowboys were 10 1/2-point favorites. Before the game, Bills linebacker Darryl Talley called his team America's worst nightmare. "We're like Jason, we always come back. Get used to it, America."

The result, like Jason's inevitable demise at the end of each "Friday the 13th" movie, was all too predictable. Even though the Bills held a 13-6 halftime lead, the game turned when James Washington returned a Thurman Thomas fumble 46 yards for a game-tying touchdown. Dallas would outscore Buffalo 24-0 in the second half, cementing the legacy:

The Buffalo Bills were flops.

But there is no reason for shame (although Jim Kelly may not want to look at his career Super Bowl passing stats). We can look back now and realize that those Buffalo teams were overrated. The AFC was much weaker than the NFC (the NFC would win 13 straight Super Bowls from 1985 to 1997). While the NFC featured powerhouses like the Giants, Redskins, Cowboys and 49ers in this era, Buffalo had no rival in the AFC -- it beat four different teams in its four AFC championship game victories. And, simply, Buffalo's defense was never good enough to win a Super Bowl.

But they managed to get there four straight years. And that's no reason to put them in the same sentence as Ryan Leaf.