New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks won two Super Bowls during his illustrious career, and the second one especially will forever stick in his mind.
Those two words forever linked to Super Bowl XXV.
All 73,813 fans were holding their breath in Tampa Stadium, and 79.5 million more watching around the world did the same as Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood’s 47-yard field goal sailed towards the uprights before drifting wide right.
As the ball hung in the air, New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks didn’t fret, didn’t worry. He waited.
“When he lined up to kick it, we didn’t think he could make it,” Banks told FanSided, recalling his Super Bowl memory 30 years after the historic game.
Norwood, who previously made just 5-of-9 field goals from 40-49 yards all season, missed his 10th attempt in a moment which still haunts the Buffalo Bills and their fans, but delivered Banks and the Giants their second Super Bowl in five years.
“We knew his range,” Banks recalled.
As the ABC broadcast pointed out, the 31-year-old had made just 1-of-5 field goal attempts beyond 40 yards on grass during the 1990 season.
“In my mind, in that moment,” Banks said. “I’m saying ‘if he makes it, hats off to him. It was a heavyweight slugfest, and they were able to get it.’ But, honestly, we didn’t think that that was his range for that field goal.”
Banks and his teammates’ instincts held true, and within moments they hoisted the Giants’ second Lombardi Trophy.
“It was a moment of joy when he missed it,” Banks, 58, recalls now.
In the weeks leading up to the four seconds that still haunt Norwood, a young 38-year-old defensive coordinator Bill Belichick crafted a gameplan to derail one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history, a game-plan that today resides in Canton.
Belichick realized the Bills were going to run uptempo and try to spread the Giants out, the best way to counter the high-scoring offense was to deploy just two defensive linemen and essentially clog the middle of the field with linebackers and defensive backs making life miserable for future Hall of Fame receivers Andre Reed and James Lofton, along with the rest of Kelly’s targets.
Beyond a brilliant scheme, Banks’ and the Giants’ defense had the personnel to match the Bills’ star power.
“We never entertained losing against Buffalo,” Banks said. “Probably because we had the luxury of having a veteran team.”
On Sunday, the Super Bowl returns for the fifth time to Tampa Bay, 30 years after Norwood’s legendary miss.
Super Bowl LV will feature one of the most iconic matchups in league history. Tom Brady is seeking his seventh Super Bowl ring, leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against arguably the NFL’s most gifted quarterback in Patrick Mahomes and the favored Kansas City Chiefs.
Unlike this year’s matchup between two high-octane teams, the Giants-Bills was seen as a one-sided affair. Buffalo featured five Hall of Famers and a Hall of Fame coach. The Giants had Lawrence Taylor — a future first-ballot Hall of Fame linebacker — but no other starter destined for Canton. Even their starting quarterback, Phil Simms, was out with a foot injury.
What was that week like for Banks and the Giants? What were Banks’ fondest memories of the week leading up to and of the classic Super Bowl game?
Banks rememberers that amid the raucous locker room celebration, which spilled onto the team bus and subsequently the hotel, he didn’t have a quiet moment to reflect.
Today, Banks looks back with the clarity time brings.
“The reflection after the game was just how well we executed,” Banks said. “You just start to play back some of the key plays in the game, some of the hits in the game that really disrupted what they wanted to do. It was just a great feeling to have won the game, but just the confidence in knowing that we could, the confidence that our coaches had in us, and the confidence we had in our coaches.
“We had a great gameplan against an incredible football team in Buffalo. It was hard fought. We executed our gameplan not to perfection, but pretty close. And we were able to get that victory.”
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
“A gameplan for the ages”
Bill Parcells didn’t stand in front of the Giants at the team hotel the Saturday night before the Super Bowl and deliver a canned motivational speech.
That wasn’t his style.
No, the Giants’ head coach didn’t have time — or much use — for “rah rah” speeches.
“Let’s get out there, be ready to execute,” Banks recalls being the theme of Parcells’ final comments to the team. “‘We prepared well for this game, and we can do it.’ That was always Bill’s whole mantra in terms of how he coaches.
“He’s the same guy pregame as he is in-game. He’s just calm and collected. We took on that demeanor. He was confident, and confident that we could do it.”
Before raising the Lombardi Trophy in the Florida night, Parcells and Belichick had to pull off stunners in consecutive weeks.
After all, the Giants’ appetizer for the Bills in the Super Bowl was conquering George Seifert’s San Francisco 49ers; led by Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Jerry Rice in the NFC Championship Game. New York won 15-13, knocking out Montana before winning on a last-second Matt Bahr field goal, his fifth of the game in a brutally physical contest at Candlestick Park.
The following week — there was no bye between the NFC title game and Super Bowl XXV — brought about the Giants’ coaching staff’s Magnum Opus.
“The game plan was just one for the ages,” Banks said. “The way that it was explained to us, it was the why, and then the how. Why we had to do it this way, and how we were going to do it, at that point, it was just all business for us.”
While the world had yet to realize the Bills would be making their first of four consecutive ill-fated Super Bowl trips, Banks, Parcells, Belichick and the Giants were keenly aware of what they would be up against.
“They had such great players on their team,” Banks said. “Jim Kelly was a media darling, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Cornelious Bennett, Andre Reed and Don Beebe, they were the Greatest Show on Turf before The Greatest Show on Turf.”
For as much firepower as Kelly had at his disposal in the BIlls’ offense, the Giants’ defense was resolute.
Taylor, arguably the greatest defender to ever play, had 10.5 sacks that season. Pepper Johnson and defensive tackle Erik Howard joined Taylor as Pro Bowlers. Banks, limited throughout the year with a broken wrist, has an All-Pro on his resume.
While the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Steel Curtain defense, the 1985 Chicago Bears, and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens are frequently mentioned as the greatest defenses of all-time, the Giants’ talent and run of success deserves a seat at that table, as well.
“Anybody that you talk to from the era of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s will tell you, we were a top-five or top-three defense of all time,” Banks said.
In ’90, the Giants finished second in team defense, holding opponents to just 262.9 yards per game, were fourth in rushing defense, and had the league’s stingiest scoring defense by a 1.7 point margin.
“We didn’t go into (the Super Bowl) thinking that we needed a break or two here or there,” Banks said. “It was ‘we’ve got a hell of a gameplan, let’s go.’ Bill is very demanding in practice because of the way they prepared our gameplan and how they thought it would work with the personnel that we had.”
With the plan sketched out, to allow Thomas to run wild if necessary, and make life miserable for Reed, Lofton, and Kelly, Belichick led some grueling practices leading up to the Super Bowl that only sharpened Banks’ and the defense’s resolve when they landed in the Sunshine State.
“It was just demanding during the week that we execute, execute, execute that gave us the best chance on Sunday,” Banks recalled. “Even with our hybrid defense and explaining to us why it would work, and how it gave us the best chance to disrupt what they wanted to do, once we got over the initial shock of hearing a running back might get 100 yards against us, it was more about punishing the receivers, intersecting the crossing routes, just boiling down everything that they did.
“Then, once we got our gameplan in place, it was just a week of practice that put heavy, heavy emphasis on execution.”
(Photo by Gin Ellis/Getty Images)
“We were in no way intimidated”
Banks, chosen by the Giants with the No. 3 overall pick in the 1984 NFL Draft, suffered a fractured wrist in Week 4 of the 1990 season.
There was a very legitimate chance, after playing a pivotal role in helping the Giants get to 5-0 with a win over Washington that he wouldn’t play again the rest of the season after undergoing surgery the day after a 24-20 victory.
When doctors said he could miss eight months, Banks responded by getting back on the field in six weeks, returning in Week 13 and finishing out the season.
Banks finished the ’90 season with 50 tackles, one sack, and one fumble recovery in nine games after working his way back from the injury.
New York lost just once after Banks’ return, a 17-13 defeat at home to the Bills. But, the rematch would come on the game’s grandest stage nearly two months later.
As the Persian Gulf War raged on 6,926 miles away, Whitney Houston belted out one of the most memorable and emotional renditions of the Star Spangled Banner in the history of American spectator sports.
Moments later an angry Giants team ran out of the tunnel ready for what was charging at them from the opposite side of the field.
“They had so many talented players and people loved them,” Banks said of the Bills. “For us, that played into our mentality, because we loved to play angry, anyway.
“So, they had a certain earned arrogance about them. We didn’t take anything away from them, but we wanted to play the game on our terms and not only anyone else’s. The more hype that they got, and the more you read and heard about what they are capable of, and what they can do to you, the more resolute we became, and frankly, the more angry.”
Parcells and Belichick designed a gameplan that would give Thomas’ his share on the ground — he wound up rushing for 135 yards and a touchdown. However, the exchange was consistently disrupting Kelly’s receivers over the middle with physicality.
No one that season scored more than the Bills’ 428 points and no team surrendered opponents fewer points than the Giants’ defense’s 211 allowed.
“Buffalo earned the right to have all the hype,” Banks said. “But, we were going to be the team that undid them. Just like we did the to 49ers on the way to the Super Bowl. They were another team that got a lot of hype, and deservedly so, but for us, it was all about undoing all of that and making them play on our terms.”
That’s exactly what Parcells, Belichick, Banks, Taylor and the Giants did to the Bills from the opening kickoff.
Kelly passed for just 205 yards against the Giants in Super Bowl XXV. Buffalo was only 1-for-8 on third down, and no Bills receiver managed more than Reed’s 62 yards.
The Giants’ ball-control defense kept Kelly and Co. off the field for all but 19 minutes and 27 seconds.
Yet, it very nearly wasn’t long enough.
For as much historical significance that is placed on Norwood’s historic miss in the game’s waning seconds, Banks believes it is another specialist who actually won the game for the Giants.
“The guy that doesn’t get enough credit is [Giants punter] Sean Landeta,” Banks said. “His punt is the one that pinned them back, and they started their drive backed up.”
After Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler came one yard short of converting a 3rd down and 3 from the Buffalo 49-yard line, Parcells sent out Landeta and the punt-team. The veteran punter pinned the Bills back on their own 10-yard line with 2:16 remaining.
Buffalo drove 61 yards on their final drive, with Banks making two critical tackles. Who knows what might have been had the Bills managed just one more yard.
“If it wasn’t for that punt, you add the yards up, it’s probably an easier situation for him,” Banks recalls.
Kelly spiked the ball at the 29-yard line with eight seconds remaining.
Even though some Giants players gathered in prayer on the sideline, Banks recalls feeling like he and his teammates left everything on the field.
“We weren’t that anxiety filled as a team,” Banks says. “When we went out, we were about doing our job, and just giving ourselves the best chance to win. It wasn’t one of those situations where we were hoping for a lucky break. We created our own break in that entire drive.”
Two legacies, Norwood’s, and the Giants’ would be cemented in the four seconds it took the football to travel from the kicker’s right foot to harmlessly beyond the end zone wide right of the upright. 20-19 Giants.
“Wide right,” Banks said. “It’s those two words. That’s my lasting memory of that Super Bowl.”