Miss-fortune lies at door of Bills' Norwood


September 17, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Many of his teammates weren't even undressed, still celebrating the tough win, and Scott Norwood was almost ready to go. His hair was slick from a shower and his gray pants and white shirt and dark shoes were already on. A navy blazer hung alone in his locker, moments from his shoulders. His bag was packed.

He glanced at the door, his eyes wandering where he wanted his feet to take him. Out. He wanted out. Out of this hot room. Out the door and on the team bus, where there would be peace instead of questions, where no one would ask him to remember the Super Bowl. That is how he copes: just blocking out the memory, making it go black. And so he moves quickly.

Even after this game against the New York Jets Sunday, a good game, one of the best of his life, he couldn't just sit around talking. He is a 31-year-old Virginian with an easy smile and friendly manner, but he understands now that he is trapped, that the questions always come back to that place he doesn't want, so he has to cut it off or he might, well, whatever.

He was working on his tie Sunday when a group of reporters gathered around him, the Buffalo Bills' kicker since 1985, the team's career scoring leader, a dependable pro who happened to miss a game-winning field goal in the Super Bowl eight months ago. A hundred million people saw it, the 47-yarder drifting, the Giants celebrating, and now it will never go away.

"People aren't ever going to forget that," Bills linebacker Cornelius Bennett was saying in another corner of the locker room. "Even if Scotty comes back and kicks a game-winning field goal in the Super Bowl, he will always have to hear about the one he missed."

The Jets fans mocked him again and again Sunday, sing-songing his last name every time he kicked. He stuffed it back in their mouths with three field goals, including a career-long 52-yarder. After his 44-yarder in the third quarter he couldn't help himself, threw his fist in the air, took off his helmet, screamed back at the crowd.

"Gave some of it back to them," Bennett said, smiling. "He thrives on stuff like that."

But now the reporters were coming around and, even on this big day, he wanted out. It's that the questions were all about irony, doing well in the Giants' stadium; leading half-questions asked with the Super Bowl lurking in the background, asked with the hope that Norwood would just open up and start talking about the past eight months of his life.

It wasn't that he blamed anyone for bringing it all up. You could see that. He just wasn't going to play the game. He spoke in cliches, about concentration, doing his job, not really hearing the crowd except once, blah blah. Looking at the door.

Only once did he relent, saying dryly that he figured the fans chanting his name "must be behind me 100 percent." And when someone finally put it to him straight -- what's it been like the past eight months, Scott? -- his wall went right up.

"There were just a lot of questions," he said, sounding almost apologetic, "so what I'm doing is just talking about this year. That's just what I want to do. We can talk about next week."

It almost had to be that way, of course. He is fighting a battle he can't win: He is the first kicker to miss a chance to win a Super Bowl, and as Bennett said, people aren't ever going to forget it. But he had to keep kicking with the scarlet letter on his chest, with every question coming back to the same hook. If he wanted to block it out, he had to give himself a chance.

"He's handled it by himself pretty much," Bennett said. "He's always been like that, a quiet guy. But a strong guy, too. Tough. A lot of guys would have folded up and quit. Scott's a man."

That night in Tampa he came right into the interview tent with his chin up and eyes clear, giving his version of the kick again and again, then the next day stood before 30,000 cheering fans in Buffalo and said he was dedicating the next season to them. Handling it all big, strong.

But you never know how big it is, how many people watched, and after a while you don't even want people to pat you and say it's OK. You just want to forget about it. But it's never going to go away, so what do you do? You try to buy time, trick yourself, pretend it never happened. You know kickers: Always talking themselves into something. Or out of something.

And: so far, so good. Norwood was on his way to the door now, dressed and ready, moving through the muscled crowd, off to a Pro Bowl-caliber start. A minicam crew stopped him and he smiled, dropped his bag, said sure. Glanced at the door.

The questions were the same, leading, wondering if he'd just start talking about the Super Bowl, circling the issue, never throwing it right in his face, too touchy. Then it was over and he was done, out the door, walking toward the bus. Moving quickly now. Thinking about next week. Blocking out the Super Bowl. Trying to, at least. Trying hard.

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