TAMPA, JAN. 27 -- A strange, tense week, a week dominated by worries of terrorism and the Persian Gulf War, ended in the closest Super Bowl ever, with the New York Giants defeating the Buffalo Bills, 20-19, before 73,813 tonight at Tampa Stadium.
New York's Matt Bahr kicked a 21-yard field goal with 7:20 remaining for the final points, but the Giants won with a couple of big-time defensive stands, including a final one that ended with Buffalo's Scott Norwood missing a potential game-winning 47-yard field goal.
His kick sailed to the right at :04, and the Giants sprinted onto the field to celebrate their second championship in five seasons, the National Conference's seventh straight Super Bowl mastery of the AFC.
"It's sweet, really sweet," Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor said. "Our first one was great, but this one is better. We sailed through the first one. This one was tough. We beat the Bears. We won at San Francisco. This was another one. We showed a lot of class and a lot of guts."
Thus ended Super Bowl XXV, the closest and most even ever played. Thus also ended a week dominated by other matters, a game played after fans had been searched for explosives and brushed with hand-held metal detectors.
SWAT teams patrolled the press box roof and an armed military helicopter circled the stadium area during the game. When the stadium emptied, dozens of security people swept the stadium one final time.
But the game itself was played without incident and at a high, efficient level. It was a game of contrasts, with the NFL's highest-scoring offense -- Buffalo's -- matched against the game's best defense -- New York's.
The Giants, who got here by dethroning the 49ers on a last-play field goal by Bahr a week ago, hoped to win by methodically grinding out yards and keeping Jim Kelly off the field. They did that, controlling the ball a Super Bowl-record 40 minutes 33 seconds against the team that won the AFC title in a 51-3 romp over the Los Angeles Raiders.
The Giants' formula was not a typical one, not with 33-year-old Ottis Anderson winning the first Pete Rozelle MVP trophy by rushing for 102 yards on 21 carries.
Not with a quarterback named Jeff Hostetler, who got his chance to play when Phil Simms got hurt in the 14th game of the season (Bills 17, Giants 13). Not with a team that relies on the old-fashioned virtues, straight-ahead blocking schemes and a game plan built around defensive control.
To win the MVP, Anderson edged Hostetler, who came here as the least heralded Super Bowl quarterback ever and had a cool, steady game, completing 20 of 32 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown. Those neat numbers were just a little better than the vaunted Kelly's.
Hostetler, Anderson and their big, quick offensive line did their job so well that the Bills' no-huddle offense had only a few chances. The Bills still got 371 yards, a remarkable total considering they had the ball for just 19 1/2 minutes.
They averaged 6.6 yards per snap, but didn't get enough snaps thanks to Anderson and the running game.
"It's easy with the way these guys blocked," Anderson said. "I give them credit. We know we can control the clock. They hurt us at first, but we wanted to pound here and there and see what we could get done. We found some holes in them."
Hostetler took a terrible pounding the first half. He got up slowly three times, including once after Bruce Smith sacked him for a safety that gave the Bills a 12-3 lead.
But the Giants offset the Bills' quickness on defense by running traps and draws and by having Hostetler buy time with naked rollouts.
Meanwhile the Giants countered the Bills' no-huddle offense with two defensive linemen and six defensive backs and by sacrificing pressure on Kelly (which usually wasn't there) for pass coverage (which was).
The game was tied, 3-3, after a quarter. The Bills led, 12-10, at the half. The Giants led, 17-12, after three quarters, and the Bills took a 19-17 lead when Thurman Thomas ran 31 yards on the first play of the fourth quarter.
That's how close it was, and the Giants drove 74 yards in 14 plays consuming 7 1/2 minutes on the first possession of the fourth quarter. Then they forced a Buffalo punt, taking over with 5:25 left. Still, the Bills had a final chance,, getting the ball at their 10 with 2:16 to play.
Kelly, who completed 18 of 30 for 212 yards, got the Bills down the field in seven plays. On first down at the New York 46, he hit Keith McKeller for five with 29 seconds left. On second down, Thomas gained 11 to the 30, and Kelly grounded the ball with :08 left.
Norwood trotted on, and after a New York timeout, missed.
"I'm disapointed I let people down," Norwood said. "There's not much more to say. I tried to hit a strong ball. My kicks always fade that way. I probably tried to kick it too strongly. Maybe I should have emphasized something else. Every swing of the leg is critical, and that one didn't work out. You don't get second chances in a game like this."
Bills Coach Marv Levy said his team got a final shot at victory and that was all he could ask for.
"The game wasn't over," he said. "We had our chances. I told our players on the sideline we could still pull it out. The Giants showed a very good mix of running and passing and they used it to good effect. It's tough to beat a team with that kind of running game and a very good defense. We came close, but not close enough."
The game began pretty much as it ended. On their first series, the Bills hustled through three quick plays, fell a yard short of a first down and punted to the Giants. They used up 91 seconds.
The Giants offense took the field and ground out an 11-play, 58-yard drive that took up 6:15 and ended with the first of two Bahr field goals, a 28-yarder.
They were so efficient on the drive that they had only two third-down plays. One came on third and seven at the Buffalo 31, and Hostetler hit Mark Ingram for 16 yards across the middle.
The Giants kept the game plan conservative, but they mixed it up. Dave Meggett ran three times for 17 yards, and Maurice Carthon and Anderson got one carry apiece.
Hostetler was sharp enough, hitting Howard Cross for 13 and Ingram for the 16. But he also missed a couple of receivers, overthrowing Mark Bavaro in the middle of the field and throwing one for Ingram that was broken up.
Then the Bills struck quickly. They took over on their 29, and after Thomas gained two inside, Kelly hit James Lofton on a 61-yarder down the left sideline. It was Lofton's only reception.
Actually, Kelly got lucky. Cornerback Perry Williams had inside position on Lofton and the pass was overthrown. Williams leaped and looked as if he'd either intercept or tip it away. Instead, he tipped it straight up in the air and Lofton caught it. That got the Bills to the New York 8-yard line. Kelly threw an incompletion, Thomas gained three and on third down Everson Walls almost picked off a Kelly pass. It would have been the game's only turnover.
Norwood tied it with a 23-yard kick.
The Bills had gone 66 yards and used up only 83 seconds in their no-huddle offense.
The Giants went nowhere on their next possession and Bills cornerback Kirby Jackson decked Hostetler, who was slow in getting up.
The Bills got the ball back at their 20 with 1:57 left in the quarter and moved quickly again, going 80 yards in 12 plays that took 4:27. Don Smith scored on a one-yard run for a 10-3 lead.
Kelly was six for six for 62 yards on the drive and he found Andre Reed four times for 44 yards.
The Giants' next possession ended with end Leon Seals decking Hostetler, who again was slow getting up and even slower getting off the field. Backup Matt Cavanaugh took a few warm-up throws, but Hostetler came back in.
It didn't get any easier. The Bills couldn't move and punted the Giants into a hole at their 7.
Anderson gained seven on first down, but center Bart Oates was called for holding on second down. Then on second and 10 from the 7, Hostetler tripped over Anderson in going back to pass.
He stumbled into the end zone, and before he could regain his balance, Bruce Smith smacked him for a safety and a 12-3 Bills lead.
The Bills got only two first downs the rest of the half, and Hostetler led the Giants on an 87-yard drive to make it 12-10. Stephen Baker caught a 14-yard touchdown pass behind Nate Odomes in the left corner of the end zone with 0:25 left in the half.
"It's called 'back green X flag,' " Baker said, "and the guy was in the perfect defense for that play. Jeff made a fantastic toss to get it over there. I even had enough time to look down and see that I got my feet in. Jeff crowned our jewel with that performance."
The first half had ended well for the Giants and the second started even better, with Hostetler leading a monstrous 14-play, 75-yard drive that ate up 9:29.
Anderson finished it off with a one-yard run for a 17-12 lead. Anderson was a force before the score, breaking outside for 24 on third and one at his 47 and picking up gains of five, two and one inside the 18.
But Ingram got the biggest first down of the game to that point, catching the ball over the middle and spinning out of four tackles to get 14 and a first down at the 18.
Still, the Bills got the lead back with a crackling four-play, 63-yard drive that took up 87 seconds. Thomas scored on a 31-yard run that will forever be on Super Bowl highlight films.
It was the first play of the fourth quarter and he broke past the line of scrimmage, stumbled over linebacker Gary Reasons, broke out of safety Myron Guyton's tackle at the 26 and sprinted into the end zone.
But the Giants came right back, grinding out a 14-play, 74-yard drive using up 7 1/2 minutes and ending with Bahr's 21-yard kick.
They got a 20-19 lead out of it, but didn't get a touchdown even though they had a first down at the Buffalo 3. Jeff Wright dropped Anderson for a four-yard loss, Anderson gained four, linebacker Cornelius Bennett knocked down a pass to Ingram before they went to Bahr.