Golden Football Magazine
NFL Championship Games
This series covers the history of the NFL through the prism of its yearly championship games.
Note: The gray boxes contain asides that provide interesting material but could be skipped without losing the continuity of the article.
Super Bowl XXV - Buffalo Bills vs New York Giants: Pregame
Super Bowl XXV in Tampa FL pitted a newcomer to the Big Game with a team that had won its only appearance four years earlier.

The Buffalo Bills enjoyed considerable success as a charter member of the American Football League.

  • They won the AFL East and the league championship in both 1964 and 1965. Then they lost the title game in 1966.
  • After the merger with the National Football League, the Bills made the playoffs in 1980 and '81 but won only one postseason game under Coach Chuck Knox.
  • Marv Levy took over as head coach in 1987 and led the Bills to the conference championship game the following year and into the playoffs again in '89, where they lost to the Cleveland Browns in the first round.
  • The Bills finally got over the hump in 1990, clobbering the Los Angeles Raiders in the AFC Championship game 51-3.

As with most Super Bowl teams, the Bills' ascendency was built on talented players exe­cuting excellent offensive and defensive systems.

  • Levy came to Buffalo from Montreal, where he was the director of football opera­tions for the Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
  • After losing in the playoffs in 1988 and '89, Levy installed a no huddle, fast-paced offense that came to be known as the "K Gun."
  • The idea came to him in the fourth quarter of the wildcard game against the Browns in 1989. With the Bills trailing 34-21, Levy told his offensive coordinator, Ted Marchibroda, and his offensive line coach Tom Bresnahan, "We're not going to wait till the end of the game to go to our two-minute drill. Let's go to our two-minute drill right now."
  • The move paid off as Levy recalled. "We take it, and we march down the field. Jim Kelly is our quarterback engineering it. We scored, got the ball back, and march down the field with about three minutes to go. We scored again. Now we're down by four." The Bills got the ball back in the last minute and would have won the game if a receiver had held onto a fourth down pass at the edge of the end zone.
  • As the coaches walked off the field, Levy turned to Marchibroda and said, "Ted, why don't we make that our offense next year?" Ted replied, "I was just gonna say that to you!" Bresnahan added, "So was I!"
  • The 1990 Bills led the NFL in points scored with 428 and were fourth in the AFC and seventh in the league in fewest points allowed. The result was a conference champ­ionship and a berth in the Super Bowl.
  • You can't score that many points without an excellent ball carrier and proficient wide receivers. The Bills' runner was Thurman Thomas, who gained 1,297y. Andre Reed topped the receivers with 71 catches for 945y with Thomas second (49/532).

L-R: Darryl Talley, Cornelius Bennett, Shane Conlan, Bruce Smith
The Bills' 3-4 defense boasted four Pro Bowl players.
  • Both outside linebackers: Darryl Talley and Cornelius Bennett
  • Inside linebacker Shane Conlan
  • DE Bruce Smith, whose 19 sacks were 14 more than the next highest Bill, NT Jeff Wright.

After finishing the regular season 13-3 and AFC East champions, the Bills scored 95 points in their two playoff games.

  • They outscored the Miami Dolphins 44-34 in the Division round.
  • Then the Bills destroyed the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3 in the AFC Championship game.

Bill Parcells' eighth Giants team won their first ten games.

  • Then they lost three of their next four, including a 17-13 home defeat at the hands of the Bills December 15. The Giants lost QB Phil Simms, the MVP of Super Bowl XXI, in that game for the rest of the season with a foot injury
  • The G-men won their last two contests over two weak teams, Phoenix and New England, to win the NFC East by three games over the Philadelphia Eagles.
  • Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick recalled, "They were saying that the Giants were done. They're backing into the playoffs. The whole thing was how bad we sucked."
  • But Giants offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt changed the offense to suit backup QB Jeff Hostetler, who had been with the Giants since 1985 and was much more mobile than Simms.
  • Seeded second in the playoffs behind the 14-2 49ers, the Giants clobbered the Chicago Bears 31-3 in the division round. Dynamic rookie RB Rodney Hampton suffered a fractured fibula on his second carry of the game to end his season. So 34-year-old Ottis Anderson took over for Hampton, and the ball-control offense didn't miss a beat.
  • The 15-2 49ers, two-time defending NFC champions, would have been favored in the NFC title game even if the Giants were at full strength. But without their injured quarterback and halfback, the G-men were given little chance.
  • The Giants lost to the 49ers in San Francisco in Week 13 7-3. Led by sensational OLB Lawrence Taylor, the defense that held Joe Montana and Company to their lowest point production of the season was intact and ready to spearhead an upset.
  • And that's what happened as the heavily-favored Niners fell 15-13 when veteran K Matt Bahr booted a 42y field goal as time expired to stun the pro football world.
    No one would have guessed that Super Bowl XXV would come down to a field goal try as time expired, this time by the Giants' opponent.

L-R: Jeff Hostetler, Ottis Anderson, Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks
The 1990 Giants were quite different from the '86 Super Bowl champions. Phil Simms recalled.
The '86 team was an explosive one. The '90 team was built in an entirely different way. We tried to suffocate every opponent, and we were extremely successful. Just grinding it to a halt and making it almost unwatchable on TV. It really became a rallying point for our team: How ugly can we make today's game? The way we did it, score early, be aggressive, get on top, then just 'three yards and a cloud of dust.' Another first down by an inch. Three more plays. You look up, the NFL clock can move fast.
RB Ottis Anderson, who came to the Giants in 1986 in time for their first Super Bowl victory, sang a similar tune.
Parcells' 1986 team had all the pieces in place. It was a team that expected to win sooner or later. That team had a name, had a purpose. This 1990 team had no true identity. However, the defense continued to be the pride of the Giants and was the reason we were so successful. It kept us in every game and often totally shut down opponents. ... From the Super Bowl XXI team, we still had some well-known players on defense - Taylor, Banks, Leonard Marshall, Pepper Johnson - but we didn't have any big-name players on offense. We didn't have any leaders. Joe (Pisarcik) was gone; Phil was out with a season-ending injury; (TE Mark) Bavaro was hurting and very quiet.
We had a boring offense. ... It was 2-3 yards and a cloud of dust. Even the receivers hate it. Mark Ingram, Stephen Baker - they complained all the time. They were blocking more than they were running pass routes. We had no deep threat. Defenses would line up eight, nine men on the line, and we'd say, "We know you know we're running, so stop us."
What helped our offense was that we didn't make any mistakes. As a team we made only 14 turnovers in 16 games, which was the fewest in the history of the NFL. It wasn't pride that kept us from fumbling; it was fear. Parcells said, "If you fumble, you're on the sidelines."

An international event January 16 dampened the nation's enthusiasm for the Super Bowl eleven days later.

  • President George H. W. Bush launched the first phase of Operation Desert Storm, an air campaign to drive Iraqi forces out of neighboring Kuwait.
  • The football game would provide a welcome distraction for a nation dealing with war for the first time in decades.
  • "The tensions were high," said Giants LB Carl Banks. "We were experiencing something that we had never experienced before as a nation. In the field of sports, we had never gone through that kind of a military security protocol. Everything we did that week was under the clock of security."
  • How fitting that the two teams meeting in the Super Bowl wore colors of red, white, and blue.

The Bills and Giants had played a physical game in December. So another one was expected in Tampa.

  • Banks: "The NFC in general was supposed to be more physical. But Buffalo was built like an NFC team and in particular, an NFC East team. They had good, strong guys up front and a good running game and good quarterback. They were physical. We left that game (in December) knowing they were not a typical AFL team).
  • The game promised a contrast in styles: The Bills led the NFL in points while the Giants allowed the fewest points.
  • In order to win, the G-men had to control the ball to eat up the block and keep Kelly & Company off the field.

So imagine the shock that the Giants defense felt when Belichick presented his game plan to them.

  • He wanted less pressure on the quarterback and more on the Buffalo receivers.
  • That might allow Thomas, who led the league in yards from scrimmage the last two seasons, to run wild.
  • Belichick: "I remember saying that if Thomas rushed 100y, we would probably win. If we just stopped them cold, then it would be all passing, and we really felt they were a pretty good passing team."
  • Banks admitted being skeptical. "We were insulted when he first came out and said he wanted Thurman Thomas to get 100y rushing, but then he told us why."

The Bills, favored by nearly a touchdown, swore they were not overconfident.

  • Kelly: "I definitely don't think we were overconfident going in. I know I wasn't. ... I thought we were going into that game with a positive attitude, and I'm sure the Giants did too."
  • WR James Lofton agreed with his quarterback. "That year, the Giants were the toughest team that we had played. Defensively, they had a lot of standout players and a lot of stars who were still playing really well. We knew it was going to be a tough game."

New York's upset of the 49ers caught the city of Tampa by surprise.

  • As the Giants rode busses from the airport to their hotel, they saw billboards plastered with images of San Francisco players.
  • When they checked into Hilton Tampa, they saw signs welcoming the 49ers. The hotel management didn't have rooms ready for the Giants because they expected the 49ers.
  • The 49ers had been so confident of beating the Giants that they made their hotel reservations, sent their equipment, and made ticket arrangements.
  • Both teams noticed the tight security because of the Gulf War. As a result, players mostly stayed in their hotel rooms where they invited family and friends.

The Giants were loose in the locker room before the game.

  • Anderson recalled, "There was a lot of laughing and talking. Everybody was hyped because we knew the whole world was watching the game, including our troops."
  • Parcells told the team, "We don't need individual heroes. We got here as a team. Let's play as a team. Everybody do what you are capable of doing and don't try to do more. At the end of this game, win or lose, you should be so exhausted because you will hae given your all. If you're not feeling that way, then you didn't do your job."

It was ABC's turn to televise the Super Bowl.

  • The Monday Night Football crew provided the play-by-play (Al Michaels) and commentary (Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf) with sideline reporters Lynn Swann and Jack Arute.
  • Jack Buck and Hank Stram again handled the radio broadcast on CBS.
  • Whitney Houston sang a rousing rendition of the National Anthem at a time when U.S. troops were fighting in the Middle East. Her performance is still considered by many the best in Super Bowl history.
  • Amid all this, the Air Force staged a "Missing Man" flyover of the stadium to honor the fallen.


Marv Levy


Ted Marchibroda


Jim Kelly


Thurman Thomas


Andre Reed


Bill Parcells


Bill Belichick


Ron Erhardt


Matt Bahr


Leonard Marshall


Pepper Johnson


James Lofton


Whitney Houston

1990 Buffalo Bills
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
7 Gale Gilbert QB 6-3 210 California 4
10 Rick Tuten P 6-2 210 Florida State 1
11 Scott Norwood K 6-0 205 James Madison 6
12 Jim Kelly QB 6-3 220 Miami (FL) 5
14 Frank Reich QB 6-4 210 Maryland 6
22 John Hagy S 6-0 185 Texas 3
23 Kenneth Davis RB 5-10 210 TCU 5
27 Clifford Hicks CB 5-10 190 Oregon 4
30 Don Smith RB 5-11 200 Mississippi State 4
31 James Williams CB 5-10 175 Fresno State 1
34 Thurman Thomas RB 5-10 200 Oklahoma State 3
35 Carwell Gardner RB 6-2 235 Louisville 1
37 Nate Odomes CB 5-10 190 Wisconsin 4
38 Mark Kelso FS 5-11 185 William & Mary 5
41 Jamie Mueller RB 6-1 225 Benedictine 4
45 Dwight Drane S 6-2 205 Oklahoma 5
46 Leonard Smith SS 5-11 200 McNeese State 8
47 Kirby Jackson CB 5-10 180 Mississippi State 4
50 Ray Bentley LB 6-2 235 Central Michigan 5
51 Jim Ritcher G 6-3 275 North Carolina State 11
54 Carlton Bailey LB 6-3 235 North Carolina 3
56 Darryl Talley LB 6-4 235 West Virginia 8
58 Shane Conlan LB 6-3 230 Penn State 4
59 Mitch Frerotte G 6-3 285 Penn State 2
63 Adam Lingner C 6-4 265 Illinois 8
65 John Davis G 6-4 310 Georgia Tech 4
67 Kent Hull C 6-5 275 Mississippi State 5
69 Will Wolford T 6-5 295 Vanderbilt 5
73 Mike Lodish DE 6-3 270 UCLA 1
74 Glenn Parker G 6-5 305 Arizona 1
75 Howard Ballard T 6-6 325 Alabama A&M 3
78 Bruce Smith DE 6-4 275 Virginia Tech 6
80 James Lofton WR 6-3 195 Stanford 13
83 Andre Reed WR 6-1 190 Kutztown 6
84 Keith McKeller TE 6-4 245 Jacksonville State 3
85 Al Edwards WR 5-8 170 Northwestern Louisiana 1
87 Butch Rolle TE 6-3 245 Michigan State 5
88 Pete Metzelaars TE 6-7 250 Wabash 9
89 Steve Tasker WR 5-9 185 Northwestern 6
91 Jeff Wright NT 6-2 270 Central Missouri State 3
92 Gary Baldinger NT 6-3 270 Wake Forest 4
94 Mark Pike DE 6-4 270 Georgia Tech 4
96 Leon S DE 6-5 270 Jackson State 4
97 Cornelius Bennett LB 6-2 240 Alabama 4
99 Hal Garner LB 6-4 240 Utah State 3
1990 New York Giants
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
5 Sean Landeta P 6-0 200 Towson State 6
6 Matt Cavanaugh QB 6-2 210 Pittsburgh 13
9 Matt Bahr K 5-10 175 Penn State 13
15 Jeff Hostetler QB 6-3 210 West Virginia 7
21 Reyna Thompson CB 6-0 195 Baylor 5
22 Lee Rouson RB 6-1 220 Colorado 6
23 Perry Williams CB 6-2 205 North Carolina State 7
24 Ottis Anderson RB 6-2 225 Miami 12
25 Mark Collins CB 5-10 190 Cal State-Fullerton 5
26 Dave Duerson S 6-1 210 Notre Dame 8
28 Everson Walls CB 6-1 195 Grambling State 10
29 Myron Guyton FS 6-1 205 Eastern Kentucky 2
30 Dave Meggett RB 5-7 180 Towson State 2
34 Lewis Tillman RB 6-0 195 Jackson State 2
43 David Whitmore CB 6-0 235 Stephen F. Austin 1
44 Maurice Carthon RB 6-1 225 Arkansas State 6
46 Roger Brown CB 6-0 195 Virginia Tech 1
47 Greg Jackson SS 6-1 200 LSU 2
51 Bobby Abrams LB 6-3 230 Michigan 1
52 Pepper Johnson LB 6-3 250 Ohio State 5
55 Gary Reasons LB 6-4 235 Northwestern State 7
56 Lawrence Taylor LB 6-3 245 North Carolina 10
57 Lawrence McGrew LB 6-6 250 USC 10
58 Carl Banks LB 6-4 235 Michigan State 7
59 Brian Williams C-G 6-5 300 Minnesota 2
60 Eric Moore G 6-5 290 Indiana 3
61 Bob Kratch G 6-3 290 Iowa 2
65 Bart Oates C 6-3 265 Brigham Young 6
66 William Roberts G 6-5 280 Ohio State 6
70 Leonard Marshall DT 6-3 285 LSU 8
72 Doug Riesenberg T 6-5 275 California 4
73 John Washington DE 6-4 275 Oklahoma State 5
74 Erik Howard DT 6-4 270 Washington State 5
76 John Elliott T 6-7 305 Michigan 3
77 Eric Dorsey DE 6-5 280 Notre Dame 5
80 Robert Mrosko TE 6-5 270 Penn State 3
81 Stacy Robinson WR 5-11 185 North Dakota State 6
82 Mark Ingram WR 5-10 190 Michigan State 4
84 Troy Kyles WR 6-0 180 Howard 1
85 Stephen Baker WR 5-8 160 Fresno State 4
87 Howard Cross TE 6-5 245 Alabama 2
89 Mark Bavaro TE 6-4 245 Notre Dame 6
93 Mike Fox DE 6-6 275 West Virginia 1
98 Johnie Cooks LB 6-4 250 Mississippi State 9
99 Steve DeOssie LB 6-2 250 Boston College 7

References
: Super Bowl XXV Game Program
The Super Bowl: Celebrating a Quarter-Century of America's Greatest Game
(1990)
Super Bowl Chronicles: A Sportswriter Reflects on the First 30 Years of America's Game, Jerry Green (1995)
Super Bowl: The Game of Their Lives, Danny Peary (ed.) (1997)
The Ultimate Super Bowl Book, Bob McGinn (2009)
50 Years, 50 Moments: The Most Unforgettable Plays in Super Bowl History, Jerry Rice and Randy O. Williams (2015)
Super Bowl Gold: 50 Years of the Big Game, Sports Illustrated (2015)
The Super Bowl: The First Fifty Years of America's Greatest Game, David Fischer (2015)
The First 50 Super Bowls: How Football's Championships Were Won, Ed Benkin (2018)