Greatest Team Not to Win a Super Bowl
by Robert Ferringo - 01/25/2008
I am willing to bet that you know exactly what that statement is in reference to. You know the team, you know the players, and you know the setup. But what you may not know is that the 1990-91 Buffalo Bills are, in my opinion, the Greatest NFL Team Not To Win The Super Bowl. Their 20-19 loss to the New York Giants in Miami still echoes in NFL history, with the game being considered one of the best ever and Scott Norwood's missed field goal one of the league's defining moments.
I am clearly biased by my age and the fact that I never saw the 1983 Redskins or the 1968 Baltimore Colts play. And I think that the 2001 Rams certainly can make a case. However, I'm giving the Bills the nod as the Greatest Super Bowl Loser in NFL History not only because I think they would beat any of those clubs in a head-to-head matchup but also because I think this was the best group in a franchise that made it to an unthinkable four straight Super Bowls.
The Bills carried the No. 1 scoring offense in the league, with their K-Gun offense leading Buffalo to a 15-4 overall record that season. They were 13-3 during the regular season with their only losses all coming on the road against playoff teams Miami (Week 2) Houston (Week 12), and Washington (Week 17 in a game where they rested their starters).
They also registered the No. 6 scoring defense in the NFL that season, with monsters like Bruce Smith, Daryl Talley, Shane Conlan, and Cornelius Bennett overwhelming opponents. Buffalo had a scoring differential of 10.3, which was No. 1 in the league that year but not nearly one of the top numbers in league history, The Bills scored an outstanding 114 points in three playoff games while allowing just 57, giving them an average score of 38-19. Their AFC Championship win, a 51-3 mauling of Oakland, is still one of the biggest blowouts in playoff history.
One of the first things I look for when trying to analyze teams across different eras is how they performed against its contemporaries, and how good those opponents were. I feel that monitoring how many games a team won over opponents with 10 or more regular season wins - the standard for the top-tier in any era - is a valid indicator. By that measure the Bills were top notch, securing six victories over 10+-win clubs during the year.
By comparison, the 1989 San Francisco 49ers and 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers, considered two of the best teams of all time, won six and five games, respectively, over their top-tier counterparts.
Buffalo boasted 10 Pro Bowl Players that season and were led by four Hall of Famers (Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, James Lofton, and Marv Levy), another first-ballot Hall of Famer (Smith), and at least two other fringe HOF performers (Andre Reed and Steve Tasker). This was perhaps the best of their four Super Bowl teams because a majority of their stars were in their athletic primes, playing in their third, fourth, or fifth season. Yes, the following three Super Bowl losers all possessed more experience but they also carried the mental and emotional scars of their near-miss in Florida against the Giants.
Finally, this team gets the nod not only because of the residual greatness of this AFC Dynasty, or because of the fact that I think they'd smack some of the other all-time greats. But they get the nod because they were so close to Immortality. They actually beat the Giants by four points in the Meadowlands earlier that season, and then they lost to them by one slim point in the Super Bowl. Who is to say that if they had played a rubber match in Orchard Park that the Bills wouldn't have hung 40 on the G-Men and took the series 2-1? And that field goal - a 47-yarder that missed by no more than a few feet - could have just as easily drifted in between the uprights and given the Bills a place in the Pantheon of NFL Greats.
But it didn't. Norwood missed. And the Bills are among the NFL Greats - they are the Greatest NFL Team Not To Win The Super Bowl.