It’s been 25 years since special teams coach Bruce DeHaven glanced toward the night sky in Tampa, Florida, and watched Scott Norwood’s 47-yard field goal attempt sail wide right.
The most famous missed kick in Super Bowl history handed the New York Giants a one-point victory while delivering to the Buffalo Bills and their fans a kind of heartache that never truly goes away.
And sometimes if you stick with it long enough, if you stay dedicated to your life’s calling, the football gods will give you another shot.
Twenty-five years after Super Bowl XXV, DeHaven will take part in Super Bowl 50 with the Carolina Panthers, who play the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
It’s also 16 years since DeHaven’s first stint with the Bills ended with the second most-famous special teams play in club history that went awry, that being Tennessee’s kickoff touchdown return on a trick play during the 1999 wild-card playoff round.
Dubbed the “Music City Miracle,’’ the play (which DeHaven warned his coverage team to watch out for) led to coach Wade Phillips (with a nudge from owner Ralph Wilson I have always believed) kicking DeHaven to the curb, a firing that redefined the term “scapegoat.’’ The Bills haven’t been to the playoffs since.
And who will be on the other sideline at Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco as the Broncos’ defensive coordinator? Wade Phillips.
Destiny isn’t lost on Bruce DeHaven, 67, but this salt-of-the-earth Kansas guy also isn’t one to live in the past, hold grudges, or make the story about him.
After 46 years in coaching, 29 in the NFL, DeHaven still gets a kick out of teaching the game of football, giving thanks for the opportunity to do so, and while it is theSuper Bowl, never losing sight that it’s still just a game.
The sun will come up and 98 percent of the world won’t care if you won or lost.
As he enters his ninth month battling prostate cancer, DeHaven holds those values dear.
The Panthers’ march to a 17-1 record has been inspired by DeHaven’s steadfast, unselfish resolve, commuting all season to Buffalo’s Roswell Park for treatments; his primary residence is still in Buffalo where his family lives.
DeHaven says he’s a “non-story’’ but we know that’s not true, that’s just a humble man being himself.
There is no question many lessons about resiliency were learned by not just players, but by coaches on those early 1990s Bills teams that went 0-4 in Super Bowls.