The Buffalo Bills may have blundered their first shot at a Super Bowl victory, but the 1991-92 season delivered renewed hope that the Lombardi Trophy would return to New York. Their opponents, the Washington Redskins, were no strangers to the big stage — Super Bowl XXVI marked their fifth appearance and a shot at their third title. Both teams stood a chance at winning, with the best records in their conferences and nearly untouchable offensive lines.
January 26, 1992 marked a high-intensity rivalry on the Super Bowl stage and the third significant hosting duty by the Metrodome within the previous year (after playing host to the World Series and NCAA Final Four). By the time you're done reading this article, you'll know why the losing team's coach was fired three days post-game, which worldwide sensation performed during halftime, and what made the Redskins shoo-ins to win big.
Coming hot off the heels of a narrow 20-19 loss to the Giants in the previous Super Bowl, the Buffalo Bills — including quarterback Jim Kelly and the mind-blowing K-Gun no-huddle offense — together solidified the best record in the conference (13-3). Buffalo neared Super Bowl XXVI with the most offensive yards in the NFL (6,525) and a second-best 458 points, but arguably had one of the worst defensive lines in the NFL (second to last, to be exact).
Kelly firmly grasped the momentum in the quarterback position by nabbing 3,844 yards, a league-best 33 touchdowns, and an impressive 97.6 passer rating. Guiding the Bills toward one of their greatest seasons yet were standout players like wide receiver Andre Reed (1,113 yards over 81 receptions), running back Kenneth Davis (624 rushing yards and five touchdowns), and linebacker Cornelius Bennett (nine sacks and 78 tackles).
The Washington Redskins may have lost legendary quarterback Joe Montana to injury and trades, but Mark Rypien assumed these large shoes seamlessly. Rypien led the Redskins to a league-high 485 points and a 14-2 record while also securing himself career-making stats like 3,564 yards, 28 touchdown passes, and a second-best passer rating of 97.9.
Tag-teaming with Rypien to get on the board were studs like wide receiver Gary Clark (ten touchdowns and 1,340 yards), running back Earnest Byner (1,048 rushing yards), and a "Hogs" O-line known for holding opponents to the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, Washington's defense managed to limit opponents to an amazing 4,638 yards all season while aiding the Redskins on an 11-game win streak early in the season.
Unlike previous Super Bowls where players from the opposing teams instigated trash talk, this time that came from the defensive line coach from the Bills — Chuck Dickerson. The coach mouthed off about the Redskins line-up, going as far as to say that one of the players probably "kicks dogs" while another has "bad breath." Head coach Marv Levy fired him just three days after Super Bowl XXVI.
On January 26, 1992, around 63,130 football fans took to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota — the second time in league history that a cold-weather city hosted the game and also the site of the 1992 NCAA Final Four and 1991 World Series. Fans spent about $150 (worth nearly $278.28 in today's money) for a chance to see the Redskins fight for their third-ever Super Bowl title.
The big day began early with performances by local Minnesota children's choirs, symphonies, marching bands, and a live feed of the astronauts aboard the STS-42. Not long after, "We Are in Love" singer Harry Connick Jr. took the microphone for a National Anthem performance, paired with the first-ever sign language interpretation at the Super Bowl. After a coin-toss ceremony (landing on heads) featuring retired Steelers coach Chuck Noll, Super Bowl XXVI began slowly.
Despite the Redskins and the Bills claiming the league's #1 and #2 spots for most points scored, the first quarter of Super Bowl XXVI didn't show that. The game started with a series of amateur plays, including a redo on the kickoff, a lost helmet, an overruled touchdown, a mishandled snap on a field goal attempt, and an interception.
The Redskins ramped up their intensity early in the second quarter. Rypien connected on a 41-yard pass to Ricky Sanders, and Earnest Byner clinched a stellar 19-yard run, enabling kicker Chip Lohmiller to secure a 34-yard field goal. The rock-solid Washington defense held the line of scrimmage and capitalized on a 51-yard drive ending on Byner's 10-yard touchdown catch.
Washington regained control immediately following an interception by defensive back Darrell Green. The five-play series finished with another seven points for the Redskins on a 1-yard run by fullback Gerald Riggs. Now trailing 17-0, the Bills joined the club of eight other teams who failed to score during the first half of a Super Bowl — all of which ended up losing.
The halftime show for Super Bowl XXVI celebrated winter and snow — fitting considering the temperature on game day was a blistering 9-26°F. This "Winter Magic" halftime show began with over 2,000 on-field performers spelling on the words "Winter" and "Magic" before a questionable Big Band rendition of "Walking in a Winter Wonderland."
There was a brief appearance by the Olympic ice hockey team from 1980 — the inspiration behind the movie "Miracle.” And the fans in the Metrodome also caught a glimpse of Olympic figure skaters Dorothy Hamill and Brian Boitano ice skating, later riding off on a snowmobile. Shortly after this big exit, musical phenomenon Gloria Estefan stole the show. Estefan's halftime finale included renditions of her hit ballads "Get on Your Feet" and "Live for Loving You."
Although Estefan was at the height of her career during the Super Bowl in 1992 and the show kept with the winter theme wonderfully, it couldn't stop over 22% of viewers switching over to FOX for an episode of In Living Color at halftime. The loss in viewership led the NFL to vow to choose top-notch performers for future halftime performances.
It took only 16 seconds for the Redskins to get on the board again. Linebacker Kurt Gouveia snatched an interception, a play that quickly brought Gerald Riggs into the end zone for the second time of the night. Now up 24-0, Washington tied the Dolphins for the Super Bowl record for the greatest shutout. The Bills finally found their footing shortly after.
While not able to make good on a touchdown, kicker Scott Norwood nailed a 21-yard field goal to reduce Washington's lead to 24-3. Buffalo secured their first touchdown of the game just moments later on Thomas's 1-yard run, narrowing Washington's lead again to only 24-10. However, the Redskins didn't show any signs of slowing down and pressed 79 yards down the field until Rypien found Gary Clark in the end zone.
The Redskins then added an extra six points to the board on Lohmiller's back-to-back field goals early in the fourth. In true competitive style, Super Bowl XXVI ended on two back-to-back touchdowns by the Bills: A 2-yard pass to Metzelaars and a 4-yard bullet to Beebe. The Redskins secured their third-ever Super Bowl title with a 37-24 final score.
Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien ranked No. 1 in the NFC for touchdown passes (28) and passing yards (3,564) and brought these talents into the Super Bowl spotlight.
The quarterback's top-notch performance early on in Super Bowl XXVI helped carry the Redskins to their 37-24 victory and third-ever Super Bowl title.
With viewership still on the incline, the CBS broadcast of Super Bowl XXVI — a high-profile game between the Bills and Redskins — collected a growing 119.68 million viewers nationwide and a generous Nielsen rating of 40.3.
Super Bowl XXVI was also the last Super Bowl airing on CBS until 2000, as Fox outbid the network for NFC broadcasting rights beginning in 1993. Interestingly, CBS's broadcast of the game fell off the "normal" three-station cycle. Still, the station's recently-secured broadcasting rights to the 1992 Winter Olympics was a potential viewership booster for the NFL, giving CBS a special consideration to air the big game.
Both the Redskins and the Bills approached Super Bowl XXVI after accomplishing an impressive feat: The best records and #1 seeds in their conferences. While the 13-3 Bills were on a rebound from their loss to the Giants the Super Bowl prior, the defensive line allowed the second-most number of yards and was among the worst for points allowed. The Redskins, on the other hand, led the NFL in points (485) and had the second-best defense for yards allowed (4,638).
Not surprisingly, the Redskins were expected to win with a -7-point spread. The anticipated 37-24 Washington victory allowed the Redskins to cover the spread by an impressive six points — an entire touchdown without the extra-point conversion. The 49-point over/under was admittedly wildly inaccurate by the beginning of the fourth quarter. With 61 total points scored in Super Bowl XXVI, an "over" bet was safe by a margin of 12 points.
The Buffalo Bills may have lost another heartbreaker on the big stage, but Jim Kelly and the rest of the team weren't done, as they returned to the Super Bowl the following season in their third straight shot at a title. But would the Buffalo Bills finally prove victorious?