NFL owners voted to award Super Bowl XXVI to Minneapolis during their May 24, 1989 meeting in New Orleans. Indianapolis, Pontiac and Seattle also made bids for the game. Super Bowl XXVI became the second Super Bowl to be played in a cold, winter climate city. The first one was Super Bowl XVI on January 24, 1982 at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Temperatures in Minneapolis on game day were a high of 26F/-3C and low of 9F/-13C, about 2 degrees F above average (1 degree C).
The Metrodome also hosted the 1992 NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four, making it the only stadium to host both events in the same calendar year. It also hosted the 1991 World Series as the Minnesota Twins defeated the Atlanta Braves. Minneapolis is the only city and the Metrodome is the only arena to host all three events in a 12-month span (all three of these events aired on CBS, who would go on to purchase their Twin Cities affiliate, WCCO-TV, later in the year). The attendance mark of 63,130 was second lowest only to the first Super Bowl's attendance of 61,946, and the Metrodome was the smallest stadium to ever host the Super Bowl. To date, this is the northernmost Super Bowl ever played.
Washington entered Super Bowl XXVI leading the league during the regular season in scoring with 485 points, while allowing the second-fewest points (224). The team was led by Mark Rypien, head coach Joe Gibbs' third different starting Super Bowl quarterback. Rypien led the NFC during the regular season in passing yards (3,564) and touchdown passes (28). With 249 out of 421 completions and only 11 interceptions, he earned the second-highest passer rating in the league (97.9).
Rypien had several great targets to whom he could throw. Wide receiver Gary Clark was the main deep threat on the team, catching 70 passes for 1,340 yards and 10 touchdowns. On the other side of the field, wide receiver Art Monk, playing in his 12th NFL season, was just as reliable, catching 71 passes for 1,049 yards and 8 touchdowns. Monk's 71 receptions in 1991 gave him a career total of 801, just 18 behind the all-time record held by Steve Largent. Wide receiver Ricky Sanders was also a big element of the passing game, catching 45 passes for 580 yards and 5 touchdowns.
The Redskins' primary weapon in the backfield was running back Earnest Byner, who ranked 5th in the NFL with 1,048 rushing yards, while also catching 34 passes for 308 yards and scoring 5 touchdowns. Rookie running back Ricky Ervins was also a major asset to the running attack, rushing 145 times for 680 yards for an average of 4.7 yards per carry, while also catching 16 passes for 181 yards. And when Washington was near the goal line, they usually relied on fullback Gerald Riggs, who rushed for 248 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. The Redskins' offensive line, known as "The Hogs", was led by Pro Bowl tackle Jim Lachey and guard Mark Schlereth, along with four-time Pro Bowl veteran Russ Grimm. The Hogs allowed the fewest sacks in the league with just 9, 10 sacks less than the team that allowed the second-fewest. Even Washington's special teams unit was a big threat. Running back Brian Mitchell led the NFL in punt return yards (600) and punt return touchdowns (2) with a 13.3 yards per return average, while also gaining 583 yards returning kickoffs.
Washington's defense, which ranked third in the NFL in fewest yards allowed (4,638), was led by All-Pro defensive back Darrell Green, who was one of the fastest players in the NFL, and Pro Bowl linebacker Wilber Marshall. Green and Marshall recorded 5 interceptions each, with Marshall recording 75 return yards and a touchdown, while also compiling 5.5 sacks and forcing 4 fumbles. Safety Brad Edwards was also a big factor in the secondary, recording four interceptions. Up front, their line was anchored by defensive end Charles Mann, who recorded 11 of Washington's 50 sacks, and recovered a fumble. Defensive end Fred Stokes also made a big impact with 6.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, and an interception.
The Redskins stormed to a league-best 14–2 regular season record. After crushing the Detroit Lions 45-0 on opening day, they recorded 11 consecutive wins before suffering their first loss to the Dallas Cowboys, 24–21. Their only other defeat was a meaningless loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the final game of the regular season in which they rested most of their starters because they had already clinched the #1 NFC playoff seed.
The Bills' no-huddle "K-Gun" offense once again dominated the league by gaining an NFL-leading 6,525 yards and scoring 458 points, second only to Washington. The leaders of the offense, quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas, both had the best seasons of their careers. Kelly completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 3,844 yards and a league-leading 33 touchdowns, with only 17 interceptions, to give him a 97.6 passer rating. Thomas rushed for 1,407 yards, caught 62 passes for 620 yards, and scored 12 touchdowns to earn him both the NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award and the NFL Most Valuable Player Award. With 2,067 yards from scrimmage, Thomas led the league in that category for the third consecutive season. Just like Washington, Buffalo had more than one threat in their backfield. Running back Kenneth Davis emerged as a big threat, rushing for 624 yards, catching 20 passes for 118 yards, and scoring 5 touchdowns.
The Bills also had several major weapons in their passing game. Wide receiver Andre Reed led the team with 81 receptions for 1,113 yards and 10 touchdowns, and also rushed 12 times for 136 yards. On the other side of the field, veteran wide receiver James Lofton recorded 57 receptions for 1,072 yards and 8 touchdowns to earn his 8th Pro Bowl appearance and finished the year just 55 yards short of the all-time receiving yardage record, held by Steve Largent (13,089 yards). Pro Bowl tight end Keith McKeller was also a big contributor with 44 receptions for 434 yards, while receiver Don Beebe had 32 catches, 414 yards, and 6 touchdowns. Once again, the Bills' offensive line was led by center Kent Hull, along with left tackle Will Wolford and Pro Bowl left guard Jim Ritcher.
But the Bills had big problems on their defense. Buffalo ranked just 27th (out of 28 teams) in yards allowed, 19th in points allowed, and recorded only 31 sacks. A reason for this was that defensive linemen Bruce Smith and Jeff Wright had missed most of the season with injuries. One of the few bright spots on the Bills' defense was Pro Bowl linebacker Cornelius Bennett, who recorded 78 tackles, 9 sacks, and 2 fumble recoveries. Another Pro Bowl linebacker, Darryl Talley, led the team with 90 tackles and 5 interceptions, while also recovering 2 fumbles. Cornerback Nate Odomes was the leader of the secondary with 5 interceptions, which he returned for 120 yards and a touchdown, along with 66 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Despite their defensive problems, the Bills finished the season with an AFC-best 13–3 regular season record.
The Redskins first defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 24–7, in a rain-soaked playoff game that was closer than their 56–17 regular season win over Atlanta. Rypien had 442 passing yards and 6 touchdowns in the earlier game, but could only complete 14 out of 28 passes for 170 yards and 0 touchdowns in the rematch. Still, Washington dominated the Falcons again by forcing 6 turnovers and rushing for 162 yards. The Redskins held the ball for over 36 minutes while running back Ricky Ervins recorded 104 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Then Washington crushed the Detroit Lions 41–10 in the NFC Championship Game. The Lions posted a 12–4 regular season record and were coming off a 38–6 playoff blowout over the Dallas Cowboys. Many sports writers predicted that the NFC Championship Game would be much closer than the Redskins' win over the Lions in the season opening game because Detroit's future Hall of Fame running back, Barry Sanders, did not play in it due to injury. He had recorded 1,548 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns in the remaining 15 games of the season, and 99 combined rushing and receiving yards against Dallas in the playoffs. However, the Redskins crushed Detroit in this game as well, quickly forcing two Lions turnovers and building up a 10–0 lead before the game was five minutes old. The Redskins scored 41 points off of two touchdown runs by Riggs, two field goals from kicker Chip Lohmiller, a pair of touchdown passes from Rypien to Monk and Clark, and Green's 32-yard 4th-quarter interception return for a touchdown. Sanders was held to just 59 total yards, and linebacker Wilber Marshall sacked Lions quarterback Erik Kramer three times.
Meanwhile, the Bills first defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 37–14, avenging a 33–6 Monday night loss during the regular season, in which the Chiefs recorded six sacks, recovered five fumbles, and gained 239 rushing yards, with running backs Harvey Williams and Christian Okoye recording over 100 rushing yards each. During this playoff game, the Bills jumped to a 24–0 lead in the 3rd quarter, with Kelly throwing three touchdown passes, the first two to Reed and the third to Lofton. The Bills also got a big performance out of Thomas, who rushed for over 100 yards, and kicker Scott Norwood, who made three field goals. Meanwhile, unconcerned with Kansas City's weak passing game, Buffalo played Bennett and Talley close to the line of scrimmage on nearly every play to stuff the run. Both players combined for 13 tackles, while the Bills' defense held Kansas City to 77 yards on the ground. Chiefs running back Barry Word, who became their primary rusher since the Monday Night game and rushed for over 100 yards in each of Kansas City's previous three games, was limited to just 50 yards. In addition, Buffalo's defense knocked Chiefs quarterback Steve DeBerg out of the game and intercepted backup quarterback Mark Vlasic four times.
Buffalo then played against the Denver Broncos, who were coming off a 26–24 win over the Houston Oilers, in which quarterback John Elway led them on an 87-yard drive to set up kicker David Treadwell's game-winning field goal with only 16 seconds left. It was predicted that this AFC Championship Game would be a shootout between the Bills' powerful offense and the superb postseason play of Elway. But neither Elway nor the Bills' offense had much success in the 10–7 Bills victory in a game totally dominated by defense. Bennett, who spent almost as much time in the Denver backfield as Elway, had another great game, constantly pressuring Elway, sharing one sack, and tackling Denver rushers behind the line of scrimmage three times. Bills linebacker Carlton Bailey also made a big impact late in the 3rd quarter, intercepting a screen pass from Elway and returning it 11 yards for Buffalo's only touchdown of the game. After backup quarterback Gary Kubiak scored Denver's only touchdown with less than two minutes to go, the Bills then clinched the victory when defensive back Kirby Jackson forced and recovered a fumble from running back Steve Sewell on Denver's final drive of the game. Treadwell's three missed field goals were a large factor in the final outcome of the defensive struggle.
During the week leading to Super Bowl XXVI, it seemed most of the pressure was on the Bills. The AFC Championship Game appeared to be the best defensive effort by Buffalo all season, as they held the Broncos to only a touchdown, while also limiting Elway to just 11 of 21 completions for 121 yards and no touchdowns, with 1 interception. But the Bills' high-powered offense was completely shut down, limited to just a single field goal for the entire game. In addition, the Bills could have easily been eliminated by the Broncos, had Treadwell not missed three field goal attempts, two of which hit the uprights. The performance also gave an opportunity for Gibbs and the Redskins' coaches to devise a strong game plan to exploit their Super Bowl opponent's weaknesses.
"Denver was successful being aggressive. That may have aided us a little bit in our thinking," said Redskins defensive coordinator Richie Petitibon. "Looking at them before they had played Denver, we kind of thought you had to put pressure on this guy (Jim Kelly). We attacked the line of scrimmage more than usual. We wanted to blitz to stop the run early in the game. It's sometimes tough to pick up blitzes against the running game."
Redskins linebacker Matt Millen was bidding to become the first player to play in a Super Bowl victory for three different franchises (he played in Super Bowl XV and Super Bowl XVIII with the Raiders, and Super Bowl XXIV with the 49ers). However, Millen was deactivated for the game and watched from the Redskins sideline. He retired from the NFL shortly after the game to pursue a career in broadcasting (and later as a team executive).
During the CBS telecast, it was mentioned that Leonard Smith (the Bills' regular starting strong safety) couldn't play as a result of an infection in his knee.
Bills defensive line coach Chuck Dickerson mocked the Washington Redskins' famed offensive line, "The Hogs" in a television interview. Dickerson said Redskins tackle Joe Jacoby was "a Neanderthal – he slobbers a lot, he probably kicks dogs in his neighborhood." He also said tackle Jim Lachey "has bad breath. Players will fall down without him even touching them." Redskins coach Joe Gibbs got his hands on some tapes of Dickerson and played them at a team meeting on the night before the game. (Levy fired Dickerson three days after the game.)
The game was broadcast in the United States by CBS and featured the broadcast team of play-by-play announcer Pat Summerall and color commentator John Madden for the fifth time. Lesley Visser, Jim Gray, and Pat O'Brien reported on the sidelines; Visser would later preside over the presentation of the Lombardi Trophy to the Redskins, becoming the first woman to do so. The Super Bowl Today was hosted by Greg Gumbel and Terry Bradshaw with Randy Cross and Dan Fouts contributing team reports and Visser, Madden, Jim Gray, Bernard Goldberg, and Mike Francesa (among others) contributing feature segments.
This would be the last Super Bowl to air on CBS until Super Bowl XXXV at the end of the 2000 season. CBS lost the NFC package to Fox following the 1993 season, leaving the network without the NFL until it acquired the AFC package from NBC for the 1998 season. Super Bowl XXVI was not originally in CBS' rotation; since it had just broadcast Super Bowl XXIV two years earlier. CBS would have received Super Bowl XXVII as part of the rotation while NBC would have aired Super Bowl XXVI. Instead, the NFL made an exception for CBS, which had acquired the rights to the 1992 Winter Olympics, and allowed the network to air the Super Bowl as a lead-in program for its Olympics coverage.
For this game, as they had done for Super Bowl XXIV, CBS debuted a new theme and opening for its NFL coverage. Composed by Frankie Vinci, the theme was used for the next two seasons on television and on CBS Radio after that; several remixes of the song were used from the time CBS resumed covering NFL games in 1998 until the end of the 2002 season; after that, CBS began using an E.S. Posthumus composition and has used it ever since.
In addition to the new theme, CBS also rolled out a new network-wide graphics package for its sports coverage. With a few minor tweaks, the red, white, and blue graphic displays stayed in place until 1996 when CBS rolled out a new orange and yellow package.
Super Bowl XXVI was telecast in over 100 countries around the world, including Australia (Network Ten), Canada (CTV), Mexico (Canal 5) and the United Kingdom (Channel 4).
Following the game was a 60 Minutes interview with future President Bill and Hillary Clinton and an episode of 48 Hours. Super Bowl XXVI was featured in the episode of The Simpsons entitled "Lisa the Greek", which aired three days prior to the game and correctly predicted that Washington would win.
Also, this game was part of a broadcasting service test commissioned by the U.S. Navy. The ships participating were the USS America; USS Concord; USS Eisenhower; USS Inchon; USS Monterey; USS Normandy and the USS Sierra.
The pregame show featured local Minnesota youth including the Metropolitan Boys Choir, the Minnesota Youth Symphonies, and local marching bands.
Singer Harry Connick, Jr. later sang the national anthem. The coin toss ceremony featured Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach Chuck Noll. Noll, former Steelers Hall of Fame head coach who had retired a month earlier after 23 seasons, conducted the coin toss. Noll's Steelers had lost to both of these teams earlier in the season by large margins (52–34 to Buffalo and 41–14 to Washington).
STS-42, a space shuttle mission, was in orbit during the game. A live downlink between the Metrodome and Discovery happened during the pregame show. Three of the mission's seven crew members demonstrated a 'human coin toss' in space.
Buffalo head coach Marv Levy stated his famous phrase "Where else would you rather be?" to his players moments before kickoff, as shown on NFL Films highlights.
The halftime show was titled "Winter Magic" and featured a celebration to the winter season and the Winter Olympics. In addition to dancers and performers as well as the Pride of Minnesota marching band, former Olympic champions Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill skated on sheets of Teflon that were embedded on the tops of large platforms that were placed on the field for the show. Singer Gloria Estefan performed during the show's finale.
To compete with the halftime show, Fox decided to broadcast a special live episode of In Living Color and was able to attract and keep Super Bowl viewers. It was decided that Michael Jackson would perform at halftime during Super Bowl XXVII, followed by more big-name talent during subsequent Super Bowl halftimes in order to maintain Super Bowl viewership.
Both teams entered the game as the two highest scoring teams in the league, but after the end of an extremely sloppy first quarter, both of them would be scoreless.
The miscues began right from the start. First, the opening kickoff had to be redone because Bills kicker Brad Daluiso kicked the ball before referee Jerry Markbreit signaled to begin play. Then after Washington was forced to punt, Bills running back Thurman Thomas missed the first two plays of Buffalo's first drive because he misplaced his helmet.
Later in the period, Washington drove 89 yards and appeared to score a touchdown on a third-down pass from Mark Rypien to wide receiver Art Monk (who had already caught 3 passes for 67 yards on the drive). But it was overruled by instant replay: the officials ruled that Monk's foot was out of bounds when he caught the ball (the first time a touchdown was overruled by instant replay in a Super Bowl). The Redskins tried to salvage the drive with a field goal attempt, but holder Jeff Rutledge fumbled the snap.
On Buffalo's first play after the botched field goal attempt, Bills quarterback Jim Kelly gave Washington another chance to score by throwing an interception to Redskins safety Brad Edwards, who returned it 21 yards to the Bills 12-yard line. But Rypien promptly gave it back to the Bills by throwing an interception to Bills defensive back Kirby Jackson on the third play of the Redskins' next drive.
In the second quarter, the Redskins began to take over the game. First, a 41-yard completion from Rypien to wide receiver Ricky Sanders and a 19-yard run by Earnest Byner set up Chip Lohmiller's 34-yard field goal to give Washington a 3–0 lead. The Redskins' defense then forced Buffalo to a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, and punter Chris Mohr's 23-yard punt sailed out of bounds at the Washington 49-yard line. The Redskins then drove 51 yards in 5 plays capped by Byner's 10-yard touchdown reception. Then, on the Bills next drive, Washington defensive back Darrell Green intercepted a pass from Kelly at the Redskins 45-yard line. Three plays later, Rypien completed a 34-yard pass to wide receiver Gary Clark to the Buffalo 15-yard line. A 14-yard run by Ricky Ervins then set up fullback Gerald Riggs' 1-yard touchdown run to expand the Redskins' lead to 17–0.
The Bills had a chance to drive for a score late in the second quarter. With 1:46 left in the half, Bills special teams expert Steve Tasker downed Mohr's 48-yard punt at the Redskins 1-yard line. Washington gained zero net yards during the possession, and Buffalo got the ball back after Cliff Hicks returned Kelly Goodburn's 42-yard punt 2 yards to the Redskins 41-yard line. From there, Kelly completed a 21-yard pass to tight end Keith McKeller to the 20-yard line. But after an incomplete pass and an 8-yard sack by linebacker Wilber Marshall, Edwards broke up a third-down pass intended for Andre Reed in which Edwards hit Reed before the ball got to him; however, no flag for pass interference was thrown. In disgust, Reed threw his helmet to the ground, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that took the Bills out of field goal range and forced them to punt. As the teams ran off the field at halftime, Marv Levy confronted field judge Ed Merrifield, who missed the pass interference call and then threw the unsportsmanlike conduct flag against Reed.
The Bills became the 9th team to go scoreless in the 1st half of a Super Bowl, after the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III; the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowls IV, VIII, IX, and XI; the Redskins in Super Bowl VII, the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII; and the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI. All 8 of the previous teams ended up losing the game.
The Redskins then increased their lead to 24–0 just 16 seconds into the second half after linebacker Kurt Gouveia intercepted Kelly's pass on the first play of the third quarter and returned it 23 yards to the Bills' 2-yard line. One play later, Riggs scored his second touchdown of the game. The Redskins' 24–0 lead midway through the 3rd quarter tied the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VIII for the largest shutout lead in Super Bowl history. It was broken by the Seattle Seahawks' 36-0 lead in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Bills finally got some momentum going with their next few drives. First, they drove 77 yards to the Redskins 3-yard line, aided by a 43-yard completion from Kelly to receiver Don Beebe. Washington kept Buffalo out of the end zone, but kicker Scott Norwood kicked a 21-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 24–3. Then, aided by a 29-yard pass interference penalty on Redskins cornerback Martin Mayhew in the end zone, the Bills drove 56 yards in 6 plays and finally scored a touchdown on their next drive with a 1-yard run by Thomas to make the score 24–10.
However, Buffalo's hopes of a comeback faded when Washington advanced 79 yards in 11 plays on the ensuing drive, scoring on Clark's 30-yard touchdown reception to give the Redskins a 31–10 lead with 1:24 left in the third quarter. Three plays after receiving the ensuing kickoff, Kelly fumbled the ball while being sacked by defensive back Alvoid Mays, and it was recovered by defensive end Fred Stokes. After the turnover, Washington drove to the Bills 7-yard line and increased their lead to 34–10 with Lohmiller's 25-yard field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter.
On the Bills' ensuing drive, Kelly was sacked for a 9-yard loss by Stokes, threw an incomplete pass, and then threw his second interception of the game to Edwards, who returned it 35 yards to Buffalo's 33-yard line. Five plays later, Lohmiller kicked his third field goal with 11:36 left in the game to increase Washington's lead to 37–10. With the game almost completely out of reach, the Bills managed to respond with a 15-play, 79-yard drive to cut the score to 37–17 on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Kelly to tight end Pete Metzelaars. Then, after recovering an onside kick, the Bills drove 50 yards and scored another touchdown with Beebe's 4-yard reception to make the score 37–24. But the Bills' second onside kick attempt was unsuccessful, and the Redskins were able to run out the clock. From there, the Bills attempted one final pass play before time expired.
Kelly completed 28 of a Super Bowl–record 58 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns, but was sacked four times, intercepted four times, and lost a fumble. Thomas ran for only 13 yards on 10 carries and was limited to 27 yards on four receptions. James Lofton was the top receiver for the Bills with 7 catches for 92 yards, but Reed was limited to just 5 catches for 31 yards. Clark had seven catches for 114 yards and a touchdown and Monk added seven for 113 yards (Clark and Monk became the third pair of teammates to each have 100 yards receiving in a Super Bowl; they joined the Steelers' John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, who did it in Super Bowl XIII and the Bengals' Cris Collinsworth and Dan Ross, who did it in Super Bowl XVI).
Ervins was the top rusher of the game with 79 yards. Byner recorded 49 rushing yards, and 3 receptions for 24 yards and a touchdown. On defense, Edwards recorded four tackles, broke up five passes, and returned two interceptions for 56 yards. The Redskins amassed 417 yards of total offense while limiting the explosive Bills to 283, with just 43 rushing yards.
The two teams combined for the most points in a 3rd quarter in Super Bowl history (24 total points: 14 for Washington and 10 for Buffalo) and the most combined in a second half (44 total points: 24 for Buffalo and 20 for Washington).
With the win, the Redskins became the first team, and Joe Gibbs the first coach, to win a Super Bowl with three different quarterbacks. Two other teams have since duplicated this feat: the New York Giants (Phil Simms in Super Bowl XXI, Jeff Hostetler in Super Bowl XXV, and Eli Manning in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI) and the Green Bay Packers (Bart Starr in the first two Super Bowls, Brett Favre in Super Bowl XXXI, and Aaron Rodgers in Super Bowl XLV).
Sources: NFL.com Super Bowl XXVI, Super Bowl XXVI Play Finder Was, Super Bowl XXVI Play Finder Buf
1Completions/attempts 2Carries 3Long gain 4Receptions 5Times targeted
The following records were set in Super Bowl XXVI, according to the official NFL.com boxscore and the ProFootball reference.com game summary.
Hall of Fame ‡Referee: Jerry Markbreit #9 third Super Bowl (XVII, XXI)
Umpire: Bob Boylston #101 second Super Bowl (XXI)
Head Linesman: Dale Williams #8 second Super Bowl (XX)
Line Judge: Ron Blum #83 second Super Bowl (XXIV)
Back Judge: Paul Baetz #22 second Super Bowl (XXIII)
Side Judge: Dick Creed #61 first Super Bowl
Field Judge: Ed Merrifield #76 first Super Bowl
Note: Back Judge and Field Judge swapped titles prior to the 1998 season.