HOUSTON One throw, one catch, one miss, one premature touchdown celebration. In the biggest game of the season, one play can overshadow everything.
Fair or not, it's the Super Bowl way.
''One moment, one play defines a career in this game,'' said Joe Theismann, who won the 1983 Super Bowl with Washington.
It's been true since Garo Yepremian did his wayward impression of a quarterback in the seventh Super Bowl, a bit of slapstick that has stuck with him as much as the Dolphins' perfect season.
Make the kick, catch the pass take a bow. Miss the uprights, drop the ball drop your head and get ready for endless reminders of that one moment.
Just ask Scott Norwood. Better yet, leave the poor guy alone.
Angry Buffalo fans derisively dubbed him ''Scott Norwide'' after his 47-yard field goal attempt went wide right with 4 seconds left in 1991, dooming the Bills to the first of four Super Bowl losses.
To this day, empathetic kickers cringe at what he has endured.
''Every kicker knows of Scott and the situation that happened,'' New England's Adam Vinatieri said. ''Obviously, his life would have been changed if it had been a few feet farther to the left.''
Vinatieri knows about the flip side. His 48-yard field goal on the final play of the Patriots' Super Bowl win two years ago brought immediate celebrity. If he missed, he'd be about as popular in New England as Bill Buckner he of Red Sox/World Series infamy.
''I try not to consider what would have happened if I would have missed it,'' he said Wednesday.
The line separating fame and infamy often is only a few inches wide.
Defensive lineman Leon Lett picked up a fumble and rumbled toward what should have been his most glorious moment in Dallas' 1993 win. He slowed his 300-pound frame and raised the ball at the 1-yard line.
It turned out to be a few inches too soon. Bills receiver Don Beebe swatted the ball out of Lett's hand, turning him into an enduring symbol of Super silliness.
He has plenty of company.
Yepremian tried to throw a pass at the culmination of Miami's undefeated 1972 season, but the ball slipped from his hand and Mike Bass ran it back for a touchdown.
Buffalo's Thurman Thomas somehow misplaced his helmet at the biggest game of the 1991 season, forcing him to miss the first two plays.
What happened to Kevin Dyson wasn't funny at all.
The Titans' receiver ran a slant on the final play of the 2000 game and was tackled by Mike Jones at the 1-yard line. He was still contorted on the ground, vainly reaching for the end zone, as Rams players celebrated their 23-16 win.
''Whatever way that play goes, it changes everything,'' said Dyson, who gets a second chance on Sunday with Carolina. ''We maybe go into overtime and win the game, and Steve McNair or Eddie George is the MVP. Who knows? A lot of different things could happen if I score on that play.
''If I could go back in time and change it, I definitely would score and see how everything worked out for my future and everybody else's future.''
The game has provided heartbreak and vindication for some of its greatest players John Elway lost three before winning two in a row, providing a feel-good ending to his career.
The big stage also has turned supporting actors into stars for one day.
Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown parlayed his two interceptions off Pittsburgh's Neil O'Donnell in the 1996 game into a $12 million contract with the Raiders a month later.
Rookie Tim Smith, who gained only 126 yards during the 1987 season, ran for a record 204 in Washington's victory over Denver. Raiders linebacker Jack Squirek returned Joe Theismann's screen pass 5 yards for a pivotal touchdown in 1984.
''This is what this game is all about,'' Theismann said. ''It's about moments. It's about seizing opportunity.''
It's about letting it slip away, too.
Joe Montana won three Super Bowl MVP awards and became synonymous with last-game greatness. His finest moment also showed there's very little difference between being great and being a goat.
He led San Francisco 92 yards to a 20-16 victory over Cincinnati in the 1989 game, throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor with only 34 seconds left.
The pass amounted to a second chance for Montana. Bengals cornerback Lewis Billups had dropped a potential interception in the end zone that would have changed everything.
''I can exactly remember not only the feeling, but the way it looked, how the shadows were falling, who was standing around me,'' former Bengals coach Sam Wyche said by phone Wednesday. ''That one is engraved forever.''
Players know that what they do on one play on one day can stick with them for the rest of their lives.
''All I knew is that it was my career,'' said quarterback Phil Simms, the MVP of the Giants' 1987 win. ''If we'd have lost, I'd have been run out of town.''
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