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Super Bowl XXV rematch: Why Thurman Thomas deserved MVP

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To celebrate Super Bowl 50, NFL Media's Elliot Harrison is looking back at each of the 19 Super Bowl rematches on the regular-season schedule in 2015, revisiting the clashes of the past as former Super Sunday opponents square off once again.

This Sunday's rematch: New York Giants at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. ET.

Reunites the combatants from: Super Bowl XXV (Giants 20, Bills 19).

In 49 years of the Super Bowl, only one man has obtained the MVP trophy in a losing cause. There should be two.

If ever there was a player who deserved the honor, even though his team was on the wrong side of right, it was Thurman Thomas in Super Bowl XXV.

Winning the Most Valuable Player award doesn't replace the grandeur of winning the biggest game in American sports. Just ask Chuck Howley, the "one man" I referred to above. Howley received the honor in Super Bowl V, despite the fact that his Cowboys fell just short of the Colts, 16-13. Vice Sports caught up with the 79-year-old earlier this year and asked how he reacted to winning the award ... after losing the game.

"I was quite, I guess, dumbfounded that I had won," Howley said. "It was just something that was hard to accept, winning and losing the ballgame. I would much rather have won the game and played as well."

Twenty years after the Cowboys linebacker took home the hardware, Thomas darn near pulled a Howley himself. No, scratch that: Thomas was robbed of pulling a Howley.

The Giants won Super Bowl XXV, 20-19, on the strength of ball-control offense and "Wide Right." But the most valuable player on the field that day was a member of the Bills.

Thomas was the queen on the chessboard -- the piece no one wants to face, one can ill-afford to lose, and in this case, the piece that cleaned out pawns the entire doggone game. See: 15 rushes for 135 yards and a touchdown; five catches for 55 yards. Domination.

In fairness, Bill Parcells and his Big Blue staff were more than willing to let Thomas beat them, employing a second-half strategy aimed at beating up on Buffalo's receivers and making the ground attack win the game. It's obvious now, though, that they underestimated the third-year running back out of Oklahoma State.

So did the rest of the league, at least initially.

Who could forget the 1988 NFL Draft, when ESPN fixated on Thomas as he waited for his name to be called? Teams were apprehensive to pull the trigger on the All-American, thanks in part to a knee injury he sustained during his senior year. Pick by pick went by, with running backs like Gaston Green, Brad Muster and Tony Jeffery coming off the board. All the while, Thomas stared into the camera like a man dividing 35,337 by 634. No less than seven backs were selected before Thomas got the call from GM Bill Polian and the Buffalo Bills, who took him in the second round at No. 40 overall.

Not a bad pick.

By Year 2, Thomas was a Pro Bowler. And in Year 3, the 1990 campaign, Thomas racked up 1,297 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in the regular season, earning First-Team All-Pro honors. Then came the playoffs.

With 354 total yards and three touchdowns in Buffalo's first two postseason games that January, Thomas helped the Bills blow by the Dolphins and Raiders -- and into Super Bowl XXV. Then, on the game's biggest stage, Thomas put on quite a show.

Every game, all season

The 24-year old simply ran wild on the Giants' defense. The 1990 Giants defense. We're talkin' Lawrence Taylor, Leonard Marshall, Carl Banks -- coordinated by some guy with Grant Goodeve hair named Bill Belichick. A unit that led the league in points allowed. That Giants defense.

Trailing 12-10 in the second half, Big Blue's brain trust decided to go to a 2-5 defense -- as in five linebackers -- to punish Andre Reed and the rest of the Bills receiver corps. It provided Belichick with flexibility to adequately defend against Buffalo's no-huddle offense. The Giants were, in laymen's terms, picking their poison. Thomas made that pay -- when he got the ball, that is.

New York played clock ball, desperately trying to keep the ball away from Jim Kelly and the "K-Gun" offense. The K-Gun system was essentially a cleverly designed ripoff of the no-huddle attack Sam Wyche employed to beat the Bills in the 1988 AFC Championship Game. Although he was not a disciple of the latest offensive fad himself, Parcells was fully aware of the capabilities of Kelly's hurry-up approach, its ability to both tire and confuse a defense. The solution: play his own version of hurry-up, as in hurry up the game clock and run the heck out of the football.

Thus, the Giants held the ball for over nine minutes on the opening stanza of the second half, eventually scoring on an Ottis Anderson touchdown plunge to go up 17-12. After both teams exchanged punts, Thomas responded -- accounting for 40 yards on two plays, including a 31-yard touchdown run on a draw. It was a masterful scamper by No. 34 in white. Taking the handoff from Kelly out of the gun, Thomas broke right, then immediately cut left to his inside, causing Carl Banks to get pinned outside, while opening a hole that a '90 Honda Prelude could power through. Thomas knifed through Gary Reasons' arm tackle, then went head first into Myron Guyton, bouncing off the safety's failed Steve Atwater impersonation and into the clear. The final 20 yards were smooth sailing. And Buffalo was back on top, 19-17.

Then New York brought the game to a screeching halt. Again. The Giants mounted a seven-minute drive, successfully holding serve and eventually taking a 20-19 lead with a Matt Bahr field goal.

Ultimately, the Bills got the ball back with 2:16 left, facing that same one-point deficit. Enough time for one final drive in what was, at that point, arguably the greatest Super Bowl to date. And enough time to put the ball in Thomas' hands.

With Belichick flooding Kelly's throwing lanes, playing coverage, Thomas ripped off a 22-yard run after seeing the left side of the field open up. Then, after plowing into Giants territory, Thomas scampered around the right side on another handoff out of the shotgun, looking like he was shot out of a shotgun -- 11 more yards, and suddenly, the Bills were in field-goal range.

The man who would lead the NFL in total yards from scrimmage four years in a row had done everything he could do give his team a shot to win, racking up 190 yards from scrimmage on just 20 touches. (That's 9.5 yards of real estate every time his number was called.) In the second half, "The Thurmanator" piled up 81 yards on just seven touches. Giving that man the MVP award just would have been right. Unfortunately, the game-winning field-goal attempt he set up was also right ...

... wide right.

Did you know?

The guy who actually was named MVP of Super Bowl XXV: Giants running back Ottis Anderson, who ran for 102 yards and a touchdown ... at 34 years young. Just a few seasons prior, many people thought his career was done. Anderson rushed for a grand total of 451 yards from 1986 to '88, before Parcells resuscitated his career.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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