What a nice number, considering it’s unprecedented in NFL history.
Life has afforded me about a million times more than I deserve, and last night was another occasion. Shonda, Garrison, Gehrig and his friends, Joey, Arthur and Henry, and Joey’s dad, and I ventured down to Tampa courtesy of some deft work by Katie Leighton and the Rooney family.
I mean really, I was hopefully one of many dads allowed to have a moment like this yesterday…
I’ve known Joanne Rooney almost 10 years. In addition to being married to the family that runs the greatest franchise in sports history, she’s an incredibly kind and philanthropic woman. She’s given immense time and money to ALS over the past decade and has always been a dear friend to our family.
We arrived in Tampa early enough to get to our seats and watch the teams warm up, and the pre-game ceremonies.
To get the important stuff out of the way first there is this: The Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl (2nd in 4 years) when 15 NFL teams have yet to win one. Five teams in the NFL have never even BEEN to the Super Bowl …
(And for you bandwagon screamers out there, my father was born and raised in Somerset, PA, so I was raised a Pirates and Steelers fan. Stopped being a Pirates fan in January 1986, but will die a Steeler fan.)
Also, a tip of the hat to the Cardinals, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, all of them. They played their asses off and gave the NFL and the world a fantastic game. Having been on that side of a world championship I know it doesn’t mean a whole lot, but they did Arizona and the NFL proud last night. He goes 31-for-43 for 377 yards and 3 TD’s vs. that defense is pretty damn unreal. Larry Fitzgerald? On a level all by himself. He’s just unreal.
I was a bit shocked at the Cardinals winning the toss and giving up the ball first. Yes, there is strategy to having the ball at the start of the 2nd half and I am sure they knew what they were doing, but I was thinking that winning the toss they’d have chosen to get Warner onto the field ASAP and get their offense warm early. I thought the Cards would have the ball first no matter who won the toss. Thinking the Steelers would happily give them first crack to get their defense on the field and stop them three and out and create that tidal wave of momentum. They won, and they gave the Steelers first dibs. In hindsight it turned out to be a nice momentum shifter for them when the stopped Big Ben on the 3rd and Goal forcing a FG, when everyone, I think, felt that the drive was so well orchestrated and moved so easliy, they’d have seven in quick fashion.
Cut to the end of the first quarter and three things came to mind:
1. The Steelers flat out DOMINATED the first quarter. It wasn’t even close. That it was only 3-0 was more than a little troublesome to me. Allowing the Cards to hold the ball only three minutes or so and seemingly driving up an down the field at will, the game should have been on its way to a blow out. The Cardinals’ defense came up huge in the red zone. Tip of the cap to instant replay as well. I thought from the shots that Ben clearly was down before crossing the plane.
2. He started 9 of 11, and I think 10 of 12, for nice yardage, but I felt like literally every completion was a very high percentage short dump. When Ben went up top, the two incompletions could have easily been picked off. His stats said great, but I didn’t feel like he was throwing all that well.
3. I wondered for the past two weeks about one, to me anyway, very important storyline. These are pro athletes. Not only that, but NFL football players. For two weeks the Cardinals had to listen to “The Steelers are going to kick their ass”, “The Steelers are far too tough”, “The Steelers are going to pound them into the ground” and I wondered how that would play out. I was worried it would amp up and energize Arizona. It appeared to me to actually hurt Arizona a TON. I thought they tried so hard to be ‘tough’ and ‘bad ass’ that they lost focus and discipline, trying to prove how tough they were, and that resulted in MASSIVELY game-changing penalties for them. Roughing penalties, fighting, all things I would imagine you’d bust your butt to NOT have that happen in a game of this magnitude.
The second quarter saw some very good football and when Fitz caught the pass over the middle and busted in for the TD, capping an 83-yard, seemingly very easy drive, I started to realize my first half concerns. First off the thought that maybe this guy couldn’t be stopped. But more importantly if Warner found a groove it could be a tougher game than imagined. He did find a groove too, but alls well that ends well.
The last 18 seconds will go down as arguably one of the biggest plays, and turnarounds, in NFL history. I was sure the BEST we could get out of this was a 10-10 tie and that made me queasy. If the Steelers could play this well, and NOT be up big, much less tied or down, they could lose this game. The sin of all sins gets committed though, and Warner throws a pick DEEP in the red zone. I think like every other Steeler fan I was ecstatic, but 18 seconds later I was euphoric.
So in what can only be described as the worst, absolute worst, possible result thinkable by Arizona, it happens. The game goes from potentially 14-10 up, or 10-10 tie, to down 17-7 at half. The play itself was mind numbing. How on earth Harrison doesn’t get A) tackled or B) pushed out of bounds, for 100 yards is beyond me. I know it’s not easy to tackle someone of that girth, but damn.
The halftime show featured the Boss and he was very good. Always great to hear talent sound the same in real life, even after what seems like 70 some years of performing.
The 3rd quarter started nicely for the Cards, James nets 19 on 3 carries but a crucial 3rd down fumble turned no fumble gets them to pin Pittsburgh at the 18. Ben then runs another clock sucking drive, 79 yards to the Cardinal 3 and they come up huge again. The three huge plays on this drive were all Arizona created though. A facemask, roughing the passer and what I thought would be a game ending unecessary roughness call on a 4th down FG attempt gave the Steelmen the ball, 1st and goal at the 4. They stop the Steelers on 3 straight to give them a FG, on what should have been, to me, a sure fire TD.
Both teams trade drives for no scores into the 4th quarter. When Warner hit Fitzgerald with 7:41 to go I turned to Gates and said, “Remember when I said the one thing I didn’t want was for the Cardinals to hang around and be within a score of the lead in the last half of the 4th quarter?”.
He smiles, I don’t. I was dreading this. Against some teams sure, I would be more than happy at this situation, but when you’re facing a Warner, with a Boldin and Fitzgerald duo to throw to, I can think of a bunch of reasons to be worried.
I didn’t see any issues though, as long as the Steelers could muster at least a FG. A two possession game with that little time left was a lock in my mind. Obviously that couldn’t happen, that would have been too easy.
Three and out and Warner has the ball again. A dumb-ass penalty on Taylor gives the Cards the ball in Pittsburgh territory and now I’m sweating. On 2nd down Breston nets 23 yards and now it’s going to be ugly. On first down though, a HUGE holding call puts Az out of Rackers range and in my mind forces the Cards to approach the series much differently, going from 1st and 2nd and 10, to 1st, 2nd and 3rd and 20. Three straight incompletes and the Cards punt. Special teams is like baseball bullpens. You cannot win without a good one and good ones come up big at big times, which they did. They pin the Steelers on what looks like the 1/2 inch line.
I’m thinking, damn, a safety right here would suck beyond words …
An incomplete pass on, if I remember right, what was a very catchable ball by Ward, and a stuffed run put it at 3rd and 10. Ben hits Holmes on as incredibly beautiful a timing route as I’ve ever seen, and ridiculously clutch I might add, and I am going ape! I see a flag? Oh crap. Please don’t be against Pittsburgh. Holding, safety, oh damn …
Short of a pick returned for a TD right there, which might have even been better since they’d have the ball, they get penalized on the one-yard of field you can’t get penalized no, suck up a safety AND have to punt.
Hmm, OK, no problem. Now is the time for the most famous defense in history to step up, in the biggest game right? Sure? Maybe?
Five seconds after the ball leaves Berger’s foot on the free kick, Warner hits that damn Fitzgerald guy over the middle, short left, and he goes from first to sixth gear in two steps …
Sixty-four yards later my Steelers are now LOSING Super Bowl XLIII, and there’s only 2:37 of clock left. OK, they might lose? Huh? How in the hell did we get here?
Big Ben has got to drive this team 78, no wait … let’s throw in a first down holding penalty … now 88 yards in 2:24. I am a fan, I love Ben and have had the pleasure of meeting him. Fantastic kid and very nice guy to boot. Ben is not by any stretch of imagination a ‘pure passer’, never has been. That worries me because the next two minutes or so are going to be scripted completely through the air.
Color me stupid, disloyal, faithless, whatever you want, because over the next one minute and 42 seconds he does his best Montana, Elway, Brady, all in one. Hitting Holmes four times and Washington once, the Steelers and the nation of Terrible Towels find themselves on the Cards six yard line after what was likely the second biggest play of the game when Santonio rambled 40 yards on a short flat pass to the right!! Could this really be happening?????
On 1st and 6 he puts the ball in the back left corner in what appears to be a badly thrown ball from where I sit. Replays actually show he did lead a little much but the ball goes through Holmes’ hands. I am guessing too long is far safer than too short there?
On 2nd and 6 they pretty much do the same thing, opposite side, and doing his best Moss impression Holmes makes a couple million Steeler fans leap for joy with a fantastic grab and even better ‘stay in’ by keeping what had to be the bottom 1/1000 of his toes inside the lines. TD!!!
Did I just actually see what I think I just saw? As clutch a drive in as clutch a situation as he’ll ever be in, no matter how long he plays the game, and the guy was pretty much perfect.
Extra-point is good and the Cards get the ball on their 23 with 29 seconds to go. Short of some miracle it’s over. Sure enough, 33 yards later and Warner is sitting at the Steeler 44. WAAAAAAAY too close to the end zone for a team with Larry Fitzgerald waiting to leap 60 inches in the air and swipe destiny from my Steelers.
BUT … it is not to be. Lamarr Woodley gets his third tackle of the game, jarring the ball loose and recovering the ensuing fumble. He instantly becomes my favorite person born in Saginaw, Michgan, as well as Wolverine alumni!
What a fantastic game and a fantastic event. The NFL should be proud, they did a heck of a job. I thought the MVP could have gone to a few different guys but it’s nice to see a kid we’ve had high hopes for breakout and become a star in the biggest game of his life. Ben could have easily won the MVP in my mind as well, 21 of 30 for 256 with a TD and a pick (a ‘goof’ pick too, tipped ball that could have landed in anyones hands) and he engineered a drive that will go down in Super Bowl history.
Harrison had just 3 tackles and an assist, and winning the MVP on a single play is hard to justify, but if there was ever going to be someone that did, this was it. That play will be shown alongside Franco Harris’ immaculate reception for the rest of eternity.
But Holmes, with 9 catches for 131 yards and the Super Bowl winning TD is a great choice. 4 catches for 77 yards on the final 88 yard drive were something to behold. The 40 yarder to get to the Cardinal 6 was the game.
It’s all over, the Steelers take home ring No. 6. Congratulations to the Rooney family, who’ve always taken care of their team and the fans with an unbridled passion for Steeler football. Staying ‘Old School’ all these years (what other team REFUSES to have cheerleaders? That’s old school!!) and staying true to the Steeler way set forth by Coach Noll and his roster of HOF players in the 70’s.
Here’s a few pics from the game: