For the second year in a row, after the gluttony of food, drinks and seven-layer bean dip had long been digested, the football world witnessed the best Super Bowl finish of all time ‘- but not the greatest.’
If by now you don’t know who won the game or don’t have Pittsburgh Steelers paraphernalia dangling off your body, indulge yourself to a day and treat as American as’hellip;the Super Bowl.
For the most part, the first three quarters featured long stretches of football as bland as your party’s store-brand salsa and as difficult to digest as the influx of useless statistics and John Madden commentary thrown to your TV.
But then, the epic fourth quarter showed that, as ex-Cardinals coach Dennis Green would put it, the Steelers were ‘who we thought they were’ while Arizona ‘let’em off the hook,’ losing in the closing moments on a miraculous, tip-toeing, game-winning six-yard touchdown catch by game MVP Santonio Holmes.
Wow. If only the 90 million viewers who witnessed it could have fast-forwarded 45 minutes of choppy execution, dreary play calling, penalty-flag-happy officiating and, of course, Madden.
For a second consecutive Steelers Super Bowl, officiating played a vital role in the final outcome in favor of the champs. Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison should have been immediately ejected for going ‘Rampage’ Jackson and beating on Aaron Francisco during a punt return and Holmes wasn’t flagged after using the ball as a prop during his game-winning touchdown celebration, a 15-yard penalty that would have made LeBron James and Nike proud.
A bevy of other calls could be nit-picked, but we’ll leave that up to the league’s authoritarian commissioner.
Although the game had stretches as if it were a regionally-televised game in October, it certainly capped off a decade of unforgettable Super Bowls ‘- and then some. As the confetti trickled from the sky, the game provided flashes of Vinatieri-like clutch, Tyree luck and the poise of a Manning, all while being book-ended by the lore of Kurt Warner.
In 2000, Warner led the St. Louis Rams to a victory by defeating the Tennessee Titans with a 73-yard bomb in the closing minute. Nine years later, he duplicated the exact heroics, leading his Arizona Cardinals to a historic 16-point fourth quarter comeback. The ending wasn’t the same, though, and Warner saw his efforts all go to waste in his game-ending ‘fumble’ at the Steelers 49-yard line, a play that is still a hot topic across the nation as officials deemed it a turnover without replay.
In the end, it was 26-year-old Ben Roethlisberger who spoiled Warner’s theatrics and punched his second ticket as a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, all while going on a Joe Montana-esque, eight-play, 78-yard drive in the final two minutes.
The Roethlisberger-Holmes tandem picked apart the Cardinals secondary by masterfully leading their team against America’s favorite underdog at the same time that they seemed to blow it minutes before.
As the game kicked off, no one would have had the slightest thought of the fervor-filled finish as Mike Tomlin played it conservative inches away from a touchdown by opting to kick an 18-yard field goal.
The second quarter featured both teams milking the clock with lengthy drives and capping it off with one-yard touchdowns.
At the closing seconds of the first half, Harrison, the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and youngest of 14 children, intercepted Warner at the goal line and rumbled his way to a 100-yard return – the longest play in Super Bowl history – turning a probable four-point deficit into a 17-7 halftime lead.
For those who didn’t watch Bruce Springsteen’s riveting 12-minute halftime performance to the field of Medicare eligible fans, it was a (full head of grey) hair better than last year’s performer, Tom Petty. For those who couldn’t stand watching Bruce or the $206 million in commercial spots, the American-Gladiators-meet-steroids show, ‘Wipeout’ – concurrently airing on ABC – was not entertaining either.
As far as X’s and O’s, Madden had that taken care of as he noted that Cardinals wide receiver Steve Breaston is third on the wide-out depth chart. The color commentator then added that Breaston usually lines up during three-wide-receiver sets.
The third quarter saw an increase on the chip-to-dip ratio as it featured three more points on the Steelers’ tally en route to a 20-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Then the game really began. Warner ran a no-huddle offense 87 yards to a touchdown with 7:41, a tactic that should have been employed much sooner against the No. 1-ranked Steelers’ defense.
Minutes later, a momentum-shifting safety by the Cardinals closed the gap at 20-16. Two plays later, breakout wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald hauled in a 64-yard catch, his second of the game, and broke free to the end zone, ultimately setting up Roethlisberger to ruin the Cinderella postseason-finish for Arizona.
Was it the best sequence in Super Bowl history? Most definitely, but it was only a fourth of the game. There were four other Super Bowls just in this decade which delivered a far better contest with football excitement and drama from start to finish.