Amazing game overshadows all the distractions
TAMPA, Fla. Buried beneath all the yellow officiating flags, the canceled parties, the lack of big-game buzz and Bruce Springsteen selling out to perform at halftime, a Super Bowl worthy of first-ballot induction into the Hall of Fame emerged.
Super Bowl XLIII, dissed by critics and savaged by the economy, won our hearts the old-fashioned way—spectacular play after spectacular play after spectacular play.
Pittsburgh’s 27-23 victory over the relentless Arizona Cardinals is as good as anything we’ve seen on this particular stage, topping last year’s Giants’ victory that came courtesy of David Tyree’s circus catch.
Super Bowl XLIII produced three high-impact plays that were the equal or near-equal of Tyree’s helmet grab:
Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison decided the game on the final play of the first half, racing 100 yards with a Kurt Warner interception, giving the Steelers a seemingly insurmountable two-score lead. Harrison’s jaunt defies description. It was simply the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history.
Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald decided the game in the fourth quarter, dashing 64 yards down the middle of the field with a Kurt Warner pass, staking the Cardinals to their first lead with 2 minutes, 37 seconds to play. Bottled in double-coverage most of the game, Fitzgerald got loose in the slot when the Steelers inexcusably had their too-deep safeties jump the outside receivers.
And finally, Pittsburgh receiver Santonio Holmes really did decide the game, hauling in Ben Roethlisberger’s 6-yard pass in the back end zone and miraculously tapping two feet down before falling out of bounds with 35 seconds on the clock. Holmes caught four passes for 73 yards on Pittsburgh’s eight-play, 78-yard game-winning drive.
Harrison, Fitzgerald, Holmes, Warner and Roethlisberger overshadowed an officiating crew that seemed determined to determine/ruin the outcome of Super Bowl XLIII.
The refs flagged Arizona for 11 penalties. Many of the flags were obviously justified. Cardinals left tackle Mike Gandy was overmatched trying to slow Harrison, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. The refs caught Gandy lassoing Harrison three times. Some of the other penalties were highly suspicious and lacked common sense.
Pittsburgh went up 20-7 in the third quarter thanks to a 16-play, 79-yard, field-goal drive that was significantly helped by a face-mask penalty, a roughing-the-passer flag and an unnecessary-roughness call.
The drive burned 8:39 off the clock and surely had Seahawks fans shouting, “I told you so.” The Seahawks were the last victims of the friendly officiating the Steelers seem to enjoy in the Super Bowl.
Perhaps Roger Goodell got word to referee Terry McAulay in the fourth quarter, because in the final 15 minutes, officials found the Steelers breaking the rules six times (the Cards declined one of the six). Before the fourth, Pittsburgh had been busted just twice.
Yeah, Harrison, Fitzgerald, Holmes, Warner and Roethlisberger bailed out Goodell and the officials from a national controversy. No one cares that this was the worst-officiated, sloppiest Super Bowl in league history.
No one cares anymore that Playboy and Sports Illustrated shuttered their annual parties and that everyone else downsized theirs. No one cares that scalpers took a bath, and the smart ones dumped their tickets by Friday and headed home. No one cares that the Cardinals were 9-7 in the regular season, blown out multiple times throughout the season and probably didn’t belong in the Super Bowl.
Styles make fights. And Warner and Fitzgerald vs. Harrison and Troy Polamalu created a thrilling chess match for three quarters and a breathtaking relay race in the final quarter. Roethlisberger and Holmes vs. the Arizona defense was an all-night, ugly slugfest with Roethlisberger and Holmes landing the knockout punch.
Warner threw for 377 yards, three touchdowns and, in my opinion, stamped his ticket to Canton and the Hall of Fame.
Fitzgerald caught seven passes for 127 yards, two TDs and completed the most impressive offensive playoff run we’ve ever seen, going for more than 100 receiving yards in four straight games.
Holmes snagged nine passes for 131 yards, a TD and took home the MVP trophy.
Big Ben threw for 256, a TD and led the biggest drive of his career, adding to his legend.
Harrison’s Super Bowl performance, combined with his seasonlong dominance, reminds me of Ray Lewis’ 2000 season and Super Bowl XXXV effort, which also came at Raymond James Stadium.
For a night at least, America’s horrendous economy felt like a blessing. The game—not the hype, the commercials, the parties or the celebrities—was our salvation. And, boy, did it deliver.
Jason Whitlock is a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star.