Looking back on the epic Super Bowl between Pittsburgh and Arizona.
It’s time to fire up the time circuits once again to venture back in time to when t Kelly Clarkson’s “My Life Would Suck Without You” was number one on the radio, Taken was the top movie after knocking out Paul Blart Mall Cop from the top and Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir is elected as the first female Prime Minister of Iceland, becoming the first openly gay Head of Government in the modern world. Meanwhile, the Steelers were in the Super Bowl for the seventh time looking for a record sixth victory. Their opponent was led by former assistant coaches Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm and a future assistant in Todd Haley. It was the Steelers and Cardinals in Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII.
Arizona won the coin toss, but chose to defer until the second half. So Gary Russell, an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota was back to receive the kick from Neil Rackers, who made the tackle on the Steelers’ return man at the 28-yard line. A lot of the worry surrounding the Steelers’ offense during the build-up to Super Bowl XLIII was due to the health of Hines Ward’s knee. Ward spent time in a hyperbaric chamber and it really wasn’t known how the Super Bowl XL MVP would be used. Many thought as a decoy, but Ward hauled-in a 38-yard pass from a boot-legging Ben Roethlisberger on the team’s second play from scrimmage to set the Steelers up with a first down in Cardinals territory at the 31. Behind the rushing of Willie Parker for ten yards and a catch by Heath Miller for 21, the Steelers were on the door step at the Arizona 1. However, Gary Russell was stuffed for a four-yard loss on first down. After Fast Willie got the Steelers back to the one, No. 7 boot-legged it again on third down and appeared to have gotten in for the score, But Whisenhunt threw the challenge flag and Ben’s knee was deemed down. So, with the touchdown overturned, Jeff Reed’s chip shot made the score 3-0 with 9:45 left in the first.
Arizona started their first series of the game and their last-ranked running attack could not get things going. After only a passing first down to Steve Breaston, the Cardinals endured a holding penalty and a couple of incompletions that forced them to punt.
On the very first play of their second series, Santonio Holmes got into the action taking a short pass from Ben for 25 yards down the left sideline. Ben went for it all on the next play and had Nate Washington all alone in the end zone, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie recovered in just enough time to knock the pass away. But the Steelers got back to it on third and ten after Ben scrambling and spinning all over the field before finding Heath Miller for 11 yards to move the chains. After passes to Holmes, Ward and Miller and great runs by Willie Parker got the Steelers into a second and goal situation, the quarter ended. On the second play of the second quarter from the one, the Steelers went back to Gary Russell. Russell went between Willie Colon and Darnell Stapleton for a one-yard plunge. With 14:01 left in the half, the Steelers led 10-0 after Reed’s true conversion.
Kurt Warner came out again desperate to get his team started from their own 17. With 3 1,000-yard receivers at his disposal, Warner went to running back Edgerrin James on three-straight completions. After getting into Steelers territory with two passes to the Western PA native Breaston, Warner finally hooked up with Anquan Boldin on a 45-yard pass pass play to get down to the Steelers 1. From there, despite getting tangled up with his center’s foot, Warner lofted a pass to tight end Ben Patrick for the touchdown over Larry Foote. With 5:27 left before halftime, Todd Haley’s Cardinals offense was on the board and only down 10-7.
The Steelers came back out, but didn’t answer the score despite a completion to Carey Davis and a first down by Willie Parker. A hold by Chris Kemoeatu held them back and Mitch Berger came in to punt. Breaston fielded the 43-yard punt and returned it 34 yards to set the Cardinals up in great field position at the Steelers 43. But a penalty on James for a chop block and a LaMarr Woodley sack of Warner brought out the punt team for the Arizona Cards. With 2:46 left before Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band would take the stage, the Steelers had a great opportunity to put some points on the board. After a Mewelde Moore run of six yards, Ben threw the ball over the middle to Santonio Holmes, but the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage by Bryan Robinson and Karlos Dansby stepped in front of Tone at the 33 and picked off the ball. Roethlsberger had nine balls tipped at the line in 2008 and this one could have been costly.
The Cards came out after the two-minute warning at the Pittsburgh 34. After Tim Hightower moved the chains with a third down catch, Larry Fitzgerald finally made his first catch of the Super Bowl, after getting open in the flat, to take the ball down to the 12 with less than a minute to play. Two straight completions to Boldin got the Cardinals to the Steelers 1 and, with :18 seconds left before the half, they had a chance to take a lead and get the ball back with momentum in the third quarter, but there’s always those seminal moments in big games that flip the script. The Steelers showed blitz and Woodley and Lawrence Timmons went on the attack. But James Harrison, noticing that he had been a step off in getting to Warner exercised the freedom given to him by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, faked the blitz and then dropped back into coverage instead. Had he not, Boldin would have easily had a touchdown reception and the redbirds, most likely, a four-point lead. But Deebo put himself in perfect position to intercept the football at the goal line. From there, the race was on. Teammate Deshea Townsend, a much speedier player, tried to wrestle the ball from him, but James slapped him away and told him to go block. Harrison got plenty of blocks as he ran down the field in full touchdown mode, knowing that he needed to score or time would have expired. The last ten yards, Harrison had to jump over a would-be tackler and overcome a Fitzgerald attempt of a strip and a Breaston tackle as he fell into the end zone. The play had to be reviewed, but since Harrison landed on Larry’s leg, the score was good. Harrison would lay exhausted and receive much-deserved oxygen after the longest-play in Super Bowl history. It was surely one of the greatest. The blocking was the result of great coaching by Mike Tomlin. Coach T found his team a little lax on urgency to score after a turnover and over emphasized it in practice two days before the big game.
After the break, Ken Whisenhunt’s team would come back out looking to erase the ten-point deficit and it looked like they could with two quick first downs courtesy of James on the ground and Boldin through the air, but the Steelers defense clamped down. On third down and six, James Farrior burst through for what looked like a strip sack of Warner and a recovery by Harrison at midfield. Arizona would get lucky as they threw out the challenge flag again and a punt was the worst damage done after the reversal.
The Steelers would get the ball back on their own 18 and embark on a drive that would gash 8:34 of precious time off of the clock. Roethlisberger would complete passes to Matt Spaeth, Ward and Holmes during the series, Parker would rip off chunks of yardage and the Cards would chip in with 35 yards in penalties. The Steelers got down to the three, but couldn’t get in. They settled for another short field goal by Reed and a 20-7 lead with 2:16 to go in Quarter No. 3.
The two teams would exchange punts on each of their next series. Now in the final quarter of play, the team wearing home red would start to make it interesting. Starting out at his own 13, Warner would forego the huddle and the running game and go solely to the air. No. 13 completed passes to Jehreme Urban, J.J. Arrington, Hightower and Breaston. But this was the drive that his connection with Fitzgerald was crystal clear. Fitzgerald caught four balls for 31 yards, with the last being for a score from 1 yard out, despite great coverage by Ike Taylor. With 7:41 left in the game, the Cardinals were only down by six by the score of 20-14.
The Steelers would get the ball back and an opportunity to put the game on ice, but Darnell Dockett would sack Roethlisberger on second down to force a third and 16. It was No. 90’s third sack of the ball game. After a pass to Miller that got ten yards back, Berger came on to punt again. and it looked like the Cardinals would take immediate advantage. Warner would complete an 11-yard throw to Breaston, a 23-yard toss to Boldin and Ike would get nailed for 15 on an unnecessary roughness call for a blow to Breaston. The Cards were at midfield, but three straight incompletions and near interceptions by Troy Polamalu and Tyrone Carter forced a punt and the Steelers had an opportunity to run out the clock and secure their sixth Lombardi with 3:34 to go until confetti. However, Ben Graham’s punt was downed by Michael Adams at the one. To make matters worse, the Steelers were backed-up with a half-the-distance penalty after James Harrison threw some punches at Aaron Francisco. It was flagrant enough that John Madden was calling for his ejection from the booth.
With the Steelers in a dangerous spot, Roethlisberger threw incomplete to Ward on first down. On second down, disaster nearly struck when Willie Parker took a handoff and barely got out of the end zone for what was nearly a safety. But said-disaster would strike in an unconventional way a play later when Roethlisberger’s 21-yard completion to Santonio Holmes was nullified when center Justin Hartwig was flagged for holding in the end zone. Hartwig tackled and took down Chike Okeafor. The Cardinals were awarded the safety, two points and the ball on a free kick. With 3:04 left, the Cardinals were only down four by the score of 20-14.
Starting off at their own 36, Warner threw incomplete to Boldin when Deshea Townsend hit No. 81 to jar it loose. On the next play, Warner completed a perfect ten-yard pass over the middle to Fitzgerald. Larry found a seam between James Harrison and Ike Taylor and was off to the races with Polamalu and Ryan Clark in pursuit. With 2:37 to play, the Cardinals led 23-20 in what was shaping up to be the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.
But if there was magic in Ben Roethlisberger’s arm that day, it had to come out next. From their own 22, the Steelers were hit with a penalty of ten yards when Chris Kemoeatu was nailed for holding and the Steelers now needed to go 88 yards for the win. Ben came back out throwing with a dart to Santonio to get to the 26. He then went deep to Washington, but Francisco knocked it away. After the two-minute warning, a 13-yarder to Holmes moved the chains on third down. An 11-yarder to Nate and a 4-yard run by Ben got the Steelers to the Arizona 46 and the Steelers called their second timeout with 1:02 remaining. OC Bruce Arians and the Steelers must have worked something special up during the timeout, because when they came back, Ben hit Tone for a pass play of 40 yards down to the six. The place was going crazy and the Steelers called their last timeout. They were in field goal range, but they weren’t looking for the tie. They wanted to end it. With 49 seconds left, Ben went for the kill shot in the left corner of the end zone, but it went right through Santonio’s mitts. With 42 seconds to go, it happened. Ben went back to No. 10, this time in the corner of the right area of the end zone in front of three red-clad defenders. Holmes made a remarkable grab and got both feet in with control for the score. Of course, the play was reviewed but the Steelers were 35 seconds away from victory with a 27-23 lead after Jeff Reed kicked the point-after. The crowd was going bonkers and the Terrible Towels were flying high.
But the Cardinals proved in this game that they could score quick, so no one was resting easy. Warner came out at his own 23 and threw a twenty-yard strike to Fitzgerald and a 13-yard pass to Arrington. After spending their last timeout, Warner lined his team up with 15 ticks left on the clock at the Steelers 43. But the Steelers defense ended it there when LaMarr got another sack of Warner. The ball popped loose and Brett Keisel fell on the ball to seal the victory. As confetti rained down, Steeler Nation rejoiced one of the most exciting victories in the history of the NFL.