The Pittsburgh Steelers’ rich tradition always began with physical, intimidating defence.
Last night, not so much.
En route to capturing their record sixth NFL title, the Steelers’ defence broke down conspicuously in what will irrefutably rank as the most memorable, most unlikely and most spectacular fourth quarter in the Super Bowl’s 43-year history.
Ultimately, it was the Steelers’ offence that was needed to win this championship, as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger engineered a 78-yard, eight-play touchdown drive for a 27-23 come-from-behind triumph over the heartbroken Arizona Cardinals.
The game-winning TD was a doozy – a six-yard bullet, with only 35 seconds remaining, from Roethlisberger to receiver Santonio Holmes, who neatly kept both his feet in the end zone before being belted to the ground out of bounds. Holmes also was chosen the game’s most-valuable player.
“I told the guys (in the huddle) that it was now or never,” Roethlisberger said. “I said, ‘All the film study didn’t matter unless you do it now,' and we did. I was really proud of (his offensive teammates) the way we went down and scored.”
Realistically, however, it should never have come down to that.
The Steelers were ahead 20-7 after three quarters, primarily because its No. 1-ranked defence was its usual brilliant self. Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison, chosen the NFL’s premier defensive player during the regular season, even intercepted a pass on his team’s goalline on the final play of the first half and romped 100 yards for the longest touchdown in Super Bowl history. That gave the Steelers a 17-7 advantage.
But in the fourth quarter, veteran Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner started to dissect the Pittsburgh defence like a surgeon, eventually finding Larry Fitzgerald for a 64-yard touchdown pass. With 2:37 left, the Cardinals – 60-to-1 championship longshots when the NFL season began – suddenly took their first lead.
“What I thought at the time (of Fitzgerald’s long TD) was that there was still too much time left,” Cards coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “The Steelers were able to make the plays. That’s what good teams do.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin concurred.
“Steelers football is always 60 minutes long,” Tomlin said. “It’s never going to be pretty. Throw style points out the window when it comes to us. But we fight to the end, and we win.”
“Our team did a marvelous job,” club owner Dan Rooney said. “We had the toughest schedule in the league and we prevailed. . . .I’d like to thank President (Barack) Obama and the Steeler Nation for supporting us.”
Obama said before the game that he was rooting for the Steelers even though he had a soft spot for Warner because of his age. Warner is 37. He also is at the end of his contract and, after completing 31 of 43 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns last night, is contemplating retirement.
“I’ll see,” he said. “I have some time to think about it. Right now, though, I’m just thinking about how close we came to winning this. And, obviously, I’m disappointed.”
Marty York is Metro's national sports columnist as well as an instructor at the College of Sports Media in Toronto. He can be heard regularly on Vancouver radio station CKNW with Sportstalk host Dan Russell. Contact Marty at firstname.lastname@example.org