Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February 1, 2009: Harrison for 100

TAMPA, Fla. - The game could have been remembered for Arizona's incredible comeback, the way the Cardinals scored 16 points in five minutes late in the fourth quarter against the powerful Steelers defense.

The game might have been remembered for the final score of that flurry, a deep post pattern where Larry Fitzgerald caught the short pass in stride, split two defenders, then raced 64 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. The game might have been remembered simply because the Arizona Cardinals, the laughingstocks of the NFL, were leading the Super Bowl with 2:27 left in the game.

Super Bowl XLIII should have been remembered for the ensuing drive, where Ben Roethlisberger took over, got the Steelers as far as midfield with a minute to play, then hit Santonio Holmes with a pass down to the 4-yard line. Then certainly, the game absolutely should have been remembered for what happened next, maybe the greatest pass in Super Bowl history, as Roesthlisberger rolled right, saw Holmes in the back corner of the end zone, and threw a pass that only Holmes could catch, and catch it he did, all fingertips and toes, somehow holding on to the ball and somehow staying in bounds.

That is really what should be the lasting memory of the game: Holmes' incredible, jaw-dropping, game-winning catch in the corner of the end zone, the kind of catch that every young receiver dreams of making but so few professional receivers even have the ability to make. It gave the Steelers a 27-23 lead, a lead they held for the final 35 seconds.

But what people remember most about that game is the final play of the first half, where the longest play in Super Bowl history became the mother of all momentum swings.

Kurt Warner had led the Cardinals down to the 4-yard line with :18 seconds left in the half. As he walked to the line and surveyed the defense, he recognized instantly the defense the Steelers were playing: when linebacker James Harrison rushed off the right end, he would leave a hole in the defense, which would then be filled by Anquan Boldin running a slant. Touchdown. 14-10 Cardinals at the half.

Except Harrison didn't rush. He took two steps in, then dropped back right into the passing lane. Did he do this because he wasn't sure on what play was called? Or did he see something in what the Cardinals were doing to put himself in that position? Whatever the reason, Warner didn't see him there, didn't expect him to be there, and he fired a pass directly into Harrison's chest. And then Harrison took off.

And as Harrison ran down the sidelines with a convoy of defenders-turned-blockers in front of him, it started to look like the Steelers would end this in position to try a Hail Mary pass at the end of the half. And as he broke a couple tackles on the sideline, it looked like they'd actually be able to try a kick. And then Harrison made that cut to the inside, looking more like a running back than a linebacker, and the impossible seemed plausible: was he really going to take it to the house? After running 98 yards, Harrison was finally caught by Fitzgerald, who had run 110 and been knocked down along the way, but as Fitzgerald made the tackle, Harrison's momentum took him into the end zone for the most shocking touchdown in Super Bowl history.

The game should have been over at that point. A certain 14-10 Cardinals lead at halftime turned into a 17-7 lead for Pittsburgh in the time it took Harrison to rumble 100 yards. The Steelers added a field goal in the third to make it 20-7, and against that defense, it wouldn't have been out of the question for the Cardinals to lose hope. So give them credit for fighting back, for making the fourth quarter one of the most exciting in the history of the game.

But everything that happened in the fourth quarter pales in comparision to the vision of Pittsburgh's linebacker rumbling down the sideline, somehow avoiding stepping out of bounds or getting tackled, and running into the NFL record books.

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