TAMPA – Got it. Held it. Count it. This Super Bowl was always going to come down to a pass and catch. You sensed that going in. But until the final minute, that story was being inked as Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald, the amazing duo from the desert who had electrified the NFL playoffs and turned the two of them into household names. Their tandem had been quiet most of the night, but they exploded in the fourth quarter with a fade touchdown to pull within six points, and an over the middle 64-yard dagger that put the Cardinals up for the first time with less than three minutes to go.
Arizona celebrated. Steelers fans were stunned. Warner-to-Fitzgerald would have made prophets out of most of the media, who seemed to major in the subject all last week.
But that’s why they play these things for 60 minutes. And suddenly Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers quarterback last seen scowling in the end zone as his center drew a safety, came out firing. And he had one guy in his sights.
Santonio Holmes, who grew up chasing rabbits not all that far from here in the tiny town of Belle Glade, Fla.
Until that moment, with 2:37 left in Super Bowl XLIII, Holmes, as far as star power was concerned, might as well have been named Sherlock. The Arizona receivers had gotten all the attention last week. Pittsburgh was supposed to be about defense. But Holmes caught the first-down pass for 14 yards to get things started, and he caught a leaping third-down pass for 13 yards to keep the drive alive, and he caught a 40-yard pass to take it to the Arizona 6 and then – well, and then, the coup de grace.
With 42 seconds left Sunday night, he went to the right corner of the end zone and stretched for a pass with three Cardinals nearby. He was inches from being out of bounds and millimeters from not having both feet down, but he avoided both, held onto the ball, and as he crashed to the ground, the scoreboard had a new leader, the media had a new story, and the Super Bowl had a new MVP.
“All I did,” Holmes said after the 27-23 victory, “was extend my arms and use my toes.”
And all Superman does is hold his hands out and fly.
Got it. Held it. Count it. A pair of comebacks
“This has been our story all year hasn’t it, men?” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin yelled to his players on the victory podium. “Steeler football is 60 minutes. It’s never gonna be pretty. But throw style points out the window!”
Actually, don’t throw them out, Mike. Just save them for the closing scenes. Pittsburgh had, for much of the game, just enough of a lead to sit on. James Harrison’s 100-yard interception on the last play of the half turned an almost certain Arizona lead to a 10-point deficit. But it also bogged the game into a straight-arm contest. Pittsburgh only added a field goal in the third quarter. Arizona was blanked.
But then came the fourth quarter.
And then. Well. What we saw may well rank as the best fourth quarter in Super Bowl history – and yes, I’m including last year’s shocker. How else do you describe two touchdowns and a safety by the Cardinals – which would have ranked as the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history – and then Pittsburgh somehow shaking it off and marching 78 yards to grab the win?
“I said I wanted to be the guy to make the plays for this team,” Holmes said on the podium. “Great players play great.”
Put him in that category. Holmes, 24, finished the night with nine catches and 131 yards. He’s a kid who grew up dirt poor right here in Florida, went to Ohio State, and has been maturing every day, according to his coach. Last week, Holmes admitted to the media that for a stretch, as a kid, he sold drugs to get money. He revealed that to set an example to others.
He set a pretty good example in that end zone. In a game that already had given us one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history, Holmes’ body stretch in the final minute goes right up there with David Tyree’s catch last year for the Giants.
And that’s pretty high.
Got it. Held it. Count it. Give credit to the Cards
How impressive was what Pittsburgh did with this victory?
Well, consider the Steelers now have six Super Bowl titles, more than any other franchise. Consider that their coach, Tomlin, is, at 36, the youngest to ever win a Super Bowl.
Consider that Roethlisberger now has two Super Bowl rings before his 27th birthday. Consider that the Steelers captured this victory with a very un-Steelers like 58 yards rushing.
Now consider that for all that, for all the numbers and the accolades, you could make a case that Arizona deserved this game as much as Pittsburgh.
Think of the things the Cardinals endured to come back to have a lead in the final minute.
They endured Harrison’s 100-yard interception return. They endured 11 penalties – many of them crippling. They endured the top-ranked defense in the NFL.
And they put 23 points up and nearly stole this thing with that amazing Warner-to-Fitzgerald final touchdown.
“I never thought we had it won,” Warner told NBC afterward. “I’ve been in this situation before. Obviously, to fight back and put ourselves in that position, that felt great. But they deserve a lot of credit.”
Fitzgerald – the receiver who would have been the story – was more emotional.
“Being so close,” he said. “It hurts.”
But close is what Super Bowls are suddenly all about. After a rash of blowouts, it seems like they’re getting better and better. The catches are getting more dramatic. The last-second heroics getting even more last second. There is no sense in writing the story early any more in the Super Bowl. No sense at all. Just ask Holmes. It’s elementary.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). www.freep.com/mitch.