Decked Cards: Emotional swing in final quarter leaves mark on 'Zona
All three Super Bowls Kurt Warner has played in were nail-biters
Larry Fitzgerald: 'It's like getting a chair pulled out from under you'
Warner says he'll take some time off before deciding about 2009
TAMPA -- Kurt Warner has been here before. He has been on the losing side and on the winning end of a Super Bowl decided in the final seconds.
After he connected with Larry Fitzgerald for a 64-yard touchdown pass to give the Cardinals a 23-20 lead with 2:37 remaining in Super Bowl XLIII, Warner looked at the scoreboard when he got back to the sideline and cringed, even while many of his younger teammates were still relishing the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. There was a feeling of helplessness as he took off his helmet and grabbed a drink.
He had felt that helpless feeling before -- once, just before Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson was stopped one-yard short of the goal line as time expired in Super Bowl XXXIV; and again when Tom Brady led the Patriots on a last-second drive to win Super Bowl XXXVI.
Both times he paced the sidelines, just as he did Sunday night at Raymond James Stadium as he watched Ben Roethlisberger engineer an eight-play, 78-yard drive culminating in a spectacular touchdown catch by Santonio Holmes to give the Steelers a 27-23 lead with 35 seconds left.
"I knew it wasn't over and we had to make some plays if we wanted to win," said Warner, who completed 31-of-41 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns. "There was some excitement on the sideline and people coming up to talk to me and I told them to hold on. Just give me another two and half minutes and then we'll talk."
After the game, as Warner sat in a deserted Cardinals locker room surrounded by duffle bags of equipment, he was still trying to grasp what had just happened. "We were less than a minute away from being world champions," he said. "You keep running through your mind everything that happened. If I had done this or we had done that maybe things would be different."
No one ever gets used to losing a game of such magnitude in that fashion. There's no practice for dealing with it no matter how many times it happens.
If a game is to be considered great, or possibly the greatest ever as some might call Super Bowl XLIII, there can be no middle ground when it comes to the emotions of both teams. There are no Gatorade showers or championship hats being distributed before the end of a truly great game. The result and emotions both teams will feel for the rest of their lives hangs in the balance until the final second ticks off and the finality of it all hits.
"It's like getting a chair pulled out from under you," said Fitzgerald, who had the most productive postseason in NFL history with 30 catches for 546 yards and seven touchdowns, all records. "It just hurts to be able to get so close and fall short of your ultimate goal. It just hurts so bad to be close to being a champion and have it snatched away from you."
No one had more of a roller coaster game than Fitzgerald, who was held without a catch until the final seconds of the first half. He had one catch for 12 yards through three quarters before finishing with seven catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns. It appeared as if he had scored the game-winning touchdown on his 64-yard catch-and-run from Warner, which would have capped one of the most improbable seasons with one of the most unexpected comebacks. In the end, none of his accomplishments seemed to matter.
"I just feel empty to be honest with you, kind of like it was all for nothing," said Fitzgerald, who was consoled outside the Cardinals locker room by Rev. Jesse Jackson with the two exchanging numbers and planning to talk later. "I was confident we were going to be world champions."
After the game, all that separated the Steelers from the Cardinals was a thin blue curtain in the corridors of Raymond James Stadium. On one side were business suits and boxes of pizza; on the other championship hats and boxes of cigars. While the Cardinals' locker room was completely empty less than an hour after the game, the Steelers' locker room was still crowded with defensive players such as James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley and Larry Foote walking around in white robes and smoking cigars. "Get yourself a smoking jacket and champion's cigar," said Farrior. "If you're a champion and you're smoking it, it's a champion's cigar.'
Warner had experienced both emotions during his career and wasn't sure if he would ever again feel the way the Steelers were feeling mere feet away from him.
"I don't know if I'm going to play next year," said Warner, who is only the second quarterback to lead two franchises to the Super Bowl. "I'm going to take some time away from the game. There are things that make you want to come back and there are things that make me say I can't wait to get away, but I don't know. I don't want to make any emotional decisions right now."
As he left the stadium, Warner was still replaying the game in his mind, thinking of every play he could have made differently to have changed the outcome, from the interception returned for a Super Bowl record 100-yard touchdown by James Harrison to the game-ending fumble as he attempted a game-winning Hail Mary. "It's tough to lose your last game, especially when you have a chance to win," Warner said. "Everything rides on the downs of this game. You always think you could have done something more. We were two minutes away from being world champions and it hurts to lose, it always will, but that's football. It's been a tremendous run. We'll see what happens next."