Snap Judgments (cont.)
With apologies to Eli Manning, who performed that Houdini escape on the Tyree catch in last year's Super Bowl, absolutely no one keeps a play alive like Roethlisberger.
He's at his best when things are falling to pieces all around him, like he showed on that first-quarter, 11-yard minor miracle of a completion to tight end Heath Miller. I'll bet Big Ben was great at recess in school, because when he's out of the pocket, he turns into the consummate playground artist.
It figures that the Wildcat formation -- which was far and away the novelty formation of the 2008 season in the NFL -- had to make a Super Bowl appearance this year. And an early one at that. Steelers running back Willie Parker went all Ronnie Brown on us late in the first quarter, taking the direct snap and running around for several seconds before ultimately accepting a no gain carry on first down from the Cardinals 33.
Maybe everyone's just on to it by now.
Nobody's asked me, but I say the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters had a very good year for themselves. Bills owner Ralph Wilson has been a richly deserving, but overlooked, Hall candidate for maybe a couple decades now. The Bills essentially put the city of Buffalo on the map, and Wilson put the Bills in Buffalo, and he's left them there for the past 49 years, even when many have questioned whether the area's big enough to support an NFL franchise any more.
Wilson was one of the men who made the AFL, and that in turn helped make the NFL what it is today. There are really just a handful of those type of historic figures remaining in the game, and among those who weren't in Canton already, the 90-year-old Wilson led that group.
And having covered Randall McDaniel for four of his 12 seasons in Minnesota, I can personally attest to his week-in, week-out, year-in, year-out level of excellence. I'm no Dr. Z when it comes to assessing interior offensive line play, but McDaniel's Hall worthiness was evident early in his 14-year career. And I'm glad to see a guy who was notorious for not talking to the press -- he always told me he had nothing to say -- wasn't penalized in the least by the media members who vote for the Hall.
And how do you seriously quibble with Bob Hayes, Rod Woodson, Bruce Smith and Derrick Thomas being enshrined? I'm just old enough to remember how much Hayes impacted the games I watched him play, and Woodson, Smith and Thomas were rare talents whose career accomplishments were too Hall worthy to ignore. The non-selection of Cris Carter continues to surprise me, but he's obviously caught in a numbers crunch that will break right for him at some point in the not-too-distant future.
With Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin and Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt, this year's game was the first Super Bowl to pit two second-year head coaches in their first NFL head coaching gigs. No matter who won, it was going to be the fifth Super Bowl champion led by a second-year coach and the first since Baltimore's Brian Billick earned an early ring when his Ravens demolished the Giants eight years ago in Tampa.
The other second-year head coaches to win it all were Oakland's Tom Flores in 1980, Washington's Joe Gibbs in 1982, and the Cowboys' Barry Switzer in 1995. New England's Bill Belichick was in his second season as the Patriots head coach when he won his first Lombardi Trophy, but Belichick, of course, had served five years as Cleveland's head coach from 1991 to '95.
What an example for how to conduct yourself during Super Bowl week the Cardinals and Steelers were. If there was a wrong note sounded all week by anyone on these two teams, I didn't hear it. True, staying relentlessly on message makes it a bit boring from a media-coverage standpoint, but I can't ever remember a Super Bowl week that had no cringe-worthy moments from any player or coach.
C'mon, Bruce. Glory Days? Did you have to? Not an inspired choice. Not in the least. That little rocker was tired by 1987, and it's not even in Springsteen's top 104 songs all time, let alone deserving of inclusion on a four-song play list at halftime of the Super Bowl.
Don't you wonder how many New England Patriots were able to watch Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday, the one-year anniversary of the day their perfect-season dream died? Maybe a few, maybe a bunch. But I'm guessing it didn't make for easy viewing. It had to re-open the year-old wound just a little bit.
I've made all four of Tampa's Super Bowls now -- 1984, 1991, 2001 and 2009 -- and I do believe it has risen to a solid No. 3 in my personal Super Bowl city rankings, behind the clear-cut greatest venue of all time, San Diego, and the long-time runner-up Miami. Great weather, great stadium and a veteran host committee that knows its way around a Super Bowl would be just three of Tampa's strengths.
Call me old school, but if I'm Whisenhunt, I wouldn't have wanted my quarterback going to midfield just before the Super Bowl kickoff to receive the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year trophy. With Warner's night's work still very much ahead of him, it just didn't seem like the time for him to take a bow. After all, there's a different trophy that everyone was focused on much more intently on this day.
When that first "Here we go Steelers, here we go'' chant of the night broke out at 6:12 p.m., a full 20 minutes before kickoff, my only thought was: What took so long?