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Posted: Sunday February 1, 2009 10:49PM; Updated: Monday February 2, 2009 9:07AM
Don Banks Don Banks >
INSIDE THE NFL

Super Bowl XLIII Snap Judgments

Story Highlights

Why Steelers-Cardinals may be the best Super Bowl ever

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin surprisingly conservative at times

Taking 'The Boss' to task, praising Tampa and more notes

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James Harrison's 100-yard INT return was the longest play in Super Bowl history.
Damian Strohmeyer/SI
Super Bowl XLIII
 
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Harrison's Epic TD

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TAMPA -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we struggle to digest the roller coaster and historic ride that Super Bowl XLIII was in Raymond James Stadium on Sunday night...

• Snap judgments require making quick, rapid-fire assessments, but I think even upon further review, with lots of time to mull things over, I'd still come to the same remarkable conclusion: We just witnessed the best Super Bowl in history. Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23.

A mouthful, I know. But for drama, plot twists and huge, game-changing plays, how can we say anything less than the Super Bowl's 43rd edition was the best ever?

It had the most astounding turn of events. It had a record fourth-quarter comeback, with the Arizona Cardinals digging out of a 13-point fourth-quarter hole, a feat that has never been seen before in Super Bowl play.

It had the most amazing game-winning touchdown ever, in Santonio Holmes' six-yard work of artistry in the back corner of the end zone with 35 seconds to play.

And it had James Harrison's epic, mind-boggling, Super Bowl-record 100-yard interception return on the final play of the first half.

It was a game that left us all a bit breathless, and kept reinventing itself in the midst of an unforgettable fourth quarter of lead changes and heroic plays. It was Harrison's night for the longest time, then Kurt Warner and the long-dormant Larry Fitzgerald stormed back to steal the spotlight, but not the game. Because the game, and the Super Bowl championship, in the end was decided by the remarkable Ben Roethlisberger-to-Holmes connection in the extreme back right corner of the Steelers end zone.

"Some say we could not top last year's Super Bowl, but the Steelers and Cardinals did that tonight,'' said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, getting no disagreement from me.

This was a game that, for three quarters, seemed like it would be defined by Harrison's one-of-a-kind touchdown, but the final 15 minutes re-wrote the script again, and again and again. Warner and Fitzgerald made magic, but the Steelers answered, and all that matters is the Black and Gold -- led by Super Bowl MVP Holmes -- were the only ones left standing at the end.

"Steelers football is 60 minutes,'' yelled Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin, who became, at 36, the youngest Super Bowl-winning coach. "It's never going to be pretty. Throw style points out the window, but these guys fight to the end.''

Super Bowl XLIII was a fight to the end all right. A historic and entertaining fight that had more drama than we ever expected, and have ever witnessed before.

• Move over, David Tyree. Make room for Harrison and his are-you-kidding-me interception return. (Photo gallery of return here.) Who could have predicted it, but I do believe for the second year in a row the Super Bowl has given us a once-in-a-lifetime play that will be remembered and rhapsodized about as long as the game of football is played.

Can you imagine what NFL Films is going to do with Harrison's miraculous touchdown return, the longest play in Super Bowl history? Before Films is done with it, they'll turn that one play into a four-part mini-series, narrated by Morgan Freeman.

The Steelers outside linebacker's rumble down the sideline on the last play of Super Bowl XLIII's first half, with the clock ticking to :00, gave the Steelers a stranglehold on this game that they didn't lose until late in the fourth quarter. Instead of a 14-10 Arizona halftime lead, with the Cardinals getting the ball to start the third quarter, it was 17-7 Pittsburgh, with the Steelers tenacious defense never a likely candidate to surrender a second-half advantage.

Harrison's other-worldly refusal to be denied was a sight to behold. I almost felt bad for Bruce Springsteen, having to follow Harrison on stage, as it were. Good luck, Boss. You may have been born to run, but Harrison's unbelievable run stole your spotlight just before you hit the stage.

For my money, Harrison's touchdown was the most astounding defensive play in Super Bowl history, besting even that last-play tackle at the one by Rams linebacker Mike Jones on Titans receiver Kevin Dyson in Atlanta in January 2000. After all, overtime still loomed for St. Louis if Dyson had made it another three feet.

As I run the play through my mind's eye one more time, I still can't believe the Cardinals couldn't manage to knock Harrison out of bounds, thereby at least limiting the damage of Warner's interception to a 10-7 halftime deficit. But Harrison would not go down, and he would not go out. And with this touchdown, he severely damaged the Cardinals' dreams of earning a Super Bowl ring.

"All we kept thinking was, 'You've got to score, because time's running out,' '' Roethlisberger said of Harrison's touchdown. "That's why he's the defensive player of the year.''

• Harrison's score was such a fitting way to highlight Dick LeBeau's contributions to NFL coaching, because, after all, the Steelers revered defensive coordinator is given much of the credit for developing the zone-blitz scheme that has a defender up on the line of scrimmage, disguising the fact that he's going to drop into pass coverage.

Harrison was up on the line of scrimmage, and Warner read an all-out blitz by the Steelers and locked in on receiver Anquan Boldin, who was slanting inside at the goal line. But Harrison dropped back and waited for Warner to make his read, and then pounced on the route, intercepting the pass at the goal line.

• Roethlisberger is now batting only .500 on his replay-reviewed one-yard touchdown runs in the Super Bowl. Just like in Detroit three years ago, Roethlisberger had a one-yard touchdown run looked at under the hood on Sunday.

This time, the touchdown was overturned in the first quarter, when replays clearly showed his knee was down before he broke the plane. But in 2006, his one-yard, second-quarter touchdown plunge -- giving the Steelers a 7-3 lead at the time -- was upheld after Seattle challenged the call.

• After watching Mike Tomlin settle for a game-opening 18-yard field goal on fourth-and-a-foot from the goal line, I guess we now know which way the Steelers head coach would have gone on that potential fourth-and-a-foot in Baltimore in December. That's the one he didn't have to face after receiver Santonio Holmes was ruled to have broken the plane on his third-down, game-winning, division-clinching touchdown catch.

Tomlin's apparently got a conservative nature when it comes to fourth-and-a-foot. Pretty timid approach taken by the usually ultra-confident Steelers coach.

• Roethlisberger came out with a vengeance, no doubt still driven by his desire to wipe out the stench of his last Super Bowl appearance, three years ago in Detroit. Big Ben was 8-of-9 for 122 yards on the Steelers' opening two drives, leading Pittsburgh to a 10-0 lead.

For the sake of comparison, Roethlisberger was just 9-of-21 for 123 yards and two interceptions in the Steelers win over Seattle in 2006. That was only one completion and one yard more than he had in Sunday's first two drives.

That's making amends.

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