TAMPA, Fla. | Talk about glory days.
Bruce Springsteen performed at halftime, but Santonio Holmes proved to be the boss of Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday night. Pittsburgh‘s receiver tiptoed in the right corner of the end zone with a 6-yard touchdown toss from Ben Roethlisberger with just 35 seconds left to give the Steelers a dramatic 27-23 victory over the gutty Arizona Cardinals.
“I told Ben … ‘Just give me the ball. Give me the chance to make plays, and I will do it for you,’ ” said Holmes, who caught nine passes for 131 yards. “I knew it was a touchdown 100 percent. My feet never left the ground. All I did was extend my arms and use my toes as extra extension to catch the ball.”
A replay review upheld the catch, a verdict that Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt - Holmes’ offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh in 2006 - didn’t dispute. Neither did quarterback Kurt Warner, who had rallied perennial doormat Arizona to the brink of its first Super Bowl title with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns passes to Larry Fitzgerald.
“Your emotions are so high with two minutes left when you have the lead,” Warner said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win a world championship, but that other team went out and won it.”
Warner gave the Cardinals every chance to do the same, going 31-for-43 for 377 yards for three touchdowns and an interception against the Steelers’ top-ranked defense. He became the most prolific passer in Super Bowl history with 1,156 career yards; he had 414 yards nine years ago for St. Louis in an MVP performance against the Tennessee Titans and 365 two years later in a last-second loss to the New England Patriots.
Fitzgerald, who came into the game with a playoff-record 419 yards, added 127 more on seven catches Sunday.
But Holmes stole MVP honors from them with four catches for 73 yards on the game-winning drive as Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin joined his former Tampa Bay Buccaneers boss Tony Dungy as the only black coaches to win a Super Bowl.
Roethlisberger went 21-for-30 for 256 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He joined Hall of Famer Troy Aikman and New England’s Tom Brady in becoming the third quarterback to win two Super Bowls in his first five seasons.
“The first read was the running back in the flat, but he wasn’t open,” Roethlisberger said. “Then I was going to bang it to Hines [Ward] real quick, but someone was closing. … I looked back, scrambled right a little bit and saw [Holmes] in the corner. I tried to throw it high so he was going to catch it or no one was, and luckily he made a heck of a catch.”
Down 20-14 in the fourth quarter, Warner was deadly accurate out of the shotgun, completing eight straight passes for 87 yards, the last a 1-yard fade to Fitzgerald that drew the underdog Cardinals within 20-14 with 7:33 remaining. When Arizona got the ball back, it moved into Pittsburgh territory, but penalties and three missed throws ended the drive.
“I actually was thinking that if they’re going to score, that’s how you want them to score: extremely quickly,” Tomlin said. “We’ve been in this situations so many times. [They’re] never pretty, but [we] never blink either.”
The Steelers did, at least at first. Center Justin Hartwig was called for holding in the end zone with 2:58 remaining - a safety that cut the lead to 20-16. On the second play after the free kick, Fitzgerald got behind Taylor over the middle, grabbed Warner’s pass and raced 64 yards to give the Cardinals their first lead.
But the Steelers answered. At their own 12 with 2:24 left, Roethlisberger kept finding Holmes for first downs. The third one was good for 40 yards against reserve cornerback Aaron Francisco to the Arizona 6 with 49 seconds left. Two plays later, Holmes became the hero.
NFL defensive player of the year James Harrison looked like the hero at halftime. The Steelers linebacker stepped in front of Boldin at the goal line on the final play of the first half, picked off Warner’s pass and rumbled 100 yards before tumbling over Fitzgerald and Breaston and into the end zone to complete the longest play in Super Bowl history. The touchdown gave the Steelers a 17-7 lead before Springsteen took center stage at Raymond James Stadium.
A trio of personal fouls against Arizona were pivotal in the 79-yard drive that ended in a 21-yard field goal by Jeff Reed that extended Pittsburgh’s margin to 20-7 with 2:11 to go in the third quarter.
The Steelers needed just five minutes to drive 71 yards for a 3-0 lead. The big plays were passes of 30 yards from Roethlisberger to receiver Hines Ward and 21 yards to tight end Heath Miller.
Three plays after the second long completion, Roethlisberger rolled right on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line. After an instant replay review, Dockett was ruled to have stopped the quarterback just shy of the end zone. So Pittsburgh had to settle for Reed’s 18-yard field goal.