Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals: The Top 3 Games

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Super Bowl XLIII

February 1, 2009

Sansmokio’s Magic Earns the Steelers their 6th Super Bowl

Steelers 27 – Cardinals 23

I really don’t think this classic needs any sort of introduction.  So many storylines, Tomlin vs. Whiz/Grimm, Haves vs. Have nots, Ben vs. Warner, etc..  This was probably one of the most entertaining Super Bowls of all time, and I’m so glad I got to witness it.

I was living in Arizona at the time and many didn’t appreciate the fact that I am a card carrying member of Steeler Nation and proud of it.  Luckily since I was living near the University at the time, my buddy’s friend invited me and some people over to watch the game and it made for a very nice atmosphere.  It was made even better when the Steelers began the game firing on all cylinders.

The Steelers came out guns ablazin’ and on the second play from scrimmage Big Ben hit Hines Ward on a 38 yard pass to get the Steelers Offense rolling.  Then after another 1st Down, Ben hit his TE Heath Miller on a 21 yard strike up the seam down to the Arizona 1 and it was 1st and Goal.  Yet Bruce Arians worked his “magic” in terms of play-calling, and after two runs netted 0 yards (-4 then 4), Ben looked like he had scored the first TD by getting himself across the Goal Line.  Coach Whisenhunt thought different and successfully challenged the call on the field. It really did look like Ben had gotten the ball to cross the plane, but then again I’m a bit of a homer.  Nevertheless, Tomlin played it smart and Skippy Reed drilled an 18 yard Field Goal to put the Steelers ahead 3-0.

The Steelers’ Defense promptly went to work and made Arizona punt after only 1 First Down and 4 running plays.  Why the Cardinals even attempted to run the football I will never know.  It looked like Whisenhunt was playing Cowher/Marty-Ball out there, and he really screwed his team over for an entire Quarter.  Moreover, the Steelers’ Offense was moving the ball so well, it appeared as if the Steelers would cruise to an easy victory.

After an 10 play 68 yard march that saw Ben miraculously get out of a sack and hit Heath Miller for a First Down, the Steelers found themselves with a 3rd and Goal from the Cardinals’ 1 yard line.  Ben gave the ball to RB Gary Russell who plowed into the End Zone for the 1st TD of the game and the Steelers had a 10-0 lead with already a minute gone by in the 2nd Quarter.  I was so stoked at that point I began to relax and chat with my buddies and the other party guests, and actually tried to enjoy some of the Super Bowl commercials.  I had no idea that the game would be going so smoothly and I was hardly worried at all.  Sadly for me, that jovial attitude turned to one of panic as the Cardinals began to move the ball at will on their next drive.

Arizona responded however, and Kurt Warner illustrated why he is the Hall of Fame player that he will inevitably become.  Aided by a 45 yard catch and run by Anquan Boldin the Cardinals found themselves at the Steelers’ 1 yard line.  Warner then under duress found his TE Ben Patrick for a 1 yard TD pass which Larry Foote should have INT’d and Arizona was back in the game and the score stood at 10-7 with just over 8 and a half minutes to play.

After both teams were unable to sustain any drives on their following possessions, what looked to be the play of the Half sent me digging into my case of Pabst Blue Ribbon.  On a tipped pass by Cardinals NT Bryan Robinson, ILB Karlos Dansby picked off a Big Ben throw at the Steelers’ 34 yard line!  I was so pissed, but I calmed myself down by thanking whatever was responsible because Steeler RB Mewelde Moore was in perfect position and stopped Dansby in his tracks and prevented him from taking it to the house.

Regardless of Me-Mo’s heads up play, Warner drove the Cardinals to the Steelers’ 1 yard line, and WR Larry Fitzgerald who had torn teams up in the playoffs finally made his first reception of the game on the drive as well.  Then the greatest individual/team defensive play in Super Bowl history occurred.

Knowing that Warner would look to a quick slant inside the 5, Harrison dropped back in coverage and with Warner not seeing him, Harrison picked off the ball at the goal line and began to run with all of his teammates in front of him busting their asses to block for him.  I was so stoked to see Deebo pick it off at first that I was unaware that he had a chance to score.  Deshea Townsend tried to get Harrison to give him the ball, but Deebo was hell-bent on capping off his magical 2008 season where he was voted the N.F.L.’s Defensive M.V.P..  With every 5 yard clip he was gaining I kept screaming, “Run Deebo, Run!”  When he got near the goal line I almost had a heart attack because Larry Fitzgerald had almost caught up to him, and lucky for Harrison he was dragged by Fitzgerald into the end zone on top of a Cardinals player and the play stood as a TD!  The 10 point swing had given the Steelers a 17-7 lead at the Half, and all the momentum in the world.

After watching the fossilized Bruce Springsteen bumble around the stage and sound nothing like any albums I have in my music collection, I was anxious for the 2nd Half to just fly by.  The Steelers were up by 10 and had 30 minutes to go before becoming the first and only team to win 6 Super Bowl titles.  I was only about 5 beers deep, calmed down as much as I could be, and ready for the Steelers to kick some ass.

The Steelers Defense held tough on the Cardinals first possession of the 2nd Half and almost forced a turnover when James Farrior appeared to have sacked and stripped Warner and Deebo recovered.  The call was reversed but since it was 3rd Down the Cardinals punted from midfield when faced with a 4th Down.

The Steelers got the ball back at their own 18 yard line and were aided on their drive by three of the most idiotic penalties by the Cardinals that sustained the drive and almost won the Steelers the game right then and there.  On a simple sideline pass Ben hit Sansmokio and he was facemasked by CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and it gave the Steelers a 1st Down and excellent field position.  Then at midfield Karlos Dansby was flagged on a chinsy roughing the passer penalty and the Steelers gained 15 more yards.  Yet the cherry on top of the crap sundae was when the Steelers were forced to kick a Field Goal and the Cardinals’ Adrian Wilson got an Unnecessary Roughness penalty!

By some miracle, Mitch Berger got blasted by Antrel Rolle and the Steelers had new life.  Unfortunately, they had Bruce Arians calling the plays in the Red Zone, and of course he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with his decision-making.  The playcalling itself by Arians in the Red Zone on that drive still sends chills down my spine.  I’ll never forget being totally befuddled at what sorts of asinine plays that were called inside the 5, but the QB draw on 3rd Down angers me to this day.  Why?  Why send your slow as molasses QB on a draw play that the Defense is not only sitting on, but from the 10 yard line because of the Shotgun formation?  Luckily Skippy came in and drilled a 21 yard Field Goal, and the Steelers increased their lead to 20-7.

The drive itself had lasted 8:39 and was 17 plays and 74 yards!  I mean there was just over 2 minutes to play in the 3rd Quarter and Arizona’s Offense had been on the sideline almost the entire game.  I’ll never forget thinking though that had the Steelers gone up 24-7 they’d have been up by 3 scores instead of two and that it would take Arizona 3 TD’s to win the game, not 2!  Regardless, I just tried my best to be happy and reached into my case of Pabst.

The Steelers Defense came out again and stuffed the Cardinals on their following drive.  Thankfully the referees actually called Holding against Mike Gandy during the game against James Harrison, because there were numerous guys that season that held Deebo at will and blatantly too!  A Gandy Holding penalty negated a 1st Down and the Cardinals had to punt.

At that point I was give or take 12 beers deep in celebratory mode because all the Steelers would need to do with 13:41 left was to sustain a drive from close to mid-field, and maybe put 3 on the board and ice the game.  Sadly, they went 3 and out as their run blocking ceased to exist, Ben was sacked by the Cardinals Pro Bowl DT Darnell Dockett, and the Steelers had only managed to take 2:11 off the clock.

On their following drive, Arizona did what they should have done from their opening series of the game: They went no-huddle.  And of course, it worked to perfection against the Steelers lackadaisical secondary and slow LB’s.  Warner just sliced and diced the Steelers’ pass coverage.  This was the drive that I’ll never forget Larry Fitzgerald getting hot on.

On 3rd and Goal from the 1, Warner looked to his favorite target again and Fitzgerald came down with the ball for a TD despite good coverage by Ike Taylor.  The ball that Fitzgerald caught hit the ground, and Tomlin should have challenged the ruling on the field.  Fitzgerald appeared to be juggling the ball after it had hit the ground and Taylor was right to complain to the official after the play.  Regardless, the Cardinals were back in the game and had new life down 20-14.  The Cardinals had drove 85 yards in 8 plays in under 4 minutes and it looked like they were finally heating up.  It was at that moment that I became extremely nervous and began pounding the Pabst Blue Ribbons to calm my nerves.  The Steelers had let this group of over-achievers hang around for too long, and allowed them to believe that they were still in the game.

Of course, the Steelers went 3 and Out again, and Ben was sacked by Dockett again!  Only about 2:00 had gone off the clock and over 5 minutes still remained in a game where the Steelers were up by 6 points!  It was pure madness that Pittsburgh had let the Cardinals waltz back into the game.

Luckily, on the following drive after an Ike Taylor Unnecessary Roughness penalty and a Steve Breaston 33 yard catch and run got the Cardinals deep in Steeler territory, a Gandy Holding penalty drove them back far enough to allow the Steelers Defense to hold and force a punt with just over 3 and a half minutes to play.  The punt play itself had it’s share of extra curricular activities as Deebo really kicked the crap out of Aaron Francisco during the play where it appeared that Francisco may have gone after Harrison below the belt.  Regardless, Deebo was the one flagged and the Steelers were forced to start at their own 1 yard line after the Ben Graham punt was downed at the 2.

All the Steelers would need was 1 First Down and they would win the game.  Sadly, they should have gotten it, but Center Justin Hartwig douched it up.  On 3rd Down, Ben completed a pass to Sansmokio (who was being held by the way on the play) who made a fantastic catch on what looked like the game clincher.  Unfortunately, a Holding penalty was called on Hartwig who apparently held the Cardinals’ Chike Okeafor enough in the end zone that gave the Cardinals a Safety and made the score 20-16 with just under 3:00 to go.

After the Berger punt and Breaston return gave the Cardinals great field position at their own 36, Warner went for the kill on the second play of the drive.  Warner fired a pass over the middle to Larry Fitzgerald who had beat Ike Taylor and raced into the end zone for a 64 yard TD with 2:37 to play!

I was aghast at what I had just saw.  I was in complete and total silence for about 30 seconds trying to process what had just happened.  To me, there was no way such a magical season could end like that.  My friends and the guests were all giving me crap and I just sat there and took it because there was nothing else to do but hope for the best.  Then it dawned on me, the Steelers had over 2:30 left to drive down the field for a Field Goal to just tie.  All it would take is about 5 First Downs for Skippy to have a makeable attempt because of how money he was that season.

Of course before the Steelers started their incredible 78 yard march to glory, their shoddy O-Line had to make it even tougher.  LG Chris Kemoeatu was flagged for a Holding penalty on the first play from scrimmage, but that only seemed to inspire Ben and the Steelers.  I’ll never forget this drive because I couldn’t even sit down because I was so full of anticipation and excitement at what I was witnessing.  This was the drive ladies and gentlemen where Ben proved exactly why he is one of the greatest clutch QB’s in N.F.L. History!

On 1st and 20 Ben hit Sansmokio on a 14 yard gain.  The on 3rd and 6 he found Sansmokio again for 13 yards.  Ben hit Nasty Nate Washinton for an 11 yard gain to get the Steelers to mid-field.  Then after the pocket collapsed and Ben scrambled for 4 yards and a Time Out was called, he went to his patented pump fake that burned the Cardinals and made Aaron Francisco lose his jock strap.  Ben pump faked to Me-Mo and then found an open Sansmokio who streaked down the sideline all the way to the Cardinals’ 6 yard line for 40 yards!  It was after that play where I knew that it was over.  This was destiny and it couldn’t end any other way.

The funny thing about the 1st Down and Goal play was that the pass was a better pass to Holmes and the play was better executed, Holmes just couldn’t come up with the ball.  Yet on 2nd and Goal, magic happened and it was Sansmokio’s “Time to be Great.”  Ben scrambled and bought time after going through his reads, then he fired a laser to the corner of the end zone and Sansmokio made arguably the greatest catch of all-time and tip-toed his way in-bounds to put the Steelers ahead 26-23!  Of course Arizona challenged the play, and during the challenge I remember calling my Mom on the phone and we were both going crazy at what had just happened!  The refs. ruled the play as it stood and a Skippy Reed P.A.T. gave the Steelers an important 4 point lead with just over 30 seconds remaining.

The Cardinals to their credit got the ball all the way to the Steelers 44 yard line until OLB LaMarr Woodley came through and sacked and stripped Warner and DE Brett Keisel recovered the ball to preserve the Steelers’ victory and gave them their 6th Super Bowl Title.  Sansmokio deserved the M.V.P. for his nutting up on the final drive, but special kudos goes to Big Ben whose 1st Super Bowl TD pass was the one that won the game for the Steelers

Super Bowl XLIII was truly one of the most exciting games I have ever witnessed and will probably the most exciting one I will ever see over the course of my entire life.  I may forget a lot of things down the road, but this game will never be one of them.