Sunday, February 1, 2009

Super Sunday

The Pittsburgh Steelers cemented themselves Sunday night in Tampa as the greatest NFL franchise in the league's history. Don't believe me? Count the Vince Lombardi Trophies.

The Steelers won their NFL-best sixth Sunday night, beating the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII. The Cardinals scored 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, taking a brief 23-20 lead when Larry Fitzgerald scampered 64 yards into the endzone with 2:37 to play. Their toughness was impressive, and worthy of respect -- but the Steelers proved why they were the Steelers.

Ben Roethlisberger engineered the 17th fourth-quarter comeback drive of his career, marching down the field before hitting Santonio Holmes from six yards out for the winning score with 35 seconds left. Holmes caught four passes on that drive, cementing Super Bowl MVP honors when his toes slid across the red grass before momentum carried him out of bounds.

Then, befitting of the league's No. 1 defense, the Steelers forced a Kurt Warner fumble and recovered for the final play of the game.

The Cardinals, despite two turnovers, didn't lose the game; Pittsburgh just won it. James Harrison's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown at the end of the first half wasn't a mistake by Warner; Harrison made a fantastic play on the football. Fitzgerald had a wonderful game, catching seven balls for 127 yards and two scores.

If Arizona had held on for the win, he might've been MVP.

The Cardinals defense kept Pittsburgh out of the endzone twice when the Steelers had driven into the red zone -- including a stop at the 1-yard line -- forcing field goals rather than touchdowns. If the Steelers score touchdowns in those two instances, there is no Arizona comeback.

Whether the Cardinals were a bad playoff team will likely still be debated -- since they were a 9-7 champion of a bad NFC West and lost three of their last five regular-season games by three touchdowns or more. Arizona's run through Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia in the playoffs was impressive, a testament to the leadership of head coach Ken Whisenhunt and the mentality he's installed in the desert.

Simply put, these aren't your father's Arizona Cardinals. Maybe not even your big brother's.

What isn't up for debate is the greatness of head coach Mike Tomlin and this year's Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers had the league's toughest schedule, yet went 13-3 -- beating a very good Baltimore Ravens team twice to win the AFC North. Pittsburgh earned the AFC's second seed, beating San Diego and Baltimore en route to Tampa. The offense might not have been as flashy as New England's a year ago, but the running game combined with Roethlisberger more than did its part, while the defense played hard, physical football on its way to being the league's best, even invoking comparisons to the Steel Curtain.

I can't go that far, but the Super Bowl champion this season is as deserving as any other in recent memory. The best team won the championship this year, and in doing so, the Pittsburgh Steelers, as an organization, can officially call themselves the best of all-time.

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