You may have heard James Harrison tell the story of one of the Super Bowl’s greatest plays. But if you haven’t listened to it in awhile, or haven’t heard the detailed breakdown of it, it’s well worth listening to Harrison’s explanation.
The NFL shared the play along with Harrison’s play-by-play of his 100 yard pick six in Super Bowl 43. The full three minute clip is worth revisiting but we’ll break down the key moments.
Which starts before the snap. As you probably know, Harrison dropped into coverage on his own volition. The playcall was for him to blitz but he had the presence and autonomy to make a last-second course correction.
“That whole first half, it seemed like I was getting there a step too late,” he said. “Where [QB Kurt Warner] was releasing the ball before I had the opportunity to get there. So they’re inside the ten, there’s 18 seconds left. The great Dick LeBeau of course, he’s gonna pressure. But as I said, I felt like I was a second, a step too late getting to him. I’m going to step to the tackle then I’m going to drop out and play for the quick slant. That obviously wasn’t the play but Dick LeBeau gave us the freedom.”
Harrison’s instincts proved correct. Kurt Warner tried to hit Anquan Boldin on a quick slant to the left. Instead, the ball landed right in Deebo’s chest.
That was only half the battle. Now Harrison had to make a play in the open field. His first thought was it was going to be an easy runback. Oh how wrong that was.
“As soon as I caught the ball, I’m like, I’m gone. There’s nobody in front of me. It seemed like I’m fighting with Deshea Townsend for ten, twenty seconds. Because he’s trying to get the ball and I’m like, no, you’re not getting the ball. Just go block somebody. I look up and there’s a sea of red jerseys.
After getting key blocks from Brett Keisel and LaMarr Woodley, it felt like Harrison was all clear to the end zone. But three Cardinals were closing in quick.
“I feel a linemen on my left side. So I start veering towards the sideline again. As he dove, I tried my best to raise my legs, kick them up, so I didn’t trip over them as he swung his arms. As I look to my left again, I see [WR Steve Breaston]. I’m getting ready for the hit that’s about to come because he’s flying up to me, I feel a hand hit my chest. The hand that hit my chest obviously was Larry Fitzgerald. I did not know he was there. I believe what he was trying to do was strip the ball. His aim missed which gave me enough time to cover up the ball as he grabbed for the ball. Breaston hit me on my left side which helped me to carry myself into the end zone.”
Harrison made it into the end zone by about half-a-yard. Had he not gotten in, time would’ve likely run out on the half, leaving Pittsburgh with only a three point lead. After a lengthy review, and Harrison receiving all the oxygen Raymond James Stadium had to offer, the touchdown was confirmed.
“That right there is my favorite play of my career.”
The pursuit by the Steelers’ defense, turning into ten blockers for Harrison, made the difference. Look back through the INT and you’ll see a half-dozen critical blocks. Even Troy Polamalu nudged Fitzgerald while Harrison was still 20 yards away from the goal line, likely buying enough time to make Fitz’s tackle attempt moot.
That attention to detail was hammered home by Mike Tomlin in practice, noticing his defense relaxing too much off turnovers during the week leading up to the big game.
“We had a practice…we picked off maybe five or six passes. I’m watching the practice tape on Wednesday night, I can’t sleep, I’m at the team hotel and I decide to make a cutup of every interception we had that practice. I noticed we weren’t rallying and getting offensive. So when we met at 9 o’clock on Thursday, I ran that cutup. Didn’t say much other than that we were going to need this kind of performance but this performance probably isn’t going to be enough. We’re going to have to get out of people and run one back. Maybe two back. I told them the last time I coached in a Super Bowl, the defense I was apart of ran three of them back and put 21 points on the board…for the rest of the week, when we picked the ball off, we got out in front of one another.”
A terrific retelling of the story. You should definitely watch the entire clip below.