The 100-yard interception return by Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison to close out the first half of Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals won’t soon be forgotten. Not only was it an incredible play by Harrison to intercept the pass from Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, but the ensuing return of it for a touchdown included several other events of which included wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald almost tackling the Steelers outside linebacker before he made it to the end zone. If not for Cardinals cornerback Antrel Rolle getting in Fitzgerald’s way along the sideline during Harrison’s return, the wide receiver more than likely would have made a touchdown-saving tackle to close out the first half.
So, why am I writing about that monumental Super Bowl play today? Because Rolle gave his thoughts on it during a recent interview on CBS Sports’ ‘All Things Covered’ podcast with Bryant McFadden and Patrick Peterson, and his recollection of it was quite entertaining.
“So, man, it was a crazy turn of events, right? Like, right before the halftime, I don’t know if it was just instincts, I don’t know what it was, and I just had a bad feeling that something was going to go down,” Rolle first told McFadden and Peterson. “Like, it’s just like, okay, you’re going into halftime, you’ve got less than a minute left. I don’t know. I just felt like something was going to go wrong.”
Something did indeed go wrong as Harrison unexpectedly dropped into coverage instead of rushing Warner. In doing so, he was right in the right place to pick off the pass. Rolle described what was going through his head in that instance.
“And when I saw him drop back and cover and get that interception, I was honestly in shock,” Rolle told McFadden and Peterson. “It felt like my body went numb because I’m like, damn, did I speak this into existence, you know? And it felt like my body went numb.”
Rolle then made a surprising admission.
“And honestly, when I think about it now, I’m just looking at him [Harrison] like, I honestly felt like I was going to go trip this dude, Rolle admitted. “That’s what I felt like. That’s what I felt in my body and I’m stopping myself. I’m stopping myself, but I didn’t realize how close I was to that boundary line.”
While Rolle admitted that Harrison’s interception was a play to marvel in and of itself, he told McFadden and Peterson that he was more impressed with the blocking by the rest of the members of the Steelers defense that allowed the return for a touchdown to be possible.
“But, man, like listen, when he got the interception, you know, people talk about the run back and all this stuff, but what I pay attention to on the interception is the blocking you all had for him,” Rolle said. “Oh my God. Oh my goodness. Ya’ll beat our players up. Y’all literally manhandled them, and I was mad about that. I’m like, ya’ll manhandled everybody who was trying to get him, they literally manhandled them. And Larry Fitzgerald got bumped out of bounds and unfortunately, I happened to be in that space, and he ran into me, actually. Kind of slowed his progress down and had to run around and stuff like that. So, yeah, if he [Fitzgerald] hadn’t ran into me, he definitely would’ve caught Deebo [Harrison].”
Most of you have probably heard the full backstory on how the blocking on that interception return came about by now. If you haven’t, McFadden, who was a cornerback for the Steelers then, made sure to point out that head Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau made it a coaching point during the practices leading up to Super Bowl XLIII to rally and start blocking after making interceptions so that the unit would be conditioned to do just that during the big game in an event it was needed.
“You know how y’all boys know how it is, right? Late in the season, you catch the interception against the scout team, you might not go hard to return it,” McFadden said. “You might get a little lazy, throw the ball back, get ready for the next play. So, we were doing that. We were catching the ball and it was in the rain, but we weren’t returning. Mike T., Dick LeBeau, they called us in, and they said, ‘Listen, man, when y’all catch an interception, I need the cavalry in front of the man with the ball and y’all run to score. Because of y’all do it now, y’all are going to do it on Sunday.’ And you know, we hear those things from coaches. We hear it and it kinda doesn’t really resonate like that.”
McFadden continued with the story.
“We’re like, okay, we’re going to do what coach says to do,” McFadden recalled. “So, after that speech, every time someone caught an interception, it didn’t matter if it was the first group, second group or the third group, whoever’s on a football field, if you caught an interception, you better go find someone to block and you return it all the way to the house. And literally, when that play [Harrison’s Super Bowl return] happened, we got into halftime and we were like, ‘Yo, that’s why great coaches, coach great teams. They put you in positions to be successful, you just gotta listen.’ And you talk about that blocking, that was a huge, huge point of emphasis for us because we weren’t doing it in Wednesday practice. But that Thursday, Friday practice, every time someone caught an interception, we’ve gotta go, we’ve gotta go.”
Hearing Rolle say that he thought about tripping Harrison during the interception return is quite comical all these years later. Can you imagine if he had actually tripped Harrison, however? Man!
You can watch Rolle’s complete interview below. It’s well worth your time to do so.