It certainly wasn’t pretty, but thanks to a dominant final drive from a budding star at receiver, and an all-time throw from its future Hall of Fame quarterback, the Pittsburgh Steelers became the first franchise in NFL history to win six Super Bowls as a franchise on the night of Feb. 1, 2009 in Tampa Bay.
Taking on the upstart Arizona Cardinals, led by former Steelers’ offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, at Raymond James Stadium, the Pittsburgh Steelers appeared in control of the game throughout, until one failure to punch the ball into the end zone in the third quarter turned the game on its head.
Fortunately, the Steelers shook off a late Cardinal touchdown as Santonio Holmes made the greatest catch in NFL history, tapping his toes inside the painted end zone for the eventual game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left, sending the Steelers — and himself – into the history books.
On a beautiful February night in South Florida, the Steelers’ offense showed that it loved being out of snowy conditions in Pittsburgh and caught fire fast, marching the football right down the field as on the second play from scrimmage, Ben Roethlisberger found receiver Hines Ward for 38 yards down the right sideline, putting the Steelers into Arizona territory quickly.
Three plays later Roethlisberger found favorite tight end Heath Miller for 21 yards to the Arizona 1 yard line, but the Steelers couldn’t punch it in on three consecutive rushing attempts.
On third and goal from the 1, Roethlisberger appeared to get into the end zone on a bootleg to his right, but the Cardinals challenged the call and got the touchdown overturned.
To this day, it still looks like Roethlisberger gets in to me, regardless of the play being overturned or not.
The overturned call forced the Steelers to settle for the shortest field goal in Super Bowl history — an 18-yarder from Jeff Reed for a 3-0 lead with 9:45 left in the first quarter.
Pittsburgh’s defense then turned up the heat on the Cardinals’ first offensive drive of the game, stuffing the Cardinals quickly to force a punt.
On the next offensive drive, Pittsburgh stayed hot as Roethlisberger connected with Holmes for 25 yards to start his big night. Later in the drive, Roethlisberger showed his vintage self, extending the play on third and 10 to find a wide open Miller for 11 yards, moving the chains.
That third-down conversion from Roethlisberger to Miller proved to be a huge play in the drive as the Steelers eventually scored a touchdown as running back Gary Russell plunged in from 1-yard out early in the second quarter, giving the Steelers a 10-0 lead with 14:09 to go in the first half.
Up 10-0, things seemed to be in control for the Steelers, but the Cardinals’ prolific offense found the right gear, marching 83 yards in 10 plays as future Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner heated up, finding future Hall of Fame running back Edgerrin James for gains of 10 and 11 yards and then finding Pittsburgh native Steve Breaston for 13 yards.
Warner then connected with wide receiver Anquan Boldin for 45 yards before finding tight end Ben Patrick from 1-yard out for the score on a play in which he was tripped up in the backfield coming out from under center, just getting enough on the throw to find the veteran tight end in the back left corner of the end zone, making it a 10-7 game with 8:43 left in the second quarter.
Things quieted down from there leading up to the half between the two teams as the Steelers and Cardinals traded punts.
Then, disaster struck for the Steelers.
Roethlisberger fired over the middle for Holmes, but the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and was intercepted by linebacker Karlos Dansby, setting up the Cardinals in Steeler territory with just over two minutes remaining in the first half.
Arizona looked to take advantage and at least tie the game at the half as Warner found running back Tim Hightower for 10 yards and Fitzgerald for 12 yards. Two quick throws to Boldin put the Cardinals a the 1-yard line. That’s when James Harrison came up large.
One hundred yards later, Harrison tumbled into the end zone, sending the Steelers into the half with a 17-7 lead and a place in the record books for Harrison, who scored the longest touchdown in Super Bowl history.
Holding a 17-7 lead coming out of the half, the Steelers’ defense clamped down on the Cardinals, forcing a quick punt to open the second half.
Pittsburgh then took advantage as Roethlisberger found Holmes for 15 yards, and running back Willie Parker burst through the right side for another 15 yards, setting the Steelers up deep in the red zone.
The drive appeared to fizzle out though as Reed drilled a 27-yard field goal, but holder Mitch Berger was drilled on the play by Cardinals’ safety Adrian Wilson, resulting in a personal foul giving the Steelers’ offense new life. The Steelers couldn’t take advantage though, settling for a 21-yard field goal by Reed to make it 20-7 Steelers with 2:16 left in the third quarter.
That failure to get into the end zone turned the game on its head though.
Coming up with a defensive win twice in the red zone, Arizona found a spark.
The Cardinals quickly marched down the field two drives later as Warner found Breaston for 13 yards, tight end Jerheme Urban for 18 yards, and running back J.J. Arrington for 22 yards.
Another completion fo 18 yards to Fitzgerald put the Cardinals in the drivers seat as three plays later Warner lofted a fade to Fitzgerald over Steelers’ corner Ike Taylor for a 1-yard touchdown, making it a 20-14 game, putting the Steelers on their heels.
With the game now a one-score game, the Cardinals’ defense — specifically defensive tackle Darnell Dockett — went to work. Dockett sacked Roethlisberger on the ensuing drive, forcing a Steelers’ punt.
On the next Steelers’ drive following a punt downed at the 1-yard line by the Cardinals, Steelers’ center Justin Hartwig was called for holding in the end zone on a play in which Holmes made a fantastic catch over the middle that would have moved the chains.
Instead, the holding call in the end zone made it a 20-16 game with 3:04 left in the game.
Getting the ball right back due to the safety, the Cardinals’ offense struck quickly, stunning Steeler Nation.
Warner found Fitzgerald over the middle for a 64-yard touchdown three plays after the safety, making it a 23-20 game with 2:47 left in the game, putting the Cardinals close to winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history.
I still have nightmares of Fitzgerald racing through the Steelers’ defense all these years later.
Down three and one last possession coming, the Steelers turned to Roethlisberger and Holmes for more magic.
Roethlisberger found Holmes for 14 yards and 13 yards, before then finding Nate Washington for 11, putting the Steelers at midfield with a little over a minute remaining in the game.
A 4-yard scramble by Roethlisberger forced the Steelers to take their second timeout, which helped out in a big way as right after the timeout Roethlisberger found a wide open Holmes down the right sideline for a 40-yard catch and run, setting up the Steelers at the Cardinals’ 6 yard line.
One play later, Roethlisberger targeted Holmes in the back left corner of the end zone, but the ball slipped right through the receiver’s hands. Nevermind the drop though, because Roethlisberger came right back to the standout young receiver, pump faking and firing a dart to the back right pylon where Holmes made the icon catch, giving the Steelers the lead with 35 seconds remaining.
With the play upheld after a lengthy review, the Steelers needed one more stop defensively. Following a 20-yard completion to Fitzgerald and a 13-yard catch by Arrington, the Cardinals were marching, but Steelers’ outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley came up large on the final play, strip sacking Warner that resulted in a Brett Keisel fumble, giving the Steelers the win and a spot in the history books with a sixth Super Bowl win.
Against Arizona, Holmes was named Super Bowl MVP, finishing with nine catches for 131 yards and the touchdown. Roethlisberger was 21-for-30 for 256 yards, one touchdown and one interception, while Parker rushed 19 times for 53 yards.
For the Cardinals, Warner was 31-for-43 for 377 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, while Fitzgerald hauled in seven passes for 127 yards and two scores.
Defensively, Dockett sacked Roethlisberger three times, while Woodley finished with two sacks of Warner.