Former Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro James Harrison’s pick-six to end the first half at the end of Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals is still arguably one of the best plays in Super Bowl history. The interception, a 100 yard endzone-to-endzone return, put the Steelers up 17-7 going into the half and was a crucial play in Pittsburgh’s 27-23 win for their then-record sixth Super Bowl win. On Episode 15 of former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s Footbhalin’ podcast, Roethlisberger and Harrison broke down the play from each of their perspectives. Roethlisberger said that from his view from the sideline, he was initially confused by what was happening.
“I remember them going down the field, and I prided myself, I rarely sat on the bench,” Roethlisberger said. He added that his view was blocked by the linemen. “I couldn’t see the actual play, I couldn’t see what happened because I was behind the line. You just hear this noise, and you see everyone start transitioning to run the other direction, and I could see you come out of it,” he added.
Roethlisberger and Harrison said that Deshea Townsend wanted the pitch on the play. “All I was thinking that we stopped them. I was not thinking touchdown.”
“It went from just being excited that they didn’t score, to we might score.”
He said it was one of the greatest plays he’s ever seen.
“It was like are you kidding me. To me, it was one of the greatest plays I’ve ever seen in my life.”
From his perspective, Harrison said he knew he wouldn’t have time to get the sack and he knew that the Cardinals wouldn’t run the ball. He said he guessed the inside slant, and was trying to Lawrence Timmons free for the ack, but when Warner was about to throw, he was surprised that he didn’t see him. Warner later confirmed he didn’t see Harrison to him at the Pro Bowl. “He did not see me. I talked to him, that was when the Pro Bowl was after the Super Bowl, I talked to him, he was like ‘I didn’t see you, you was supposed to be blitzing.’
He said once he made the interception, his mindset was that he was going to score.
“I’m gone. I see nothing.”
Eventually though, he thought he was done for whe he “saw a sea of red jerseys” and thought there was no way he would make it. As we all know though, he did, and the play will go down in Super Bowl and NFL history forever.
Obviously, Harrison was more known for his pass rush prowess than his coverage ability. He had eight career interceptions in 14 seasons, and the Super Bowl pick-six was his only career postseason interception and just his second career touchdown. With the Cardinals on the goal line and getting the ball to receive the second half, any Arizona score there could’ve drastically altered the outcome of the game. A field goal would’ve tied the game at 10-10 and given Arizona momentum coming out of the half, especially because the score would’ve been set up by a Cardinals interception by Karlos Dansby that set the Cardinals up in prime field position at the Pittsburgh 34. Instead, the interception gave Pittsburgh the momentum, and the Cardinals opening possession of the second half was a punt and Pittsburgh answered with a field goal to go up 20-7. Despite Larry Fitzgerald’s best efforts to bring Arizona back into the game, the Steelers clinched the win on Roethlisberger’s touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes in the corner of the end zone with 35 seconds left.
It’s tough to say for sure the Cardinals would’ve won if Harrison didn’t make that play, but they certainly would’ve had a much better chance. It will go down as the defining play of Harrison’s Pittsburgh career, one that had many of big plays. With Harrison on the Hall of Fame ballot this year, that play will surely be replayed over and over again as his candidacy gets discussed.
Four years ago, NFL Network ranked it as the eighth-best play in Super Bowl history (Holmes’ catch came in at No. 7). While there are other plays that you could argue should be ahead of it, I have a hard time believing it’s not a top-five play in Super Bowl history. A 100-yard pick-six is rare enough, but one to end the half during the biggest game of the year is special, and given what happened before and after, you could argue it was a game-winning play and certainly a better play than say, a game-winning field goal.
Obviously, it’s all subjective, but Harrison’s play was special and will go down as one of the best plays in Super Bowl history. It’s fun to look back on, and we can only hope this current iteration of Steelers will have a chance to make a game-defining play in the sport’s biggest game.