Ben Roethlisberger caught a big fish for his latest podcast. In his most recent Footbahlin episode, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin joined Roethlisberger and co-host Spence to reminisce on some football memories. For Tomlin and Roethlisberger, the highlight of their careers was Super Bowl 43, a win over the Arizona Cardinals. For Roethlisberger, it was his second Super Bowl; for Tomlin, his first, and the Steelers’ sixth.
In a game that had so many iconic players, the first half was capped by James Harrison’s 100-yard pick-six. Going against the play call and dropping into coverage, Harrison picked off Kurt Warner and weaved his way into the end zone for an incredible end-of-half score.
Joining Roethlisberger’s podcast, Tomlin was asked what went through his head as he watched the play unfold. In short, he didn’t think Harrison had a chance to score.
“There ain’t no way in the world I thought he was gonna make it,” Tomlin told Roethlisberger.” I didn’t think he was gonna make it. Like just the stuff that was going on around him. People was running around him and doubling back…Ike was running beside him…there was no way I thought he was going to score.”
Tomlin said his initial thought was that Harrison held the Cardinals off the scoreboard. As Harrison approached midfield, Tomlin thought Pittsburgh might be able to kick a field goal. But as Harrison kept running, Tomlin realized he might score. Or get tackled and run out of time.
“It was very late in the down before I started considering the fact that he was gonna score.”
Here’s a look back at the play, though I assume it’s one etched into every Steelers’ fan mind.
A great defensive play made by a great defensive player on a great defense. Roethlisberger’s game-winning throw to Santonio Holmes is what won the Super Bowl, but it was a total team effort – both throughout the game and on this play. Without a convoy of blockers, including an oft-forgotten Troy Polamalu shove on Larry Fitzgerald that put him into sideline traffic, Harrison wouldn’t have scored. But he did. He made football history. He made Steelers history.
Tomlin approached Harrison in the end zone after things had calmed down and Harrison responded in only the way he can.
“The funniest thing is he’s down. He’s down over there. He’s down and he’s flat. I run over there to get him like [head trainer John Norwig] and some other people. I go out there after him and I look down at him and he’s flat, man. I was like ‘James.’ He was like, ‘I’m tired, boss.’ In the James sort of way. ‘I’m tired boss.’ They’re trying to figure out what’s wrong with him, Cause he’s flat…’I’m tired, boss.’ I’m like, ‘bro, it’s halftime and you scored. Get up man, we’ve got a Super Bowl halftime, man.’
” ‘I’m tired, boss.’ That’s an exact quote. Classic James.”
I pulled the actual clip of Tomlin on that quote because hearing it is so much better than just reading it.
As has been told over the years, Harrison dropped into coverage on his own accord, not through Dick LeBeau’s play call, which had him blitzing off the edge on the play. But Harrison sensed a quick throw and bailed, something that Tomlin said made the play extra special.
“It wasn’t taught then and special players do things that shape coaching. And that’s an example of it. Did we teach it? Heck no, we did not teach it. Do we teach it today? Not only do we teach it but everyone teaches it.”
Today, those droppers are common in the NFL. If the line slides to you in those heavy-blitz moments, you drop out, like the “Rain” blitz where both inside linebackers mug the A gaps and the ‘backer to the center slides drops into coverage while the other rushes. And Tomlin says Harrison’s interception influenced how coaches teach the game to the point coverages like that are common around the league, including in Pittsburgh.
“That’s James Harrison’s contribution to the game of football.”
His contribution is that and then some. He and that play will be part of football immortality, shown time and time again five, ten, 50 years from now. It was a 100-yard mad dash. By the end, Harrison was exhausted.
And it was completely worth it.
Check out the whole episode with Tomlin below.