Monday, February 02, 2009
If you are new to the planet, I should inform you that once upon a time, these Super Bowls were not very good. I know in the last 10 years, you could certainly make the case that 6 of the 10 have been very good games, but it wasn’t always like that.
But, last night, I am tempted to say, was awesome. Yes, I may be guilty of giving a movie a great review based on the last 30 minutes, but, the drama and intrigue of the 4th Quarter was flat-out spectacular even if the game was on a Sunday afternoon in October. But for it to be with the world-wide audience of a Super Bowl? Bravo, football world, bravo.
The Pittsburgh Steelers closed the deal on their record-sixth Super Bowl, and thus have the claim in some circles as the dominant team in the Super Bowl era. The idea that they have won 2 Super Bowls in 4 years also puts them dangerously close to qualifying for a dynasty if they can win one more in the next 2 years. It is hard to conceive that this Steelers team is a dominant force, because parts of their team don’t seem very dominating (the offensive line seems about as average as it gets), but let us give great credit where credit is due: They win. They win a lot. And they win in many different ways.
The Arizona Cardinals, on the other hand, must do what the Dallas Mavericks did a few years ago. That is, in defeat, wonder if that was “their chance”. Wonder if leading a Super Bowl with 40 seconds to go was the closest they would ever come to winning it all, and now have to wander the earth feeling like they blew it. You feel badly, because they fought their tails off, but only one team gets the trophy.
It was 4 hours of football immortality… it was worth the hype…It was the Super Bowl. Notes from a big night in Tampa:
• Why can’t the officials, who go to such painstaking lengths to review every piece of minutia, just look again at the Cardinals last-gasp effort that was ruled a fumble? Why am I left to hear Al Michaels assure me that “they looked at it and ruled it properly” when it was clear they did not have time to do this? It seemed very much like the Brett Hull goal in Buffalo; it may have been the right result, but would it kill anyone to take 60 seconds and make sure the right team is being crowned? Before you can consider the replay, the Steelers have taken a knee and the game is over.
• Santonio Holmes has broken out this season in a huge way. For the last 2 months, when the Steelers needed something clutch to happen, Holmes has been there nearly every time. And, for all of the catches and punt returns before Sunday, the former Buckeye’s domination in that game – especially late – was the stuff of absolute legend. He is the sixth WR to win the MVP trophy, with 3 being Steelers (Swann, Ward) and 3 being the rest of the league (Biletnikoff, Rice, Branch). Holmes was so great on the final drive, and to make the story book even better, the play before the play was in the opposite corner and went through his out-stretched hands. He got another chance in the other corner, and what a catch he made.
• Meanwhile, Larry Fitzgerald would certainly win the Conn Smythe award if football gave a “playoff mvp” instead of a Super Bowl MVP. The last month has taken the discussion out of the “who is the best WR in football” debate. There is no debate. #11 in red is at a different level, and he is not very old, either. Tell me, Steelers, what were you thinking on his 64 yard catch? What were the safeties thinking? Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu both bit on the sideline patterns from Breaston and Boldin, leaving the middle of the field completely bare. Unless this was a genius tactic to get the ball back, the Steelers really lost the plot there. If there is one guy who cannot be allowed to beat you down the middle of the field, it is Fitz. In the postgame, Holmes said “that we knew the defense would get us the ball back”. Yes, Santonio, technically allowing a 2 play drive that took only 16 seconds is getting the ball back, but that isn’t what they had in mind.
• The James Harrison interception return is likely the difference in the game. A 14 point swing in one snap is surely as gutting as it gets to the Cardinals efforts. This broke the record of the Desmond Howard kickoff return in Super Bowl XXXI. Harrison is such a great story and if it wasn’t for his absurd personal foul late in the game, he would be another guy who could have claimed a share of the MVP. Harrison is a stud. But, last night, you would have to argue whether his personal foul or Adrian Wilson’s personal foul qualifies as the worst play by an excellent player.
• Ben Roethlisberger played a fine game, in my estimation. He certainly came out sharp, and to lead his team on that final drive solidified his effort. You do wonder why the Cardinals called off the pass rush on the final drive, but regardless, the Steelers marched down the field in a situation where one mistake and they finish 2nd. Big Ben reminds me so much of Donovan McNabb, with those plays of sheer chaos that turn into something big. With 2 rings, he has already “made it”, and now we will see if he can achieve even more ahead. Keep in mind, he was the 3rd QB in the Eli Manning, Phil Rivers conversation in the 2004 draft.
• A few readers have raised good points. DRice suggested that the play at the end of the half may not have been quite as controversial if you consider that the half could not end on a defensive foul. Therefore, if it is called as it would seem to be written, the Steelers would have had another shot at things from the 3 inch line. I think that may be possible, but because no one has raised the point, I am wondering if the penalty was applicable. Then, there were several readers that wondered why Santonio was not penalized for his Lebron/hand powder celebration that used the football as a prop. The penalty would surely have caused the Steelers to kick from their 15 yard line, and really given the Cardinals a short field.
• I love the concept of the inverted cover 2. If you suggest that a safety is stronger than a corner, and a corner is faster than a safety, would it not stand to reason that the safety should be at the line for the jam, and the corner over the top for the footrace? Why hasn’t anyone thought of it until now? It only makes sense on a trouble double-cover, but if you have decided that you are dedicating 2 defenders to Fitzgerald on a given play, wouldn’t it make sense to jam him with Polamalu?
• When Dan Patrick handed the Lombardi trophy to Dan Rooney, he said “You are now the winningest franchise in NFL History”. Not to be a stickler, but I think you mean “Super Bowl history”. Because, with 6 NFL Titles, The Steelers rank 5th behind Green Bay (12), Chicago (9), Cleveland (8 – although 4 were in the AAFC), and the New York Giants (7). I know most people think that football began when we changed the name from NFL Championship game to the Super Bowl, but it did exist before that, too. Sorry about me.
• Famous celebrities for Arizona (complete list): Cuba Gooding, Jr. In fact, he may not actually like them, but since Rod Tidwell was the best player in franchise history before this season, I guess…
• Ken Whisenhunt’s use of the challenge system was brilliant. I am not sure I have ever seen a coach get the 3rd challenge. Nicely done.
• Maybe the best grab of Santonio’s night was the catch he made on 3rd and 10 from the Steelers 1 yard line late in the 4th Quarter. I thought it was crazy that the Steelers thought shotgun from their own endzone was a good plan. Holmes caught the ball with tremendous concentration, but it didn’t count because of the hold in the endzone. The safety cut the lead to 20-16, and then with the punt from the 20 instead of from the back of the endzone, I thought the Steelers actually may have benefited from the holding call. Alas, 2 plays later Fitzgerald was pulling away from the Steelers secondary like they had cement shoes.
• Guys who I should write about because of things they did on defense that positively impacted the game: Darnell Dockett, LaMarr Woodley, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, Ike Taylor.
• I really think Heath Miller is a fine Tight End. I bet the Steelers are just scratching the surface of what he can do. If they want to see his numbers really improve, get better tackles on the OL that can allow him to stop pass-protecting half the time.
• I feel badly for the great Kurt Warner fairy tale. The guy is absolute class and this would have been a neat way to retire, if he chose to do so. Best Kurt Warner stat? In 3 Super Bowls, this is the only one that has not been decided on the last play!
• Bottom line from Super Bowl XLIII: The better team won. Not easily, but the NFL doesn’t need consecutive years of 9-7 champions. The league benefits when good teams survive the playoff gauntlet, and although I thought the Patriots, Colts, and maybe even Chargers would be a better team in 2008 than the Steelers, I think they are a worthy champion. I am quite pleased with another season of NFL Football.
• Now, with only the combine, free agency, and the draft to amuse us, those of us who love the NFL more than anything else must go into our hibernation for 7 long months of “other stuff”. Sniff.