Monday, February 02, 2009

A Superb Super Bowl

With six to seven months until meaningful football is played again, the final game of the NFL season - the one that determines the champion, the one that millions of people have essentially turned into a national holiday - should leave a lasting impression. And Super Bowl XLIII most certainly did not disappoint.

After the Steelers' Santonio Holmes caught the winning touchdown, somehow reaching high into the air to snare the football, while also dragging his toes along the grass to stay in bounds, I briefly thought I might not ever watch football again. Because I'm not sure any future games can match this.

What chance do they have? This game had everything! Pittsburgh gained the upper hand, but then Arizona fought back. And when it looked like the Cardinals might take the lead for the first time, the game turned with probably the most spectacular play ever made in the Super Bowl: James Harrison intercepting Kurt Warner's pass at the Steelers' goal line and running his 242 pounds the entire 100-yard length of the field to score a touchdown. Instead of a 14-10 Arizona lead, the first half ended with Pittsburgh up 17-7.

That could've been a knockout punch for the Steelers. So often, an opponent can't recover from a blow like that.

But the Cardinals did, pecking away at that 10-point deficit, until they finally had a breakthrough when Larry Fitzgerald found a crack in Pittsburgh's defense and ran like he was shot out of a rocket, streaking 64 yards for what had to be the game-winning touchdown. And most of the time, it would be.

(Incidentally, I've always admired Fitzgerald as an athlete, but I officially became a fan when a pre-game feature mentioned that he's kept his mother's drivers license in his wallet ever since she passed away. I do the same with my father's drivers license.)

Yet with just enough time remaining on the clock (2:30, I believe) for one last comeback, the Steelers did just that, putting together the kind of game-winning touchdown drive that fans talk about with reverence for decades.

I didn't think Ben Roethlisberger (or as my mother calls him, "Burger," apparently because she's intimidated by all those consonants) was that great of a quarterback. Good, yes. But drives like that make a player legendary, up there with Joe Montana, John Elway, and Tom Brady. At first glance, Roethlisberger doesn't appear to belong alongside those names. And maybe he doesn't in terms of overall career achievements. But he's right with them in Super Bowl performances.

For anyone who would ask why I love sports, I'd point to that game-winning touchdown. Besides the dramatic backdrop, it's the feat itself that amazes me. Roethlisberger threw the football exactly where he had to, over three Arizona defenders, toward the back corner of the end zone where only his receiver could catch it. Just high enough, just far enough. If he had to make that throw again, who knows if he could? Maybe he'd think about it too much. Or throw it too low. Or throw it too far. But hell, maybe he could. Maybe Roethlisberger is just that good.

There is one thing about the very end of the game that really bugs me, though. The outcome became official once it was ruled that Kurt Warner fumbled the ball and turned it over to Pittsburgh. Yet if Warner's arm was coming forward in a throwing motion, the play would've been ruled an incomplete pass and Arizona would've kept the ball for at least one more chance to try and win the game. The play, however, was called a fumble. And the determination was made so fast by the referees that the evidence would seem conclusive. I think it was anything but.

It's not just that the call may have been wrong. It's that it wasn't even reviewed. Which is baffling, because officials had taken second looks at every questionable play in the game, utilizing the multiple camera angles that were available. Why the rush to make such a quick decision? Considering the stakes, how can you not even take a look at that play, to make sure the right call was made?

Oh, and I can't write about last night's game without mentioning Bruce Springsteen's halftime show. More than the music, I was impressed by The Boss giving America a closer view of his crotch than they may have been ready for.