Posted 02/02/2009 at 11:23 AM
I'm a bit embarrassed that many are considering Super Bowl XLIII one of the best Super Bowls ever. There certainly was great drama at the end as well as several great game changing plays but the excitement over the score changes at the end masks a lot of awful things that happened in the game. Exciting fourth quarter, not a great game.
In a year that can only be remembered for officiating blunders and controversy this game fit right in. The Cardinals successfully challenged and overturned two blown calls and we were left with huge penalty yardage numbers for both teams.
The James Harrison interception at the end of the half was called correctly in the sense that it was too close to overturn the ruling on the field. Full motion replays appeared to show Harrison going in, still shot photos made him look down, but it was certainly not indisputable from the replays.
Harrison was on pace to potentially be the MVP and a big story of the game but he also was caught in one of the most classless acts ever captured with a Super Bowl lens, twice punching a fallen Arizona player then unnecessarily shoving him on his back. As John Madden correctly pointed out there would have been no arguing his case had they ejected him from the game.
Kurt Warner had huge numbers in the game and looked brilliant at times but the interception at the end of the half will go down as one of the all-time Super Bowl blunders and it likely cost him his second Super Bowl ring. Warner had one of the great yardage totals in any Super Bowl but much of the yardage came after the catch.
Santonio Holmes emerged as an elite playmaker with his incredible game and the final Pittsburgh drive where he appeared to be the sole target. Holmes had two catches wiped out due to penalties as well and could have had a record setting game. The corner catch in the end zone to take the lead will be played over and over on Super Bowl highlight reels but amidst the discussion among the officials an egregious celebration penalty was missed as Holmes blatantly used the ball as prop and 15-yards should have been pushed back on the Pittsburgh kickoff, which would have made an enormous difference in Arizona's final drive.
Ben Roehtlisberger is knocked by a lot by QB purists and he certainly has his share of poor passes but his incredible ability to avoid tackles and be so elusive even at his size is what wins Pittsburgh games. Knowing this ability and his massive size made the ridiculous roughing the passer call even tougher to stomach but it really is a treat to watch him make plays. It is often not pretty but at 27 he has two Super Bowl wins and could go down as an all-time great.
The decision to not review Warner's final fumble more thoroughly was surprising. It would not have been overturned but arguments for either camp of the interpretation have validity. Perhaps it was fitting that the NFL season would end with another questionable officiating decision. Still, we were robbed of final play pass in the end zone heading in Fitzgerald's direction.
Arizona had plenty of mistakes but did fall on the short end of a few questionable officiating decisions and close calls. Pittsburgh was called for many critical penalties in the 4th quarter so although the calls and overall penalty yardage was not close to even, those crying foul are likely just upset. Seahawks fans might have had a familiar feeling watching this year's game as Seattle had the same type of bad luck with several horrendous calls in the loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL. That Arizona led late in the game and still covered is pretty remarkable given all the things that happened.
With all the mistakes and ugly play it really just proved that these teams may not have been the best teams in the league. Arizona obviously caught a lot of breaks to make it to this game and the careless penalties and defensive breakdowns pointed to a team that was not championship worthy. The Steelers had a cakewalk playoff path given what their opponents had to go through with travel and injuries and the vaunted defense proved overrated. The Steelers looked dominant at times defensively but allowed over 400 yards and failed in big situations late in the game. As they did much of the season, the Steelers relied on big plays to bail them out of bad situations and ultimately help them win the game.
Most of the negative things about Super Bowl XLIII will be washed away from our memories over time and the only references will be to Arizona coming back from 13-points and the great Pittsburgh scoring drive at the end of the game, but in reality it was an ugly game between two teams that were likely not the best the league could have offered this season. Although the Steelers are the champions and deserve credit, their triumph may not carry the same weight of some of the past great Super Bowl championship teams that won with dominant play and great execution, not by being severely out-gained and catching a few huge breaks.