TAMPA, Fla. - The winning play of the Super Bowl was right out of a schoolyard.
Scamble right, scramble left, find someone open.
The perfect unscripted ending to a game of improbable swings.
Their Steel Curtain shredded, Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes improvised the 6-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left that gave the Pittsburgh Steelers a record-setting sixth Super Bowl victory, 27-23 over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night.
“Great players step up in big-time games to make plays,” said Holmes, the game’s MVP. He said he told Roethlisberger that he “wanted to be the guy to make the plays for this team.”
And he was.
Holmes grabbed the ball with both arms stretched fully above his head in the back right corner of the end zone, his toes barely dragging inbounds. He fell, sat up and cradled the ball like the prize it was.
This thriller certainly matched last year’s upset of the New England Patriots by the New York Giants that ended with Plaxico Burress’ TD catch — with 35 seconds left, too.
But this one was even wilder. With the last tension-packed seconds ticking away, a kneeling Roethlisberger held coach Mike Tomlin’s hand as Kurt Warner led one last, but futile, drive.
“These guys just don’t blink,” Tomlin said. “They deliver. It’s never going to be pretty or perfect, if you will, but they have a great deal of resolve.”
The Steelers (15-4), winning their second Super Bowl in four seasons, led 20-7 in the fourth quarter, only to see Warner and the Cardinals stage a remarkable rally to go in front 23-20 with 2:37 remaining.
Fitzgerald could only watch from the sideline as Roethlisberger engineered a 78-yard drive to win it in what resembled Heinz Field South. With waves of twirling Terrible Towels turning Raymond James Stadium into a black-and-gold tableau — Steelers fans supporting their beloved team, the economy be damned — Pittsburgh’s offense rescued the title.
“I knew it was a touchdown 100 percent,” Holmes said, even though it had to withstand a video review. “My feet never left the ground. All I did was stand up on my toes and extended my hands.”
And hauled in the pass that punctuated another Pittsburgh championship, adding to those won in the 1974, ’75, ’78, ’79 and ’05 seasons.
The stunning swings overshadowed Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison’s record 100-yard interception return for a touchdown to end the first half. That looked like the signature play until the final quarter, when both teams shook off apparent knockout punches to throw haymakers of their own.
Big Ben and Holmes struck the last blow, and when Warner fumbled in the final seconds, the Cardinals’ dream of winning their first NFL crown since 1947 were gone.
“I said it’s now or never, I told the guys all the film study you put in doesn’t matter unless you do it now,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m really proud of the way they responded.”
And they couldn’t get Fitzgerald free until very late. But boy did he get free.
The All-Pro who already had set a postseason record for yards receiving and had five touchdowns in the playoffs was a nonentity until an 87-yard fourth-quarter drive he capped with a leaping 1-yard catch over Ike Taylor. He made four receptions on that series on which Warner hit all eight passes for all the yards.
And then he struck swiftly for the 64-yarder that put Arizona within minutes of a remarkable victory — a victory that never came because of the resilience of this Steelers team.
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