After watching last year’s Super Bowl, I never thought another one would come close to matching its suspense and pure entertainment.
The storylines around last year’s game — most notably the New England Patriots’ hunt for an unprecedented 19-0 record — made the game all-the-more memorable. And when, following Eli Manning’s frantic scramble in the pocket, David Tyree came down with one of the most amazing catches in NFL history, the impossible started looking very possible. Before you knew it, Plaxico Burress was hauling down the game-winning touchdown, and the Giants — perhaps the biggest underdogs to win a Super Bowl since the Joe Namath’s New York Jets in Super Bowl III — snatched a perfect season from the grasping hands of the evil, hated Patriots.
But what happened last night in Tampa promises to be etched in American sporting lore for years to come.
The Arizona Cardinals, labeled by many as the worst playoff team in history, put together a Cinderella run on the shoulders of rejuvenated 37-year-old quarterback Kurt Warner, who had been relegated to the quarterbacking scrap heap when the Cardinals signed him as a free agent in 2005.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, under the leadership of the youngest coach to reach the Super Bowl in NFL history — 36-year-old Mike Tomlin — were looking to add an unprecedented sixth Super Bowl banner to Heinz Field. It would be their second in four seasons.
Pittsburgh went on to win, 27-23, in what turned out to be a game that was more than anyone could ask for. But besides the fact that the Steelers hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy and the Cardinals came out empty-handed, a couple things stood out from this game.
Kurt Warner cemented his spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Coming into the game, many in the media were debating whether the gloved one’s resumé was Canton-worthy. But there shouldn’t be any doubt now.
The Northern Iowa product has been Super Bowl MVP and has the three best passing yard totals in Super Bowl history. He is a two-time MVP and is ranked third in NFL history in passer rating and second in career completion percentage.
Critics say he hasn’t been great long enough. From 2002 to 2006, Warner didn’t throw more than 11 touchdown passes in a campaign and was thought to be a washed up signal caller, one who only benefited from the offensive powerhouse for which he called the plays in St. Louis.
But this season Warner threw for 4,583 yards and 30 touchdowns and finished with the second-highest passer rating in the league. And last night’s performance — 31 of 43 for 377 yards and three touchdowns to go with what could have been a monumental comeback against the league’s top-rated defense — should punch his ticket to Canton. Sure, the James Harrison pick six just before halftime and Warner’s holding onto the ball too long on the game’s last play may have reminded some of his terrible years, but the overall performance was one of the best in the game’s history.
Best Receiver in the NFL
Larry Fitzgerald is the best wide receiver on the planet. Period. And his dad is a sportswriter, which gives me hope.
The argument is that football referees are the best officials in sports. Not so much. The 2008-’09 season, beginning with Ed Hochuli’s blown call in Week 1 to rob the Chargers and continuing with the delay of game no-call on Joe Flacco and the Ravens in the AFC Divisional round, will go down as one of the worst officiated in recent memory.
Over the last couple of seasons the guys in zebra uniforms have seemed to penalize pretty much any contact after a whistle. Even if it’s a split second after. And you were pushed. And you didn’t knock the person down.
This is especially prevalent in how quarterbacks are protected and last night was a perfect example. Ben Roethlisberger, one of the league’s biggest and most injury-prone quarterbacks, received the benefit of zebra protection when Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby hit Big Ben just after he released the ball.
How exactly are you supposed to avoid someone in a split second when you’re running full speed at him? Especially when Roethlisberger had been impossible to take down in the backfield with his ability to extend the play and find receivers open downfield.
It’s understandable that the league is looking to protect its players — especially its golden-boy quarterbacks — but at some point the league needs to soften up the rules and toughen up its game.
Then there is the whole review system. Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt needed to challenge two calls to get them right after the officials couldn’t get them right the first time, in addition to a couple official reviews that were made with under two minutes on the clock.
How about just getting it right the first time around? Instead of relying of the safety net of reviewing the play, referees need to get the calls right. The review system was put in play as a last resort — not to be used at will. A lot of times the coaches are left sucking up a bad call instead of using one of two precious challenges given to them each game.
And why the last play of the game was not reviewed is beyond me. It looked as though Warner may have had his arm moving forward when he was hit from behind by Lamar Woodley and fumbled away the pigskin to conclude the game.
Either way, Super Bowl XLIII will go down as one of the greatest in history and here’s hoping XLIV in Miami will follow it up the way last night’s followed up Super Bowl XLII.
And while I’m at it, I’m predicting a rematch of Super Bowl XLII in Super Bowl XXLIV and New England winning it. In Belichick We Trust.