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SUPER BOWL XLIII / STEELERS 27, CARDINALS 23

Six is the magic number for Steelers

Santonio Holmes' six-yard reception for the winning touchdown with 35 seconds to play gives Pittsburgh a dramatic 27-23 win over Arizona, and its record sixth Super Bowl title.

February 02, 2009|Sam Farmer

TAMPA, FLA. — What started with the toes, ended with the thumbs.

Thanks to the precise end-zone pirouette of Pittsburgh receiver Santonio Holmes, the Steelers now have enough championship rings for both thumbs.

In a game so dramatic it smashed a dozen Super Bowl records, Pittsburgh's magic number in its 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals was a dazzling half a dozen.

Six yards.

Six points.

Six rings.

That's a six-yard catch by Holmes for an unbelievable, unforgettable touchdown -- and, as a result, more Lombardi trophies than any other franchise.

Things were so crazy and delirious after the game, Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin couldn't hear what President Obama was saying on the other end of the congratulatory phone call, nor did the coach get a chance to wrap his hands around the sterling silver Tiffany football that goes to the victors.

"I actually never even touched it," said Tomlin, who won his first Super Bowl in his second season as the team's coach. "I see five of them every day when I go to work. I know what they look like. I'm just glad that I can do my part in terms of contributing to that trophy case."

In fact, everyone pitched in. From the spectacular winning drive engineered by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to the 100-yard interception return of linebacker James Harrison, the Steelers created a memory that won't soon fade.

Pittsburgh's comeback ended the Cardinals' dream playoff run, and wiped out what would have been the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. Arizona, which trailed by 13 midway through the fourth quarter, looked as if it would cap its storybook season with the ultimate prize.

Larry Fitzgerald, the best receiver in football, was all but shut out for the first 3 1/2 quarters but came to life down the stretch. He scored on a one-yard touchdown reception with 7 minutes 33 seconds to play, pulling the Cardinals to within six. Then, with 2:37 left, he sliced through the middle of Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense for a 64-yard touchdown.

Fitzgerald left defenders so far in his wake, he was able to look up and watch himself on the video board as he glided into the end zone. Suddenly, he wasn't just fabulous Fitzgerald, he was a high-tech, high-geared Larry the cable guy.

But that touchdown, which (coupled with a safety on Pittsburgh just 21 seconds earlier) gave the Cardinals a 23-20 lead, only set the stage for the Steelers' rally.

Roethlisberger and Holmes were brilliant on the final drive, a masterpiece that earned the receiver most-valuable-player honors. Holmes had four catches for 73 yards on that march, including a 40-yard catch-and-run that took the Steelers to the Arizona six-yard line. Two plays later he beat a triple team to make his twinkle-toes touchdown reception in the deep right corner.

Holmes was not the first option on that touchdown toss. In fact, he was No. 3.

"The first read was the running back in the flat, but he wasn't open," Roethlisberger said. "Then I was going to try to bang it to Hines [Ward] real quick, but someone was closing in on him and I was a little nervous about it; it wouldn't have been a touchdown.

"So I just kind of looked left and scrambled right a little bit and saw 'Tone in the corner and decided just to throw it high, because either he was going to catch it or no one was going to catch it. Luckily, he made a heck of a play."

So astounding was the grab, and so thick was the traffic jam of Cardinals, the reaction was a bit delayed on the Pittsburgh sideline, giving everyone time to rub their eyes in disbelief.

But it was real. Very real.

"My feet never left the ground," said Holmes, whose feet actually did leave the turf, albeit slightly. "All I did was extend my arms and use my toes as extra extension to catch up to the ball."

The Cardinals had one last-gasp chance to counterpunch, but only 35 seconds to do so. Still, with the way things had gone for them this postseason, almost anything was possible.

So the Steelers couldn't truly exhale until quarterback Kurt Warner was sacked near midfield with 15 seconds left, and the ball was pried loose from his hand. Linebacker Lamar Woodley caused the fumble and defensive end Brett Keisel recovered it, securing the victory.

Warner and the Cardinals disputed that it was a fumble and wanted it to be reviewed by officials, who are entrusted with making the decision to do so in the last two minutes of each half.

"I was surprised they didn't" review it, Warner said. "I really felt like my arm was moving forward. I felt like I almost got the ball off. It was very surprising, especially in that situation.

"I was on the sideline waiting for them to review it, but I looked up and [the Steelers] were taking a knee."

For Warner, only the second quarterback in NFL history to take two separate franchises to the Super Bowl, the final chapter was a bittersweet one.

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