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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Ben Roethlisberger heightens drama on Letterman

Steelers quarterback tells the talk-show host how he thought his winning throw might be intercepted a day after Pittsburgh's Super Bowl victory. Santonio Holmes and Mike Tomlin recap game too.

February 03, 2009|SAM FARMER

FROM TAMPA, FLA. — Minutes after he threw the winning touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLIII, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he put the ball where only Santonio Holmes -- and not the three Arizona defenders surrounding him -- could catch it.

But in the retelling Monday, Roethlisberger's account grew even more gripping. He said on the "Late Show With David Letterman" that he thought the pass would be intercepted.

"I was getting ready to start running, and then I saw about five guys closing on me," said Roethlisberger, who high-tailed it from Tampa to New York to appear on the show. "I knew my life was about to end.

"I saw Santonio in the corner, and as soon as I let go of it, I saw the defensive back going to get it, and I thought it was intercepted. I thought the game was over. I thought I blew it. And you know what? He made a heck of a catch, he really did."

Who knows whether Roethlisberger was fudging a little for Letterman, or whether he just remembers things more clearly now that the fog of war has blown away? Either way, he has a riveting story to tell for the rest of his life.

That much is undeniable. Holmes, voted the game's most valuable player, looked fresh and chipper early Monday morning when he met with about 40 bleary-eyed reporters and photographers for the traditional most-valuable-player news conference.

He talked about redeeming himself, both for his misdeeds earlier in the season -- the Steelers suspended him for a week after police nabbed him for marijuana possession -- and for the pass that slipped through his hands on the play before the winning touchdown. The one that got away was a laser from Roethlisberger to the other corner of the end zone.

"It was a play I definitely should have made," Holmes said. "Ben put the ball where only I could catch it. I really took my eyes off of it thinking about keeping my feet down before I got my hands on the ball, and I just lost sight of the ball.

"But coming back, and having the faith in me and believing that I could be the one to make that play, he gave me the opportunity in the back of the end zone. I promised myself that this time I wouldn't lift those feet off the ground."

(TV shots appeared to show Holmes jump ever so slightly. Regardless, the catch wasn't in question.)

Holmes was joined at the news conference by Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin, and there's no disputing the feet of the Steelers' coach are squarely planted. Even though he's just 36, the youngest Super Bowl coach in history, Tomlin was as subdued and even-keeled Monday as a man 20 years his senior.

He's enjoying the moment -- he swears he is -- but there were very few broad smiles and absolutely no bold promises about next season.

"You won't hear me say words like 'repeat' or 'defending,' because it will be brand new," said Tomlin, echoing the sentiments New England's Bill Belichick uttered from the same podium after his Super Bowl victories. "This group will always be special to me. But sometime soon, that group will assume its place with others in history. It will be just that: history."

Translation: For Tomlin, the shelf life on satisfaction is measured in minutes.

After the game, Arizona's Kurt Warner was still looking for a satisfying answer on the Cardinals' final play, when he was hit and fumbled away the ball. Warner complained afterward that officials should have reviewed the call in the replay booth, saying he didn't think he fumbled.

But Mike Pereira, the league's supervisor of officials, told NBCsports.com on Monday that the booth indeed looked at replays and determined Warner fumbled.

"The ball got knocked loose and was rolling in his hand before [his arm] started forward," Pereira told the website. "He has to have total control."

The Steelers, if anyone, can understand how Warner might see things differently. Just listen to how Roethlisberger's account of the winning play got a little juicier. Or how Holmes doesn't think he left the ground.

In the end, only one thing matters to them: Who went home with the Lombardi Trophy? And that, even in the retelling, will never change.

--

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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