Friday, February 6, 2009

THE LONGEST YARD

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“Upon further review”, I’ve come away with a slightly different perspective of Super Bowl XLIII. A day or two after the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 27 to 23 win (some have said, “Zebra-given gift”) over the Arizona Cardinals, I kind of replayed the game in my mind. This time it didn’t take as long because I mentally removed all of the ridiculously overhyped and overrated TV commercials as well as Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band’s halftime Shoutfest. (Thank God that Clarence Clemons didn’t suffer a “wardrobe malfunction.” Nobody wants to see THAT!) It has often been said that “football is a game of inches.” Let there be no doubt about it.

It is now apparent to me that Pittsburgh did not really win by 4 points; they won by much less than that. Go back with me to that final play of the first half, because that is where this game was really decided: The Cardinals are at the Steelers’ one yard line with just 18 seconds left in the half. They have enough time to take perhaps two shots at the endzone for six points and, barring success, then settle for a nearly God-guaranteed three-point field goal.

Believing that Steelers linebacker James Harrison is blitzing on the play (a reasonable assumption given the circumstances and where he is located on the line of scrimmage), Warner attempts to connect with Anquan Boldin on a short pass. Bad move. Harrison, who was actually playing the pass - not blitzing - intercepts the ball and then lumbers one hundred yards down the sideline for a Pittsburgh touchdown as time in the half expires. This is the very worst sort of play that can happen to the offensive unit on a football field because it’s not just a turnover that costs your team certain points, but it’s a turnover that costs your team points AND gets converted into points for your opponent. The ol’ Double Whammy. Ouch! Damn, that hurts!

But here comes the real crux of the situation - the point of this post: Arizona receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston gave chase after Harrison intercepted the ball, and they managed to catch him and haul him down at the very front of the endzone, but not before Harrison and the football broke the plane of the goal line for a Pittsburgh touchdown. There was no time left on the clock at the conclusion of this surprising play, so the first half ended with the score, Pittsburgh 17 – Arizona 7. Cardinals’ head coach Ken Whisenhunt later said of Harrison’s ‘Pick Six’: “Gosh, dog, it was one of those things that seemed to happen in slow motion.” All the better to torment you with, my dear!

If regulation football fields were 101 yards long, rather than 100, the first half would have ended with Pittsburgh leading 10 to 7. Or to put it the other way: If Fitzgerald and Breaston had been able to tackle Harrison only one yard earlier, the Steelers would not have added those 7 points to their score, for the first half would have ended with the ball on the Arizona one yard line. Take 7 points off the board for the Black and Gold and what game-ending score do you come up with? Arizona Cardinals 23 – Pittsburgh Steelers 20.

Some observers have erroneously stated that the interception return for a touchdown was not the most important play of the game since Arizona did eventually overcome that deficit by staging the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history during the fourth quarter, only to fall behind again in the final minutes. But without that freakish, one-in-a-million play at the very end of the first half, the Cardinals would not have NEEDED to produce the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

No, sir. Make no mistake about this - not only was that interception return for a Pittsburgh touchdown a play that we will be seeing in highlight films for the rest of our lives, it was also the play that ultimately decided the outcome of the game. But it would have been reduced to nothing more than a footnote to Super Bowl XLIII if Fitzgerald and Breaston had been able to catch up with Harrison only a yard earlier. The bottom line is that this was the decisive play of the contest. The Arizona Cardinals did not lose the 43rd Super Bowl by 4 points; they lost it by just a single yard of green turf. In the entire game, the Cardinals actually outgained the Steelers 407 yards to 292. But only ONE of those 292 Pittsburgh yards separated Arizona from victory. It was gained midpoint in the contest with no time left on the clock. How close was this Super Bowl? The Arizona Cardinals gave up only one yard too many. "Missed it by THAT much."

~ Stephen T. McCarthy
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2 comments:

mousiemarc said...

At least the cardinals didn't have all their first downs called back all game long like the seahawks did. Win or lose this was one of the best games I've watched. The steelers vs. seahawks was one of the worst... At least the refs didn't ruin this game.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Well, here's a question for ya, BR'ER: That final play of the game, when Kurt Warner "fumbled" the ball away to the Steelers (or "Stealers" as our friend Mr. Paul would write it), was that really a fumble? Or an incomplete pass? What's the view from where you were sitting... or standing?

Granted, we don't know what may or may not have happened had the Cardinals kept possession of the ball with 5 final seconds left on the clock to throw a Hail Mary. (Although I don't believe anyone on that field could have outjumped Fitzgerald for the football.) But did you think the officials got the call right on that "fumble"? And didn't it strike you that they were in an awful hurry to make that call and get that game over with? ("Objection! Leading the witness!")

Your HONEST Opinion Here: ________

~ STMcC
<"As a dog returns to his own vomit,
so a fool repeats his folly."
~ Proverbs 26:11>