Simply put, Super Bowl XLIII the best

Move over Franco, Harrison's 100-yard return a game savior

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Best Super Bowl in history? Check.

Best play in Super Bowl history? Check. (I know: Which play?)

Best catch in Super Bowl history? Man, it has to at least be in the conversation, doesn't it?

Best comeback in Super Bowl history? Ah, I can't quite go there. Sorry, Big Ben.

Not that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is complaining. Not this morning. Not after becoming a two-time Super Bowl champion in the Steelers' 27-23 victory against the Arizona Cardinals last night that left the 70,774 watching in Raymond James Stadium and countless millions around the world absolutely breathless.

If you ask me, $800 for a ticket to watch this jewel was a bargain.

"Our guys don't blink," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said after becoming the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl, the Steelers' second in four years and their record sixth overall.

Some might argue there have been better Super Bowls. Legendary quarterback Joe Willie Namath, who handed the Lombardi Trophy to Steelers owner Dan Rooney after the confetti fell last night, played in a pretty remarkable one in Super Bowl III, leading the New York Jets past the ridiculously favored Baltimore Colts. Much more recently, the New York Giants stunned the world by upsetting the unbeaten New England Patriots last year in Super Bowl XLII.

But this one beat 'em all.

Four scores in the final 7 minutes, 33 seconds? Arizona going from 20-7 down to 23-20 ahead in -- what -- a blink of the eye? Roethlisberger leading the Steelers 78 yards in the final two minutes-and-change to win it on wide receiver Santonio Holmes' fabulous 6-yard touchdown catch with 35 seconds left?

You gotta be kidding.

Steelers fans know better than anyone that there have been dozens of extraordinary catches in the Super Bowl. Wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth are in the Hall of Fame because of theirs on the NFL's grandest stage. But that touchdown catch by Holmes is right there with the very best.

Everyone talked about how Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had the best hand-eye coordination and ball skills coming into the game. And he was terrific in the fourth quarter after Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley and quarterback Kurt Warner had virtually ignored him in the first three, throwing to him just twice. Fitzgerald gave his team a 23-20 lead with a 64-yard touchdown catch and could have been the Super Bowl MVP if the Cardinals had held on to win.

But Holmes would have none of that.

He and not Steelers linebacker James Harrison -- my choice -- is your MVP, mostly because he made the final spectacular play.

The athleticism Holmes showed catching the ball and keeping both feet down in the back, right corner of the end zone was almost surreal.

"Santonio is a guy who just loves to deliver in big games," Tomlin said. "In big moments, we know what we can get from him."

Added Roethlisberger of Holmes: "I told him, 'Don't let it get to your head.' The sky's the limit for that guy. He has the potential to go where no receiver has ever gone."

Speaking of going to a place where no one's ever been ...

You know it's a wonderful night when the best play in Super Bowl history almost seems like it was inconsequential. But if Harrison doesn't intercept the Warner pass at the Steelers' goal line at the end of the first half and return it 100 yards for a touchdown, the Steelers almost certainly don't win. Instead of either being tied, 10-10, at the half or down 14-10, they were thrilled to take a 17-7 lead to the locker room.

It would have been enough that Harrison stepped in front of Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin and made the interception, denying the Cardinals of precious points. But the return that followed was stunning. Picking up a great block by cornerback Deshea Townsend, he staggered up the sideline in front of the Arizona bench and made it to the pylon just ahead of Fitzgerald and wide receiver Steve Breaston and just as time was expiring in the half.

"James Harrison was the defensive player of the year," Fitzgerald said. "He proved to everyone in the world why he was given that honor. He's an amazing player."

The return made it the longest play in Super Bowl history.

"It was the greatest single defensive play in Super Bowl history," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau gushed.

Actually, it was a lot more than that.

It was the greatest play -- period -- in all of the Super Bowls. Go ahead. Try picking a better one.

I'm willing to take it even a bit further.

I'm willing to at least consider it for the greatest play in NFL history.

Franco Harris' catch in the playoffs against the Oakland Raiders in 1972 -- regarded by many as the sport's best play -- merely won the Steelers' first playoff game in 40 years. The Harrison interception and return for a touchdown helped to win the Steelers' historic sixth Super Bowl championship.

Doesn't that trump even the Immaculate Reception?

Hey, it's a question worth asking.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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