TAMPA, Fla. -- The ball glanced off his fingertips. He fell to earth gripped by disbelief, frustration, emptiness. The game-winning, championship-securing, legend-making touchdown pass just eluded him.
Santonio Holmes came back to the huddle with a message for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
I want to be the guy who gets this game for you.
Game, championship, legend status as well.
Move over, Lynn Swann. What may surpass any acrobatic Swann dives of yesteryear may well have to step aside in this immediate-gratification age for the tippy-toes touchdown catch Holmes made in the back corner of the end zone, with 35 seconds left, with the ring and title accoutrements on the line, with -- what? -- two, three, seemingly every Cardinals defender surrounding him.
History will record it as a 6-yard pass, Roethlisberger to Holmes, touchdown.
Memories will cherish it in the cockles-warming company of Bill Mazeroski's homer, Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception, you name it. Like Maz, the receiver teammates know as "Tone" set one for generations to come.
"My feet never left the ground," the Super Bowl XLIII MVP said of the play that last night opened a six-pack Super Bowl celebration for the Steelers and their fandom, 27-23, as dramatic a Super finish for them -- in their seventh of the XLIII -- as perhaps ever by any team.
Funny, but a Steeler Nation's feet still haven't touched ground.
"All I did was extend my arms and use my toes as extra extension to catch up to the ball," Holmes added. He missed the one in the left, back corner. He didn't miss the one in the right, back corner.
"I was right there. I knew he caught the ball," Arizona cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said.
Holmes picked up the tale: "It was a play that we drew up that we were hoping to get open in the back of the corner. The defensive back bit up on the short route, and Ben held onto the ball long enough to get it to me."
It was Holmes' ninth catch of the game for 131 yards, a game high and even superior to Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, who kept right on breaking NFL records previously held by the receiving standard, Jerry Rice. Holmes was on the receiving end of more than half of Roethlisberger's 256 passing yards.
Yet this third-year pro from Ohio State, the one who was deactived the week of the New York Giants game after an drug incident in the Hill District, earned himself with that one drive a spot on the sides of Pittsburgh buildings. On the Super Bowl-winning drive, he accounted for 75 of the 78 yards. He caught a 14-yarder on the drive's second play, a 13-yarder on the fourth and the break-out 40-yarder on the seventh. The clock ticked. Time was slipping.
Holmes was just missing that catch in the left corner.
Forty-eight seconds remained.
"The first read was the running back [Mewelde Moore], 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, and I was a little nervous about it. I looked back, scrambled a little bit and saw Tone in the corner. I tried to throw it high so he was going to catch it, or no one was."
Maybe Swann in his heyday, but he never did it in a final championship minute. Neither did John Stallworth. Or Rice.
Greatest catch anyone ever saw? "Man, Super Bowl? Yes," Willie Parker said. "By a teammate? Yes."
Ward offered through tears afterward: "He's had the talent, I just constantly told him he was going to do real special things. What better way to do it here. And the way he did it."
"That was one of the best catches I've ever seen," linebacker James Farrior said.
"We are going down in history right now," Holmes concluded of an unprecedented sixth Super Bowl title by the Steelers. "We are going down in history."
On his toes.
Chuck Finder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .