DETROIT -- This NFL game is played at a crazy speed by half-crazed players quarter after quarter, week after week for most of five months, but Ike Taylor will still remember this about his first Super Bowl. This above all else.
"How fast the Super Bowl went," he whispered late last night. "Guys are just flyin' around out there."
Super Bowl XL was a kaleidoscope of people flying fast and far, in 75-yard chunks, one after the next.
But as this monumental Steelers episode clicked into focus, this was perfectly clear: If the Steelers were going to win a fifth Super Bowl, it was going to have to be delivered by someone on a tiring defense in the face of a percussive up-tempo flock of Seahawks, an offense primed to overturn the most opulent statistic in Bill Cowher's coaching portfolio.
Willie Parker had run 75 yards in one direction, the longest touchdown run in Super Bowl history.
Kelly Herndon had run 76 yards in the other direction, toting an unconscionable underthrow from Ben Roethlisberger for the longest interception return in Super Bowl history.
Parker's lightning bolt made it 14-3, Pittsburgh, invoking the staggering 107-1-1 stat. That's Cowher's record when his team builds a lead of at least 11 points.
But Herndon's interception return set up Matt Hasselbeck's 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jerramy Stevens, who spent much of his Motown week cowering from the vitriol of Joey Porter. And with that, looking at a four-point deficit but with a gargantuan swing of momentum in their fuel tank, Seattle set out to avenge the law of averages. The Seahawks' focus was Taylor, whom they had been trying to set up for a lethal pass from the moment the game began.
"Coach was giving me that look in practice all week," Taylor said late last night. "You know, that look."
Jaw out; eyes alternating between baleful and blazing. Yeah, that look.
Cowher and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau anticipated that Taylor would get the most difficult exam of his career last night.
Hasselback had worked the down-and-out to Darrell Jackson against Taylor on two of the game's first three plays with modest success. But it wasn't so much 5- and 8-yard gains Seattle was looking for; it was trying to erode the confidence of a 25-year-old ending his first year as a starter on the world's biggest athletic stage.
"We'll give 'em those short passes," Taylor said. "We just don't want to get beat deep."
On their second possession, Hasselbeck floated one for Jackson on third-and-16, and Taylor dropped an interception. Twice more he tried to beat Ike on the deep right sideline, and both times Jackson did Ike the favor of catching it out of bounds.
But now, with the third quarter about to expire, the Seahawks were forced to start at their 2.
Three plays into a seemingly impossible drive, Hasselbeck sizzled a slant pass to Bobby Engram, scalding Taylor for 21 yards and a first down at the 48. On third-and-5 from the Pittsburgh 47, he found Engram on an out pattern again, good for 17 yards to the Steelers' 30. Thus, the Seahawks barged within range of overturning the stat, the lead, and to Pittsburgh, the world.
Hasselbeck now drilled Stevens, wide open in the middle of the field, and Stevens moved the ball within 36 inches of the goal. But Sean Locklear was flagged for holding Clark Haggans, putting Seattle at the 29 instead. Casey Hampton sacked Hasselbeck on the next play. Back to the 35. Two plays later, on third-and-18 at the 27, Hasselbeck went back to Jackson, back toward Ike Taylor, and Taylor delivered the play the Steelers so desperately needed.
Ike stepped in front of Jackson, picked off Hasselbeck's floater and returned it to the 39.
"We were in a cover three defense," Taylor said. "I had two receivers on my side. I knew we had to make a play. As a team, as a defense, we had to make a play. They'd run the same thing to that side in the first quarter, and I dropped the interception. I had to come up with this one."
Hasselbeck was so frustrated he incurred an unnecessary-roughness penalty at the play's end. Four plays later, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt pulled out a gadget play for a Steelers offense that hadn't done much all night except keep the defense on the field.
You might have seen it a few times by now.
Willie Parker with the handoff, the pitch to Antwaan Randle El going the other way, and Randle El, the old Indiana University quarterback, almost waiting too long to deliver it to Hines Ward behind a stunned Seattle defense for a beak-breaking touchdown, but he got it there.
He got it there.
Ward had a skittish day at its start with a couple of drops and a couple of bobbles, but there was no more appropriate Super Bowl MVP than he in the end. With the possible exception of Jerome Bettis, no one has meant more to the unyielding spirit of the Steelers than Ward.
But don't forget Ike in this delirium. He led this defense in tackles, passes defensed, and interceptions (1), on a cold night in Detroit when they had to make a play.
And you can update that stat, too.
It's 108-1-1.target, Post-Gazette
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Post-Gazette sports columnist Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette or 412-263-1283.