Harrison crushed the Cardinals with the greatest play in Super Bowl history
James Harrison returns an interception 100 yards for a touchdown at the end of the first half Sunday in Super Bowl XLIII.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- It was admirable that Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes so graciously said yesterday that he would have been thrilled to share the Super Bowl XLIII MVP award with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But it did prompt a question: Where was the love for linebacker James Harrison?
Now there's an MVP if there ever was one.
How can the guy who made the greatest play in Super Bowl history not be the MVP after his team wins?
Harrison's big mistake in the Steelers' surreal 27-23 win against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday night -- before his unconscionable meltdown in the final few minutes, that is -- was that he made the game's most significant play a little too early. His interception and 100-yard runback for a touchdown -- the longest play in Super Bowl history -- happened at the end of the first half. MVP voters have such short memories. Roethlisberger was more fresh in their minds because he was sensational at the end of the game, looking very Elwayesque and calmly leading the Steelers on the winning 78-yard touchdown drive with much of the free world watching. Sure, he could have won the MVP award. Holmes also was huge on the final drive with four catches for 73 yards, including the 6-yard touchdown catch that was one of the prettiest plays you'll ever see.
But the Cardinals would be world champs if not for Harrison's play. Of that, there should be no doubt.
"It swung the momentum big time," Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby lamented afterward. "We had them on the ropes. They were about to go down. I thought they were about to fold, but Harrison came out and made a great play."
The absolute best play in Super Bowl history.
What? You don't believe me? Then take it from Miami Herald brilliant sports columnist Edwin Pope, who is one of the few lucky people on Earth to have been to each of the XLIII Super Bowls and penned in yesterday's newspaper: "This game will forever be remembered for James Harrison because there never has been anything remotely like what he did for shock and impact in more than four decades of Super Bowls."
The Steelers, despite leading 10-7, were in trouble when the Cardinals had a first-and-goal at the Pittsburgh 1 with 18 seconds to go in the second quarter. At best, they looked as if they would go into halftime tied, 10-10, with the Cardinals to get the second-half kickoff. At worst, they were going to be down, 14-10. Who knows what would have happened then?
We'll never know, thanks to Harrison, who saved his most remarkable effort of an NFL Defensive Player of the Year season for that very moment.
Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin lined up to the left of quarterback Kurt Warner with teammate Larry Fitzgerald in the slot. At the snap, Boldin broke quickly inside as Fitzgerald broke out and picked off Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend, who was trying to cover Boldin. Warner, sensing an all-out blitz, never saw Harrison back off the rush and drift slightly to his right, directly in the path of the pass for Boldin.
"I couldn't see him around our linemen and the pressure," Warner said.
"He threw it right to my hands, and I took off," Harrison said.
Fast Willie Parker doesn't run so well with the ball.
Harrison has just four interceptions in his career, but each has produced a breathtaking return. There was his runback of 25 yards against San Diego in 2005 when he leaped over running back LaDainian Tomlinson. There was his return of 20 yards against Baltimore in '07 and his jaunt for 33 yards against San Diego this season.
Then, there was the Sunday night beauty.
Harrison had the strangest thought when he gathered in Warner's pass at the Steelers' goal line and saw 100 beautiful yards of green grass and a lot of red jerseys in front of him.
"I had to do whatever I could to get to the other end zone and get seven," he said.
Townsend made sure Warner didn't tackle Harrison by taking him out with a block. An instant later, there would be nice blocks by safety Ryan Clark and linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons. All the while, Harrison kept chugging up the sideline in front of the Arizona bench. How badly Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and his players must have wanted to stick out a foot to trip him. It's easy to think that wouldn't even have stopped Harrison, a man on a mission. He tumbled into the end zone just as time was expiring in the half.
Steelers 17, Cardinals 7.
Who could have imagined that best-case scenario? Or worst-case for the Cardinals?
As much as a 14-point swing?
"It crushed us at that time," Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley said.
"Will and determination to try and do what you need to do," Harrison said, shrugging.
"The difference in the game," Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said.
The second half was a mixed bag for Harrison. He forced Cardinals offensive tackle Mike Gandy into two holding penalties, the first wiping out a long pass to Boldin, the second halting an Arizona drive. But he also took a silly personal foul penalty when he had a dust-up with the Cardinals' Aaron Francisco after an Arizona punt. He knocked Francisco backward with a punch and should have been thrown out of the game, which means he could have been the first Super Bowl MVP to have to be dragged back from the locker room for the trophy presentation.
Harrison wasn't ejected, of course, and he didn't win. But he did give his teammates another memory -- the play, not the punch -- that will last a lifetime.
You might remember it was linebacker Larry Foote, who said after Polamalu's interception and exquisite 40-yard touchdown return sealed the AFC championship game win against Baltimore, "I'll probably be 80 years old watching that play on ESPN. That will go down as one of the greatest plays in Pittsburgh history. There will be the Immaculate Reception and Troy's interception."
Harrison's play makes three.
Seems a shame it didn't come with the MVP award.
First Published February 3, 2009 12:00 am