TAMPA, Fla. (AP)—Super Super Bowls are becoming a habit.
The Steelers’ 27-23 win Sunday night over Arizona was another classic in an era of great games—“a game for the ages,” commissioner Roger Goodell called it.
Indeed, with a few of exceptions (notably Ravens 34, Giants 7 in 2001) fans have been treated to a decade’s worth of rousing NFL championships.
Consider that the typical Super Bowl score from 1980-99 was 35-17.
But starting in 2000, when Tennessee’s Kevin Dyson was tackled a yard short of the goal-line with what would have been the tying touchdown in a 23-16 loss to St. Louis, the games have generally been what they were always supposed to be — worthy of their immense hype.
Six of the last 10 Super Bowls have been decided by a touchdown or less. Whatever the reason—luck, greater parity, never-say-die teams—the NFL has reason to smile.
The Rams’ winning score against the Titans came on a 73-yard TD pass with 1:53 to Isaac Bruce from Kurt Warner, who brought the Cardinals back from a 13-point deficit Sunday before the Steelers’ final drive.
Warner also had to watch from sidelines in 2002, as Tom Brady drove the Patriots to the winning field goal against the Rams.
It wasn’t the only similarity Sunday to Super Bowls past. In some ways, this year’s edition mirrored last season’s.
The winning TD game came on a pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left in the game, the same time remaining a year ago when the Giants scored to beat New England 17-14. The Steelers’ game-winning drive started from their own 22 with 2:42 left in the game; the Giants’ drive began from their 17 with 2:39 remaining.
Holmes was voted the game’s MVP with 9 catches for 131 yards. It was for him redemption in two ways.
The play before his game-winning touchdown on tiptoes, he had missed what seemed to be an easier throw on the opposite side of the end zone. And in midseason, he was suspended one game by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin after being found with marijuana after a traffic stop by Pittsburgh police.
“I learned a lot from that,” Holmes said. “I’ve grown a lot.”
Goodell added: “Santonio grabbed me as we were coming off the podium and said ‘thank you for believing in me.”’
Holmes’ acrobatics made a winner of Tomlin in only his second year as Pittsburgh’s coach.
The 36-year-old Tomlin guided the Steelers to an unprecedented sixth Super Bowl title. After a short night, he told reporters Monday, he’s appreciating the Steelers and their fans more all the time.
“It’s generational,” he said. “It’s passed down from father to son. The more I’m in the organization, the more I understand it. It’s part of the fabric of peoples’ lives.”
It’s a game Pittsburghers certainly will remember for a long time. It might even have been the best in the recent run of title-game dramas, played out before an estimated TV audience of 95.4 million—second only to last year’s Super Bowl for U.S. ratings.
There were 23 points scored in the final 7 1/2 minutes of the game.
Sixteen straight were by the Cardinals to overcome a 20-7 deficit. But the Steelers got the final seven.
Two of Arizona’s points were on a safety that narrowed to 20-16 when Pittsburgh’s Justin Hartwig was called for holding in the end zone on a third down play. Tomlin said Monday that was moot because the Steelers would have taken a safety on their own if with the ball on their 1-yard-line at that point.
“It’s tough to get off a punt against them from 15 yards, let alone 10 or 11,” he said.
The Cardinals scored again 21 seconds later on a 64-yard TD pass from Warner to Larry Fitzgerald.
But they scored too quickly, giving Pittsburgh time to come right back and notch its record sixth Super Bowl victory.
Tomlin, first hired by Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay, followed Dungy as the second black coach to win the title game.
“Guys like coach Dungy have paved that road, and I’ve just got to walk down it,” he said. “It makes it all sweeter that I consider him a personal friend of mine.”