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Super Bowl XLIII: Pittsburgh drives for historic victory over Arizona

Published February 1, 2009 11:25 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In a game filled with topsy-turvy momentum shifts, Brett Keisel had the game-ender. With just five seconds left in the Super Bowl on Sunday, it was the former Brigham Young defensive end who found himself on the other end of a fumble from Arizona's Kurt Warner.

Keisel's recovery sealed Pittsburgh's sixth Super Bowl victory as the Steelers held off the Cardinals 27-23. It was the last of many twists and turns in a thrilling game, though Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he wasn't too surprised.

"There's going to be ebb and flow," Tomlin said. "That is what the Super Bowl is supposed to be about. It was, and hopefully the fans of football enjoyed it."

How could they not?

It should have been apparent from the first play that this was going to be an unusual Super Bowl. It was kicker Neil Rackers who tried to bring down Pittsburgh kick returner Gary Russell on the opening kickoff. Then came a 100-yard, rumbling interception returned for a touchdown. Then came a safety, courtesy of a holding call.

All of which was just a setup for Ben Roethlisberger. Trailing 23-20 with 2:37 to play, Ben was big.

Roethlisberger completed 5 of 7 passes and scrambled for 4 yards on Pittsburgh's final drive. His biggest pass was a short throw to Santonio Holmes that turned into a 40-yard gain as former BYU defensive back Aaron Francisco came up with a stop at the Arizona 6-yard line.

That was too close for the Steelers, who had been turned away twice inside the Arizona 10-yard line earlier in the game. Roethlisberger fired a 6-yard pass to Holmes, who made a toes-just-barely-inbounds (of course) grab in the back corner of the end zone for a touchdown and the 27-23 winning margin.

Though Arizona got the ball back, the Cardinals lost possession around the 50-yard line when Warner fumbled to Keisel. Though Warner's arm appeared to be moving forward when the ball came out, the play wasn't even reviewed.

Of course. It was that kind of night for Arizona.

In fact, the Cardinals could have had a 14-10 halftime lead instead of a 17-7 deficit. James Harrison had one of the biggest momentum-changing plays in Super Bowl history when he picked off Warner's pass on the goal line.

Then the fun began. Harrison made nifty moves down the sideline that belied his No. 92. He plowed past Warner's attempted tackle. When he neared the goal line, Harrison dragged receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston over the line, landing helmet-first in the end zone.

Just like that, the Cardinals were knocked flat. For a while.

But thanks to coach Ken Whisenhunt, these aren't the inglorious Cardinals of the past. They had some fight left in them.

"One of the proudest things that I am of the football team is the way we responded, especially with that situation, because in the past, when we've had that kind of swing in momentum, especially before the half, it would have done the team in," Whisenhunt said. "But we fought back and we believed in what we were doing, and that's a credit to the progress that we've made."

Thanks to his resilient Cardinals, Harrison's gallop wouldn't be the last big play.

After a penalty -- Harrison was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after roughing up Francisco on a punt -- Pittsburgh had possession at its 1-yard line. On third-and-10 at his own 1-yard line, Roethlisberger completed a 19-yard pass but a holding penalty on Justin Hartwig gave Arizona a safety and possession of the ball with 3:04 remaining in the game.

Warner took full advantage, completing a 64-yard touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald on the second play of the drive for a 23-20 Arizona lead -- its first of the game -- with 2:37 left.

Fitzgerald finished with a pair of touchdown receptions while Warner went 31-for-43 for 377 yards, three touchdowns and one very memorable interception.

"We made the plays to put ourselves ahead and they turned around and came back and did the same to win the game," Warner said. "That is what a championship game should be about."

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Storylines

In brief » Pittsburgh gets the last big break as the Steelers win their sixth Super Bowl title.

Key moment » Trailing 23-20 with under a minute remaining, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hits receiver Santonio Holmes for a 40-yard gain to the Arizona 6-yard line.