Of the three Super Bowls I’ve been to, this was the most exciting game to watch and one that I nearly didn’t get to. The exorbitant ticket prices put me off and I didn’t feel I could justify the expense, especially as I had already enjoyed seeing the Steelers win a Super Bowl.
In January 2009 I was celebrating my daughter’s birthday when she asked me if I was going to Tampa to see the Steelers play the Cardinals. When she showed complete surprise at my hesitation I began to ponder on the idea and eventually said if I could get a ticket at face value then I would go. The chances of that were not good, but I made inquiries of my Pittsburgh friends and then left it in the lap of the football gods.
With the game being played in Tampa, it would be easy to obtain flights and find accommodation in Florida, so it was always going to be the ticket that would produce the biggest challenge. When my Steelers photographer friend said he had a spare, my plans began to come together.
As mentioned in my previous story about Super Bowl XL, accommodation in the host city was still going to prove another test because prices go way up, so I chose to stay in Orlando and that meant flights to there would be no hassle.
I hired a car and after a long international flight and landing in rush hour, I was glad I borrowed a sat-nav as it is a definite necessity for travel in the USA. It also came in handy when I picked my ticket up as I had to meet my friend in the Steelers hotel the day before the game.
The buzz in that Tampa hotel with all the Steelers fans was unbelievable. One entrepreneur acknowledged my friend’s Super Bowl ring before asking if he had any spare tickets. That’s America’s way, always thinking about making a buck.
On Game Day I drove to the Raymond James Stadium and parked quite close by as the local businesses open up their car parks for the fans. Obviously at a price, that again is the American way.
I arrived with sufficient time to take a stroll around the stadium and take my usual countless photos while concerning myself again about getting my lens inside. I needn’t have worried about that as I walked in early and went straight through and was able to put my camera to good use.
The game was a cracker. Halfway through the second quarter after driving 69 yards, the Steelers took a 10-point lead with a 1-yard touchdown carry from Gary Russell. Gary who you may well ask? It once again proved that Super Bowl dreams can come true.
Russell had been activated from the Steelers practice squad during the regular season when Willie Parker suffered a knee injury. In twelve games, Russell carried just 28 times for 77 yards and on Super Bowl day his 2 carries saw a loss of 3 yards, but his name will always be in the records book as scoring a touchdown in the NFL’s biggest game.
After his score, the Arizona Cardinals hit back with a touchdown and should have taken the lead with 18 seconds of the first half remaining when they had a first and goal on the Steelers one. Kurt Warner attempted a pass to Anquan Boldin, but James Harrison stepped in front of the receiver and then ran down the sideline evading tackles to score a touchdown to give the Steelers a valuable 17-7 lead. That interception return set a Super Bowl record.
Towards the end of the third quarter, the Steelers extended their lead with Jeff Reed’s 21-yard field goal and the game entered the final phase with the Steelers holding a 20-7 advantage that appeared ample until Arizona decided to go no huddle and Kurt Warner began finding his receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Warner moved the chains 87 yards in less than four minutes throwing eight straight completions with Fitzgerald catching the final 1-yard pass for a touchdown. The Cardinals fans erupted with their team now just one score behind and when the Steelers gave up a safety via a holding penalty in the end zone on their next possession, Arizona took command.
The Cardinals subsequent series lasted just 21 seconds in which Warner completed a touchdown pass of 64 yards to Fitzgerald giving Arizona their first lead of the game.
Every fan knows that sinking feeling when your team that was on top now has it all to do. Although the Steelers 18-game season saw Ben Roethlisberger lead his team five times on game winning drives in the final quarter, the Steelers had gone three and out twice and conceded a safety in their last three possessions of this game.
With 2:37 on the clock and 78 yards to advance, Roethlisberger showcased his breath-taking ability as he completed 5 of 7 passes for 84 yards. His final pass found a leaping Santonio Holmes in the right corner of the end zone. The catch went to replay and it was a tense time for fans in the stadium as they were not showing replays.
The euphoria for Steelers fans when the referee finally signalled touchdown cannot be expressed in words. Having travelled 4000+ miles to see my team win a sixth Lombardi trophy, I was certainly a happy bunny.
“It’s the Super Bowl. We had to do it,” suggested Roethlisberger of the Steelers final drive while the Cardinals’ head coach Ken Whisenhunt acknowledged, “That’s what Ben does – he makes big plays.”
And there is no bigger play than throwing a touchdown pass that wins a Super Bowl.