Boivin: Loss could fuel QB's return
by Paola Boivin - Feb. 1, 2009 11:55 PM
The Arizona Republic
Profile: Kurt Warner
TAMPA Somewhere in the worn black Bible Kurt Warner clutches after games must be a Scripture that says, "Thou shall not underestimate the brilliance of the Pittsburgh Steelers." Our Lady of Perpetual Miracles closed its doors on the Cardinals on Sunday night in the Super Bowl. They were gutsy, driven, determined. They also were sloppy, nervous, inconsistent.
In the end, they simply weren't good enough.
For everything Warner has given the team this season, it seemed unjust that the quarterback would end up on his back for his final play of the game.
He stayed on the ground for a few extra seconds, the prizefighter after the 10-count. He rose slowly, walked to the bench and dropped his head.
The old man and the sea of black-and-gold defenders dueled all game. For much of the second half, Warner was brilliant, completing 10 consecutive passes in one stretch and finding Larry Fitzgerald for a 64-yard scoring play with less than three minutes remaining in the game to put the Cardinals ahead.
But soon the clock ran out on the man who tricked Father Time all season.
As Warner walked off the field, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found him and said, "It was an honor to be on field with you."
Roethlisberger went on to tell him that Warner's autobiography inspired him to be a better quarterback.
They were kind words, but they didn't do much to ease Warner's mind. He was crushed. He came into this game convinced that the Cardinals would walk away with a victory.
Who could blame him? The way the team's postseason unfolded, it seemed destined for another comeback.
What will this loss do to him?
"I don't know if I'm going to play next year," he said. "I haven't thought about that. I'm going to enjoy what we accomplished as a football team. I'm going to enjoy this great game we just played in, and I'm going to take some time away from the game and make that decision."
Will it leave a bad enough taste to make him want to avoid the agony of defeat again? Warner has a life outside football fuller than most. Seven kids. His charities. His faith.
Or will it leave him hungry for more?
The Cardinals want him back and likely will offer a two-year deal somewhere in the neighborhood of $18 million. That's a hard paycheck to pass up, especially when you still have many more years to do the things you want to do.
It's more than money, though, with Warner. This loss could leave him with a void that needs filling. He might not have all his offense back, but he'll have his favorite target and friend, Fitzgerald, and he'll have a young offensive line that grew plenty this season. And he'll have a group of players that want him back.
"He was calm calling plays, like had has been all year," wide receiver Steve Breaston said.
The moment that will haunt Warner most? The final play of the first half.
With 18 seconds remaining and the Cardinals at the Steelers' 1-yard line, Warner looked for Anquan Boldin in the end zone. As he released the ball, he noticed Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison pursuing the ball instead of blitzing as Warner expected.
Harrison intercepted it and lumbered 100 yards down the field for the touchdown. It took less than a minute, but it must have felt like an hour to Warner.
"He made a great play," Warner said.
It's inevitable that Warner will reflect on the mistakes of the game. He should also reflect on a brilliant year. He was a big reason the Cardinals' fan base expanded this season. He was the perfect face for an organization that helped a community think about things beyond the economy.
"I don't think you get over it," Cardinals defensive end Antonio Smith said. "I don't think you get over it until you come back and win it."
Cardinals fans hope Warner feels the same way.
Profile: Kurt Warner
Reach Boivin at email@example.com or 602-444-8956.
Despite tough loss, fans well with pride
by John Faherty and Megan Finnerty - Feb. 2, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
TAMPA - They spoke with one voice.
As Arizona Cardinals fans walked out of Raymond James Stadium, they used words like proud and thankful. They said the game proved that their team belonged on this stage.
"Absolutely man, I am so proud of that team," said Greg Thielan of Phoenix. "This season has been so much fun." It was not an easy game for Cardinals fans.
The first half started poorly and ended atrociously, as a Kurt Warner pass at the Steelers' goal line was intercepted and returned for a Pittsburgh touchdown as time expired. But all through the contest, Cardinals fans never lost faith.
Terry Barwold was sitting in the top row of the stadium with his son and daughter when the Cardinals pulled to within a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
"For 20 years, I've been going to Cardinal games, and I'll tell you right now, every penny, every Sunday afternoon, every second of it has been worth it," Barwold said.
Jeannette Uriarte has been a Cardinals season-ticket holder since the franchise arrived from St. Louis in 1988.
As the game was ending, she had no regrets.
"This is what it's all about," she said, spreading her arms to take in the whole experience. "This right here. This whole thing."
With 35 seconds left in the game, the Steelers reclaimed a lead that gave them the victory. It meant the end of a remarkable playoff run for the Cardinals and their fans.
"Oh my God, every minute of this, we loved it," said Frank Schwartz of Scottsdale.
Schwartz and his girlfriend have been to every playoff game, even traveling to Charlotte, N.C., to support their team.
"You know what? This whole season has been remarkable," he said. "And the postseason has been even better. We will always have this together."
Of course, Arizona fans would have been happier with a Cardinals victory.
John Lindstrom, 51, left Phoenix for the Bay Area five years ago but kept his Cardinals season tickets. He has had them for 19 years and remained a believer until the end.
"We've got another miracle in us," said Lindstrom, who flies into Phoenix to catch home games. When the final second ticked off the clock, he said: "It feels a little empty. But it speaks volumes about where the team is now and how far they've come."
For people whose connection to the team is even more personal, the loss was hard to take.
Ricky Rodgers, 45, of Atlanta, was in town to cheer his nephew, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
"It was a tough loss," Rodgers said. "When Arizona scored, it was the happiest feeling in the world. But when Pittsburgh scored, I couldn't breathe."
Back in the top row of the stadium, Barwold was able to reflect on what this Cardinals team has meant to him and his family. He put his arm around his 19-year-old son, Oliver.
"Oli started coming to games with me when he was 4," Barwold said.
"There were times when he was a teenager when we couldn't really talk sometimes. But every Sunday we had the Cardinals. And now we've had this."
Bickley: Stinging end to amazing season
by DanBickley - Feb. 1, 2009 11:01 PM
The Arizona Republic
TAMPA In the NFL, they say that nobody remembers who loses the Super Bowl.
That might be the case in 49 other states. It's not true in Arizona, where our mood has changed from red to blue. The depression will linger like a heavy fog. The Cardinals lost their first Super Bowl on Sunday, falling 27-23 to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Raymond James Stadium. It was nauseating. It was exhilarating. It was stupefying. It featured one of the best fourth quarters anyone has ever seen.
It ended with the biggest sucker punch the Valley has ever felt.
"It was like getting a chair pulled out from under you," Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.
When Fitzgerald galloped through the Steelers defense like a thoroughbred, scoring a touchdown that capped the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, the Cardinals were 157 seconds from immortality. They were 157 seconds from ending the second-longest drought in professional sports.
Then the magic disappeared. Destiny, like most everyone else in the building, was wearing black and gold.
"Some say we could not top last year's Super Bowl," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "But the Steelers and Cardinals did that tonight."
In time, you will feel proud of the Cardinals for what they accomplished, for not giving up. Their stout performance in the final 15 minutes will earn them much-needed respect and credibility around the league. But deep down, you also know they played a sloppy, mistake-prone game and still almost left with the trophy.
What a shame. After a rocky first half, their furious rally against the vaunted Steelers defense would've been sweeter than the Diamondbacks' comeback against the New York Yankees and star pitcher Mariano Rivera in the 2001 World Series. It would've been the stuff of legends.
Instead, the Steelers responded with their own game-winning touchdown. It was eerily similar to last year's Super Bowl in Glendale when the Patriots received a late touchdown from their star receiver (Randy Moss), only to watch the Giants counter with something even better.
To Arizona's horror, Fitzgerald's heroics were trumped by a sensational touchdown catch by the Steelers' Santonio Holmes. And for the second time in the past 12 years, a football championship was simply stolen from our grasp. Or maybe you've blotted out the memory of Ohio State rallying to snuff out Arizona State in the Rose Bowl.
"We've got a team that doesn't blink in the face of adversity," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
As a result, Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner will not get his storybook ending, and his family will not be getting a victory puppy. As part of a mayors wager, a tree from Pennsylvania now must be planted outside University of Phoenix Stadium. Given our climate, the tree likely will be dead by summer. That's about the time the sting of this defeat will vanish.
"I don't think you ever get over this," Cardinals defensive end Antonio Smith said. "We won't get over this until we get back here and win it."
Look hard, and there are silver linings, reasons to smile. By kickoff, the Cardinals were more than a football team. They were a parable. They were proof that even the darkest situations can brighten overnight. Incredibly, this team has become a symbol of hope, not futility.
The season also represented a huge victory for the Bidwill family. When campaigning for Proposition 302, team president Michael Bidwill said a state-of-the-art facility was the missing bridge between his team and a championship.
Three years after the doors to a new stadium opened, the Cardinals made it all the way to the Super Bowl. The Bidwill family kept a promise, and that has done wonders for its image and legacy in Arizona.
And in the scope of history, this journey is much longer and more profound than one remarkable Super Bowl. It should mark the end of the Dark Ages of Cardinals football. There is no tangible reason to go another 33 years without a division title, or another 61 years without playing for a championship.
But that doesn't help much now, does it?
Two weeks ago, the Cardinals made you weep with pride and happiness. But sometimes in the NFL, the hits are vicious. And sometimes, the tears aren't always sweet.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-8253. Check out his online column at bickley.azcentral.com.
Big Play by Steelers’ Harrison Took His (and Others’) Breath Away
Published: February 2, 2009
When he finally came to rest, James Harrison sure needed to.
“I’ve never been more emotionally drained in my life,” said Harrison, an All-Pro linebacker.
Harrison, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ All-Pro linebacker, had just intercepted a Kurt Warner pass and rumbled 100 yards for a touchdown that was heart-stopping not just for a worldwide audience, but, it appeared for a few minutes, perhaps Harrison himself. Exhausted from the longest play in Super Bowl history, Harrison lay supine on the side of the end zone all but motionless, trying to catch his breath.
Harrison’s feat came as the first half expired. By the end of halftime, fans using cellphones in front of their televisions had littered YouTube with more than a dozen shaky clips of Harrison’s play, an instant classic.
“To be honest, I really didn’t think I’d make it all the way back,” Harrison said. “My teammates threw some vicious blocks.”
Warner’s errant pass came as his Arizona Cardinals, trailing 10-7 with 18 seconds remaining in the half but on the Steelers’ 1, appeared poised to tie the score or take the lead. Warner zipped a quick pass to receiver Anquan Boldin just inside the goal line, but Harrison jumped in front of Boldin and caught it instead.
“I wasn’t able to see him around my linemen,” Warner said. “He made a great play, not just the interception but to get it in for the touchdown.”
Clearly, Arizona was not going to score — but Harrison was instantly intent on doing so himself. He broke toward the right sideline and ran up it at full speed. As he cut left at the Steelers’ 30, Warner tried to tackle him before being blocked by cornerback Deshea Townsend, and the play developed further.
Steelers defenders turned into blockers while Arizona’s offensive players desperately ran after Harrison. This season’s Associated Press defensive player of the year after making 16 sacks and forcing seven fumbles, the 242-pound Harrison began looking less like a linebacker and more like Earl Campbell.
Harrison cut back toward the sideline and crossed the 50 without slowing down. His fellow linebacker Patrick Bailey blocked running back Tim Hightower out of the play as Harrison crossed the Arizona 30.
“I was seeing jerseys that were friendly and jerseys that weren’t,” Harrison said.
Running the length of the field at full speed himself, the 316-pound Cardinals tackle Mike Gandy tried to shoestring-tackle Harrison at the 10 but missed. Just before the goal line, Arizona’s Steve Breaston smacked into Harrison from behind while Larry Fitzgerald tried to wrestle him down, but Harrison’s momentum was too great. He slumped to the ground helmet-first just beyond the goal line.
Harrison rolled over and lay face up, his arms and legs extended, as if making a motionless snow angel. He did not get up for a full two minutes while being visited by the Steelers’ medical staff. During that time, not only was a penalty flag 100 yards away ruled a meaningless Arizona infraction, but the Cardinals also challenged whether the ball had crossed the goal line before the tackle. It was a crucial call — Harrison had taken all 18 seconds left on the clock to run the length of the field, so if he was ruled short of the goal line, the half would have ended with the score still 10-7.
Harrison did finally get up and go to the Steelers’ bench.
“I’ve never been more emotionally drained in my life,” he said.
Just as Harrison began to inhale oxygen through a mask, the referee Terry McAulay announced that the play would stand.
The momentum swing was even bigger than Harrison. Had Boldin caught the ball in the end zone, the Cardinals would have taken a 3- or 4-point lead. Instead, the Steelers went into halftime ahead by 10.
“That was the difference in the game,” Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said. “We had a defensive touchdown, and they didn’t.”
The longest play in Super Bowl history had been a 99-yard kickoff return by the Green Bay Packers’ Desmond Howard in Super Bowl XXXI. The longest interception return was 76 yards by the Seattle Seahawks’ Kelly Herndon against the Steelers three years ago.
Harrison did not run quite fast enough every time he needed to, though.
He was one of the final three Steelers trying to catch none other than Fitzgerald, the man who could not tackle him in time two hours before, during Fitzgerald’s 64-yard touchdown reception with 2 minutes 37 seconds remaining.
Jeffrey Marcus contributed reporting.
Troy Polamalu beaming after Super Bowl victory
Posted: February 2, 2009
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Troy Polamalu couldn't stop smiling.
Pittsburgh's 27-23 victory over Arizona in the Super Bowl was only part of the reason. The All-Pro safety conducted postgame interviews with his young son sitting on his leg in a No. 43 Steelers jersey and his wife standing next to him.
"It's a blessing," said Polamalu, who was also part of the Pittsburgh team that won the NFL title three years ago. "I don't know how much he'll remember, but he might have two rings in his vault, and, God willing, maybe more. He's speechless right now as you can see."
Polamalu joked about a see-saw fourth quarter in which the lead changed twice in the final 2:37 and that the Steelers failing to put the game away until forcing Kurt Warner to fumble in the closing seconds "probably took a couple of years off my life."
"I wish it wasn't close. ... But it's amazing. It probably ranks up there with last year's game," he said, referring to the Giants scoring in the final minute to ruin the Patriots' bid for a perfect season in the 2008 Super Bowl. "That's what the fans want, and that's what the fans got."
And, the Steelers got their record sixth Super Bowl crown.
"It's arguably the best franchise in sports. To do it the way the Rooney family has done it, to have the support in Pittsburgh. It's not a big market, it's not like the Dallas Cowboys where you get a lot of press like that," Polamalu said.
"It's a blessing in the way it's a blue collar team, we've grinded it out throughout the beginning of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it's really wonderful that it paid off this way."
WE'LL BE BACK: Minutes after falling short in the biggest game in franchise history, the Arizona Cardinals were talking about returning soon.
"There isn't anybody in a million years that would think we would get here. We fought our way in. We fought our way back into the game, but we came up short," said defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, who had two sacks and finished with six tackles.
"We know what it takes to get back here again," he said, adding the Cardinals will take some time off, then get back to work and "make a run for it" next season.
Nevertheless, losing was a major disappointment, especially after Arizona rallied from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to take a 23-20 lead.
"Everybody is down," rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "You can't describe the feeling of hurt, and the pain you see in the players' eyes."
HELLO MR. PRESIDENT: In addition to being excited about winning his second Super Bowl ring and Pittsburgh's sixth, Steelers receiver Hines Ward is looking forward to going to the White House to meet President Obama, who picked Pittsburgh in Sunday's game.
"I've been wanting to meet the president for so long. To get an opportunity to meet him, shake his hand, go to D.C., man, I might break down and cry," Ward said. "It's definitely a big honor to be a part of history."
DISNEY BOUND: Next up for Santonio Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger: a quick trip to Disney World.
While it's customary for the Super Bowl MVP to head to the amusement park for a celebratory parade the day after the NFL championship game, both Holmes and Roethlisberger were invited after the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-23 victory on Sunday night.
The players filmed their "I'm going to Disney World" commercial on the field following the game and will head to Disney, about 80 miles east of Raymond James Stadium, on Monday.
Holmes was voted the game's MVP with nine receptions for 131 yards, including the winning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining. Roethlisberger engineered the decisive drive, moving the Steelers 78 yards in eight plays and finishing 21-of-30 for 256 yards, one touchdown and an interception.
"I told the guys, 'It's now or never, guys. You'll live forever if we do this and all the film study, all the hard work, all the stuff that everyone talked bad about us is all going to be for nothing,"' Roethlisberger said. "We got off to a little bit of a rocky start there, but we pulled through it and we found a way."
RECORD BOOK: Twelve Super Bowl records were broken and three more were tied Sunday night.
The Steelers set the mark for most wins by a franchise (six), and James Harrison's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown was the longest play in Super Bowl history. At 36, Mike Tomlin becoming the youngest head coach to win.
Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner had his third 300-yard passing performance in an NFL title game, while the Steelers (58) and Cardinals (33) combined for the fewest rushing yards in a Super Bowl.
Arizona star Larry Fitzgerald finished with the most prolific statistics for a receiver in one postseason with 30 receptions for 546 yards and seven touchdowns, records in all three categories.
TOUGH ASSIGNMENT: Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor routinely drew the assignment of providing primary coverage on the opposing team's top receiver this season, faring well against Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne and Terrell Owens.
Taylor was on his way to another strong performance against Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald until the Cardinals star broke loose for six of his seven receptions in the fourth quarter, including a pair of touchdowns.
Fitzgerald, who had 96 receptions for 1,431 yards and 12 touchdowns during the regular season and three 100-yard games and five TDs in Arizona's three playoff wins, was limited to one catch for 12 yards in the first half, none in the first 29 minutes of the game.
He didn't have any receptions in the third quarter.
"When I was younger, I would have probably lost my cool and got a little upset," Fitzgerald said. "But in a game of this magnitude, I knew we were going to call my number and eventually there were going to be some balls thrown my way."
Fitzgerald finished with seven catches for 127 yards.
"Me, personally, I kind of felt like I let us down," Taylor said. "I played strong for three and a half quarters, but it's a 60-minute game."
MAN OF THE YEAR: Warner was presented with the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award during pregame festivities that included honoring the crew of US Airways Flight 1549.
Warner was selected over Minnesota center Matt Birk and Philadelphia safety Brian Dawkins, the other finalists for the award that recognizes players for charitable contributions and community involvement off the field.
The Cardinals quarterback formed a partnership with Habitat for Humanity after visiting regions affected by flooding last year and has raised more than $650,000 to help build homes in the Midwest.
Warner made a $100,000 personal contribution and another $100,000 was donated by his foundation.
Since creating the First Things First Foundation in 2001, the quarterback has made more than $1.5 million in donations to help sponsor trips for Make-A-Wish families and several other charitable causes.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Payton's widow, Connie, made the presentation.
ODDS & ENDS: Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin is the 27th different coach to win a Super Bowl. ... Teams scoring on an interception return during the Super Bowl are 9-0. ... Twelve different franchises have lost the last 12 NFL title games. ... The Steelers are 6-1 in Super Bowl games.
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