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Super Bowl XLIII: Steelers vs. Cardinals
2008 Steelers Season
- Regular season record: 12–4
- Divisional playoff: Steelers 35, Chargers 24
- AFC championship: Steelers 23, Ravens 14
- Super Bowl: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23
The 2008 Cardinals
In the decades before 2008, the Cardinals had suffered as one of the worst teams in the NFL. Formerly hailing from Phoenix, and before that making their home in St. Louis and Chicago, “the Cards” took their lumps, year after year. That changed in 2007 when former Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt took over as head coach. Within a year, the Cardinals had won their division, defeated the Falcons, Panthers, and Eagles in the playoffs, and made it to the Super Bowl.
Arizona had added some serious offensive firepower in the years leading up to their Super Bowl appearance. In 2004, they drafted Larry Fitzgerald, a wide receiver who would become one of the best in NFL history. In 2008, he had earned All-Pro honors by hauling in 96 passes for 1,431 yards and 12 touchdowns. Fellow receivers Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston had caught 89 and 77 passes respectively, both for over 1,000 yards. At the origin of those passes was Kurt Warner, an aging but still-dangerous quarterback who had been a key part of the Super Bowl-winning Rams team nearly a decade earlier.
Warner was a leader and a proven champion, and he’d thrown for over 4,500 yards in 2008. To stop the Arizona passing attack would take everything Pittsburgh had.
Super Bowl XLIII
In 2008, the Steelers team that won the Super Bowl in 2005 remained largely intact, but with a handful of notable changes. Antwaan Randle El had left for Washington, replaced at wide receiver by speedy Santonio Holmes. Linebacker Joey Porter was gone as well, as was defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen, safety Chris Hope and fullback Dan Kreider.
Most significantly, Coach Bill Cowher had retired in 2006. He had taken over for the legendary Chuck Noll in 1992. After 15 seasons, Cowher had become a legend himself and played a key role in Steelers history. For the 2007 season, Mike Tomlin—another young and fiery first-time head coach—took over.
Super Bowl XLIII started slowly, but it would turn into one of the most exciting ever played. The Steelers opened the scoring with an 18-yard Jeff Reed field goal, the only points of the first quarter for either team. Early in the second quarter, the Steelers put together a drive that ended with a touchdown run by back Gary Russell. Warner and the Cardinals answered with a touchdown drive of their own, culminating in a one-yard scoring pass to tight end Ben Patrick.
The teams traded punts, and just before the two-minute warning, Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby intercepted Roethlisberger at Pittsburgh’s 34-yard line. Warner moved his team down to the Steelers’ one-yard line and, with seconds to go in the half, seemed poised to score. What happened next has gone down as one of the most unbelievable plays in Super Bowl history.
With 18 seconds on the clock, Warner took a shotgun snap and fired the ball left to a receiver running a slant route. It’s a common goal-line play and a smart call when you have big-bodied receivers like Boldin and Fitzgerald who can outmuscle defenders for inside position. But Steelers linebacker James Harrison, one of the most feared pass rushers in the league, unexpectedly dropped into coverage and intercepted Warner’s pass.
Harrison took off for the Cardinals’ goal line, 100 yards away. A convoy of Steelers ran interference, preventing the Cardinals from getting a hand on the big man as he plodded down the field. Cardinals wide receivers Fitzgerald and Breaston finally caught him at the one, and the trio collapsed into the end zone for a Steelers touchdown as time expired.
Instead of going into halftime ahead 14–10, Arizona was down 17–7. Harrison’s interception and run meant a 14-point swing. Jeff Reed added another field goal near the end of the third quarter to put the Steelers up 20–7. The Steelers seemed on their way to wrapping up another Super Bowl victory, but Kurt Warner and the Cardinals weren’t going to go away quietly. The championship’s fourth quarter turned out to be one for the ages.
Warner marched his team downfield and scored with 7:41 left on the clock, making the score 20–14. The Steelers needed first downs but could do nothing with their next possession. The Cardinals took over, and the Steelers’ defense held, forcing a punt. Arizona punter Ben Graham pinned Pittsburgh to their one-yard line.
Three plays later, Steelers center Justin Hartwig was called for holding. Because the penalty occured in the end zone, this resulted in a safety and a free kick coming Arizona’s way. Warner and Fitzgerald made the Steelers pay with a 64-yard scoring strike. With 2:47 left in the game, the Steelers were suddenly down 23–20. Their lead, and a sure victory, had vanished.
Roethlisberger went to work, chipping away yardage with short passes to Holmes and wide receiver Nate Washington. Valuable seconds ticked away, but the Steelers were moving the ball. They eventually found themselves with first and goal on the Cardinals’ six-yard line and 48 seconds on the clock. A touchdown pass went through Holmes’s hands on first down. On second down, Roethlisberger came back to him once more with a perfectly placed ball, and Holmes made an incredible catch for the score.
The Steelers were ahead 27–23. But, Warner still had 42 seconds to work with. After a couple of completions that put the Cardinals in Steelers territory, it seemed he still had some magic left. But, with 15 seconds on the clock, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley forced a Warner fumble, ending the game and ensuring a Steelers victory.
MVP and Notable Performers
- Wide receiver Santonio Holmes earned the MVP award by making a spectacular, game-winning catch and hauling in nine total passes for 131 yards and a score.
- Cardinals QB Kurt Warner threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns.
- Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald caught seven passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns.