Last week I was lucky enough to score a pair of tickets to Super Bowl XLIII. Late Sunday morning Erika and I made the 25-minute drive from our home to Raymond James Stadium, and by the time the day ended I was able to check "see a Super Bowl in person" off my bucket list.
During the pre-game festivities outside the stadum, Pittsburgh's fans lived up to their reputation and made it feel like a college game:
Inside the stadium, I took this picture of Erika nine rows below our seats:
She's a Bucs fan who has lived almost three-fourths of her life in Florida, but she was born outside of Pittsburgh and we know the picture will make her parents proud. Four touchdowns occurred in the end zone behind her, including James Harrison's 100-yard interception return to end the first half and Larry Fitzgerald's 64-yard catch-and-run that put Arizona on top late in the game. ESPN has since deemed those plays to be two of the top ten in Super Bowl history.
It looked very cool when they turned off the big lights for Bruce Springsteen's halftime show...though I must admit, the coolest thing about the halftime show was that there were no lines at the urinals because so many people decided watching The Boss was more important than relieving themselves of used beer.
You probably know how the game turned out. After three mostly ho-hum quarters, the fourth quarter ushered in a series of wild momentum swings and heart-stopping moments that turned it into one of the best Super Bowls of all time.
The Cardinals staged what would have been the biggest fourth quarter comeback in Super Bowl history, using a safety (courtesy of a holding penalty against the Steelers in the end zone) plus a pair of touchdowns by Fitzgerald to turn a 20-7 deficit into a 23-20 lead with less than three minutes remaining.
Then, after another penalty, the Steelers found themslves in a deep, dark hole: facing 1st-and-20 from their own 12-yard line with all the momentum going against them. But from that hole they staged a drive for the ages and marched all the way to the end zone. Santonio Holmes caught four passes from Ben Roesthlisberger during that drive, including the game-winning touchdown wth 35 seconds remaining. It, like Harrison's 100-yarder and Fitzgerald's 64-yarder, was deemed by ESPN to be among the top ten plays in Super Bowl history...so Erika and I got to witness three legendary moments as they unfolded.
But there was so much more to the game than those few plays. Things like Pittsburgh -- the ultimate blue-collar power-running franchise -- twice being stopped short of the end zone after getting all the way to Arizona's 2-yard line with multiple downs to go. And things like Roesthlisberger -- the lumbersome big guy who supposedly holds the ball too long -- improvising on the fly a la Joe Montana. And things like the fans:
If you watched on TV, you know that Steeler partisans outnumbered Cardinal ones by a ratio of about 10-to-1. But I have to say this about the Cardinals' fans: They are the real deal, for the noise they made was loud and out of proportion to their numbers.
And I have to say this about the Steelers' fans: Their raucous enthusiasm was focused entirely on the game, for they behaved with class regardless of whether their team's fortunes were rising or falling. In other words, they proved they are better than the incessant boo birds from Pennsylvania's other big city.
I am glad I got to be there in person to see a sporting event that will be talked about for decades to come. Here we are after the final gun, with the players celebrating below: