The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Mike's Super Bowl XLIII Experience: Part 3

I already wrote over 2,000 words about the Super Bowl and I haven't even touched on the game itself. Super Bowl XLIII is most likely (in terms of games of importance to me) the most memorable sporting event of my life (past or future).

I will go to my grave with memories of this game. Some are truly glorious (Fitzgerald's second touchdown in particular). Others will likely haunt me permanently (like Harrison's 100-yard interception return for a game changing touchdown).

If you'd rather skip my ramblings, but you'd still like a Cardinals fan's take on the game, go here and read Will's writeup. It's perfect.

My take on it will not be as concise. If you want the short version, here's my best shot at it:

After the Cardinals narrowed the deficit to 20-16 with a safety, Laura turned to me and said, "I don't know if I can be a Cardinals fan. This is too stressful." And she was 100% right. Super Bowl XLIII summed up a lifetime of being a Cardinals fan, all in one game. Being a Cardinals fan starts with having hope, then having your hopes quickly dashed. But somehow they find a way to re-ignite your hope (usually increasing it to a point higher than where it was before). In the end, they crush you; a little piece of you dies inside each time the Cardinals let you down again after they pick you back up.

The Cardinals did that in Super Bowl XLIII. Twice. Once in each half.

Prior to the game there was hope and excitement, although the experts were likely to tell you there was no cause for it. Then the game started and the Cardinals sputtered. They were dominated in the first quarter and didn't look like themselves. Suddenly there was a burst of hope in the second quarter. Things looked much better... until the unthinkable happened - a sure touchdown which would result in a halftime lead turned into the longest play in Super Bowl history, and a lead for the Steelers.

Now it's halftime and we've already gone through the hope, the dashing of hope, the re-ignition of hope, and the crushing. During the long halftime intermission, it was tough to envision what to expect.

But the Cardinals were receiving the ball to start the 3rd quarter. And their offense had been excellent coming out of the lockerroom of late. But as the second half began the Cardinals continued to sputter. So our hopes were already being dashed. At this point one could only think a blowout was inevitable. But then the Cardinals sparked hope again by striking back: the comeback was glorious. A touchdown drive. A goal line stand times two. A sputtered drive followed by a perfect punt and a safety. Then the back breaking touchdown... except that it didn't break the Steelers' back. Instead they came back. And we were left crushed... again. Twice in one game.

So that's the short version of my take on the Super Bowl. Here is an abbreviated list on some of the things that will haunt me for the rest of my life about this game:
  • The coin toss. Yes, I'm going there. While I love Coach Whisenhunt, I didn't like the decision to defer. The Cardinals should have received the kick and come out aggressively on offense.

  • The challenge of the TD call on the Steelers first drive was huge. That the Steelers kicked a field goal instead of going for it on 4th was equally huge. That short sequence could have decided the outcome of the game.
  • Starting out on offense by establishing the run. This failed so it's easy to second guess. But I think a team should lead with its strength, especially in a game of this magnitude. Force the Steelers to show they can slow down your passing game. Ultimately they proved that they couldn't. What would have happened if the Cards had thrown aggressively all game?
  • Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie made an amazing play in the first half to recover on a deep route and break up a pass. That was a huge play. It was a sure touchdown otherwise. Had it been, it would have been that much more difficult for the Cardinals to get back in the game
  • On one Steelers drive in the second half the Cardinals were called for (at least) two questionable penalties: DRC was called for a facemask (which video evidence apparently disputes). That cost the Cards fifteen yards and a first down. There was also a roughing the passer penalty, which was equally huge and drive sustaining. Had either of those calls not been made, the game could have been different.
  • The Cardinals self destructed on a drive early in the second quarter. Much of the drive devolved after Edgerrin James was flagged for a chop block. If there's no flag or Edge blocks differently, maybe things are different.
  • James Harrison's pick-six has to be talked about. It was an unbelievable play. As he ran it back I kept waiting for him to be tackled. It was a comedy of errors, but no one ever scores on a play like that. But he made it. What if he hadn't? What if the Cardinals had called a different play? If the Cardinals had put Boldin in one corner, Fitzgerald in the other, and Ben Patrick under the goal post, couldn't they have thrown a jump ball to one of them? Any other outcome would have had less impact on the game's final result.
  • In the 4th quarter the Cardinals had a tremendous goal line stand. Because of a penalty on Adrian Wilson (running into the holder, unintentionally apparently) the Steelers had two sets of downs to punch it in from inside the five. If you gave the Steelers six more plays to score a touchdown, I have a hard time imagining the Cardinals (or any other defense) stopping them. But in the one time they played those six downs, the Cardinals did stop them. It was unreal. Had that turned out differently, the Steelers may have sewn up the game then and there.

  • After a failed 4th quarter drive when the Cardinals were coming back, Ben Graham punted (from inside the Cardinals 40) and pinned the Steelers inside their 1. It was a tremendous punt out of a punter who had been inconsistent. There were a multitude of other outcomes there. The Cards could have gone for it on 4th down. The Cards could have attempted a field goal. Had they punted and gotten a touchback, the game would have been different. But they were fortunate enough to pin the Steelers deep and then force a safety. What happened made it possible for the Cardinals to continue their comeback. Nearly anything else would have killed their effort.

  • Overall, the officiating was awful. I don't think better officiating would have necessarily changed the outcome of the game. But I think it's fair to say the game would have been different. James Harrison was flagged for 15-yards when an official saw him punch Aaron Francisco. Why wasn't Harrison ejected? Bertrand Berry punched a Steeler. People in the stands saw it without replay. Why wasn't Berry penalized and/or ejected? To a large extent the officials let the players play. That's how it should be in the Super Bowl. But there was a great deal of inconsistency that affected both sides.

  • Larry Fitzgerald's 64-yard touchdown reception was the most memorable play I have ever seen in a sporting event. From my vantage point in the end zone I could see the play develop. Before the snap I watched Boldin and Fitzgerald because they were bunched up. As the ball was snapped I saw Fitzgerald find open space and a thought flashed through my mind quickly: ohmygodfitzisopenifwarnergetshimtheballit'satouchdown. Let me slow that down for you: "Oh my God, Fitz is open! If Warner gets him the ball it's a touchdown." Kurt Warner saw what I saw and got Larry the ball. Fitzgerald ran past the Steelers and scored. (As an aside, it was telling to see all-world super star Troy Polamalu quit on the play, which at the time appeared to give away the Steelers lead for good.) While the touchdown was great, one can't help but wonder what would have happened if that play hadn't gone for a touchdown. If the Cardinals had managed to score on a more methodical drive, they might have taken enough time off the clock to keep Pittsburgh from scoring. But it didn't happen that way.

  • Poor kick off returns throughout the game cost the Cardinals field position. It wasn't that the Steelers were particularly good at stopping returns. Rather JJ Arrington muffed one kick off and let another skip past him through the end zone. With better field position the Cardinals might have been able to mount better drives.

  • Darnell Dockett and Chike Okeafor lived in the Steelers backfield throughout the game. If the Steelers managed to block either man with some regularity, the Steelers offense may have been even more productive.

  • Santonio Holmes should have been penalized for using the ball as a prop. That's a 15-yard penalty on the kickoff, meaning the last kickoff of the game would have taken place from the 20 -- effectively taking 15 yards off of the Cardinals final drive. The call wasn't made. I heard the NFL's VP of Officials talk about the call on the radio. His explanation made sense; he said that the officials only have so long to wait to make the call. Right as the official left to go watch the extra point, Holmes started to use the ball as a prop. It was an unusual circumstance because they were letting Holmes keep the ball (as an obvious souvenir). Still, the call needed to be made. It's been made plenty of times throughout the season.

Would any of those things have changed the outcome of the game? Maybe. Maybe not. Cumulatively it's amazing to think that all of those things broke the way they did to deliver the finish we ultimately received. That's the luck of the draw in some sense. It's what you get when you have a one game championship.

It was a lot of fun. I'm glad I was there. It was the most memorable sporting experience of my life. I'll always think of what might have been. I'll always remember Larry Fitzgerald's run to the end zone to put the Cardinals ahead with barely 2 minutes remaining in the Super Bowl.

I'm not disappointed. This year's Cardinals gave us the greatest season they've had in my lifetime. And they nearly won the Super Bowl. It was a lot of fun.


  • At 1:10 PM, February 04, 2009, Blogger wiggins said…

    Great write-up. So many things went JUST wrong...

    That damned Harrison run-back will haunt even ME for years to come. But that Fitty catch/run was truly glorious.

    Sorry about the outcome... but it was a great game. Thanks for putting your thoughts down. You got any pictures?

  • At 1:17 PM, February 04, 2009, Blogger Mike said…

    We definitely have pics. Mostly pregame and halftime. I'll try to post some tonight.

    Also, I really want a picture (preferably from high up above the end zone) of Fitzgerald breaking free for that touchdown. If I find it, I want to buy a print and frame it with my ticket stubs.

    By the way, people were paying $20 for ticket stubs on the way out. I guess that's how they get tickets for those framed things you see at the mall. Someone came up to me and was like "$20 Cardinals fan..." I said "it's worth more than that to me" but he didn't offer me more.


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