February 2, 2009 in Sports

Pittsburgh sets black-and-gold NFL standard

By MIKE LOPRESTI Gannett News Service
 

TAMPA, Fla. – They stand alone now, as true royalty must.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are the Yankees. Without the tabloid headlines.

They are the Lakers. Without Jack Nicholson in the front row.

They are the Montreal Canadiens. Except you don’t hear all that much French on the streets of Pittsburgh.

They are the gold standard – or should that be black and gold? – for yesterday and today.

We’re going to need the left hand to count out Pittsburgh’s brilliance, because we’ve run out of fingers on the right. Step aside Green Bay and Dallas and San Francisco, because nobody can match six Super Bowl titles.

Roughly one out every seven Super Bowls ever played has finished with the Steelers holding up the trophy.

Once upon a time, the only thing Pittsburgh led the NFL in was rivers.

And who knows where it ends, after the Steelers rallied past Arizona 27-23 Sunday? They never seem to run out of Rooneys in the front office, or playmakers on the field.

You know what defines all-time champions? The elite of the elite? When they … just … refuse … to … lose.

“We talk about moments,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We back up that talk with action.”

First things first.

What should we call Santonio Holmes’ 6-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds left that saved the Lombardi Trophy?

Victory by a toe?

The Immaculate Reception II?

What should we call James Harrison’s interception? The one that stuck a machete into the Arizona Cardinals in the first half.

Harrison’s Long Haul?

The Longest Play?

Hundred-Yards Harrison?

They must have names, if they are going to live in Super Bowl eternity.

Sunday was 2009, but could have been 2006 or 1980 or 1976. The Roman numerals come and go, the Steelers keep winning.

That was Ben Roethlisberger leading the Steelers through shock and a sudden deficit to the championship. Or was it Terry Bradshaw?

That was Holmes making a grab that will define Super Bowl catches. Or was it Lynn Swann?

These are your father’s Steelers. They were winning Super Bowls this way when Tomlin was 2 years old.

“I just want to continue the legacy that is the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Tomlin said, a champion coach at 36, the latest keeper of the flame to be hired by the Rooney family.

The biggest name of the night was supposed to be Bruce Springsteen at halftime. So maybe the Boss’ songs can help.

Born to Run …

Harrison steals Kurt Warner’s pass at the goal line with 18 seconds left in the first half, then rumbles down the right sideline for 100 yards, in the manner of a semi truck barreling through Sunday morning freeway traffic. He falls into the end zone.

Then he calls for the oxygen mask.

It was the longest getaway after a theft since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

That made it 17-7. The lead was eventually 20-7. Safe enough, it seemed. No team had ever blown a 13-point lead in the Super Bowl.

No Surrender …

But Warner and the Cardinals are old hands at ignoring the past. And with under three minutes left, the Pittsburgh lead was gone.

Glory Days …

We know what Joe Montana would do. What Tom Brady would do. What Peyton Manning would do.

What would Roethlisberger do?

Now we know.

“There’s not a lot of time to sit around and say ‘Woe is me,’ if you have intentions of winning,” Tomlin said.

“I dared the team,” Holmes said. “I came up and told Ben that I want to be the guy. … Give me the chance to make plays and I will do it for you.”

The last pass was high, in the corner of the end zone, with no room to maneuver, no margin for error, no time to think.

Holmes made the catch, scraped the last blades of in-bounds grass with both feet.

Touchdown. Victory. History.

“I wouldn’t want to play us in a close game,” kicker Jeff Reed said.

“Our guys,” Tomlin said, “don’t blink.”

We’ll need the official name of the play for the history books.

Roethlisberger: “Drop back, scramble right, scramble left, find someone open.”

Oh.

Dancing in the Dark …

Raymond James Stadium turned into a loud party. There had been so many people waving Terrible Towels, you got the feeling this Super Bowl was being played in Johnstown.

Poor Warner. Victory would have sealed his Hall of Fame election by conventional wisdom.

Actually defeat should, too. This defeat, anyway.

In the end, the Cardinals had reason to feel awful, but not beaten. They had run into NFL legacy. They had run into the Steelers.

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