TAMPA — In a hundred years, they will talk of this game. In a hundred years, they will talk about the plays, about the comebacks, about the amazing finish that came after the other amazing finish. In a hundred years, they will talk about the finest Super Bowl of them all.
Forty-three years, and a championship has never been this exciting, this breathless, this much fun. Forty-three games, and none of them has measured up to this: Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23.
And tell me: Is your heart beating normally yet?
This was terrific stuff. This was amazing entertainment. This was everything you ever wanted in a Super Bowl. It was Ben Roethlisberger's arm and Santonio Holmes' toes tucked inside the sideline and James Harrison's wild ramble down the sideline. This was Kurt Warner's toughness and Larry Fitzgerald's speed and Anquan Boldin's hands. It was a team that refused to lose against a team that would not go away.
This was Super Bowl XLIII, and the NFL has never seen anything like it.
Who saw this coming? For a week, all you heard was how dull this game was shaping up to be. There was no discernible buzz, no star power, no real controversy to drive the hype.
Turns out, it didn't need the hype. The Steelers were wonderful, and the Cardinals were a half-step behind. In the end, it was not so much a football game as it was a thrill ride. It was like watching a sword fight on a high wire with fireworks in the background.
As Super Bowls go, this was a better game than when Joe Montana brought the 49ers from behind against the Bengals. This was better than when the Rams' Mike Jones made a game-saving tackle against the Titans. This was better than when the Giants beat the Bills by a point when Scott Norwood missed a field goal at the final gun. It was even better than the Giants' upset of the New England Patriots last year. It was better than all those starring Doug Williams and Joe Namath and John Elway and Tom Brady.
Even the Steelers, who have seen a Super Bowl or two, seemed to appreciate the way their latest championship arrived.
"You can't explain it," Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu said. "You are seconds away from me crying in the locker room and them being out here. That's how amazing it was."
For Pittsburgh, of course, the sight of flying confetti is nothing new. This was the sixth Super Bowl title for the Steelers, the most of any franchise in the NFL. In other words, the trophy case is getting jammed. They seem to spit out titles on the photo-copier.
In other words, it wasn't anything new when a commissioner handed a trophy to a Rooney. You've seen it before. Raymond James Stadium had turned into Pittsburgh South, and the fans were roaring. You've seen that, too.
After this, there will be those who suggest the Steelers are a dynasty. That isn't quite right, not in the rule-the-league definition of sports. This was their second title in four years, but before that, there was a 27-year gap between championships.
What Pittsburgh is, however, is the most consistent franchise in the league. The Steelers do not lead the league in spending, and they do not have the flashiest of offenses, and they don't have one of the pretty-boy quarterbacks of the league. They are, however, a tough, blue-collar team with scarred knuckles and a knack for the big play.
In other words, this is a team that should make its ancestors happy. Can you imagine Jack Lambert grinning at Harrison as Harrison punched a Cardinal player in the neck? Can you imagine Joe Greene smiling as the Steelers kept knocking Warner to the turf? Can you imagine Lynn Swann nodding as Holmes managed to keep his feet as he caught the winning touchdown?
There were other moments worth remembering, too. There was Harrison's 100-yard interception return, a 14-point swing, at the end of the first half. There was Roethlisberger pump-faking and finding Holmes for a 40-yard reception on the final drive. There were a half-dozen plays that could go on any Super Bowl highlight reel.
Most of all, there was the Steelers' poise to come back after a 13-point lead had turned into a three-point deficit. Can you imagine how it would have felt on a different team's sideline after Fitzgerald, under control for most of the night, broke loose for a 64-yard touchdown to give the Cardinals the lead with 2:47 left?
The Steelers? They just went back to work, driving 78 yards in 2:02 to win the game.
"We've got a team that doesn't blink in the face of adversity," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "It's never going to be pretty or perfect, but they've got a great deal of belief in each other."
In a hundred years, people will remember that drive. When Warner goes into the Hall of Fame — his 377-yard performance clinched it Sunday night, by the way — he will talk of this game. When the Steelers pass the franchise to the next Rooney, he will talk of it. So many plays. So many memories.
This time, the game was better than anyone expected.
This time, it was better than Super.