TAMPA — Lost in all the late drama and an improbable finish, Steelers linebacker James Harrison had one of the best plays in Super Bowl history.
In Pittsburgh's 27-23 victory Sunday Harrison's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown at the end of the first half was "the difference in the game," Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley said.
"I think it was the biggest play of the game," Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden said. "It took the momentum from them."
The play came with the Cardinals facing third down at the Steelers 1-yard line with 18 seconds left in the half, poised to go up 14-10 or at worst tie it. But when Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner turned left to throw a slant to Anquan Boldin, Harrison stepped in front of it. Harrison said he was supposed to cover the running back on the play, but "(Warner) threw it right to my hands," he said.
What happened next will be on Super Bowl highlight reels forever. Harrison, the NFL defensive player of the year, rumbled down the right sideline, getting key blocks from several teammates, including DeShea Townsend, who pushed Warner to the ground. Harrison, a 6-foot, 242-pounder, turned into a running back of sorts, saying the field first looked shorter, then bigger.
Harrison fought off an attempted shoestring tackle inside the 10 before getting taken down at the goal line by receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Harrison, exhausted, lay on his back to catch his breath after the longest score in Super Bowl history.
"I had a (kink) in my neck," Harrison said. "And I was tired as a dog."
Steelers fans held their collective breath, too, as the play was reviewed, with some thinking Harrison's knee hit the ground before he crossed the goal line.
But Harrison got up, and the touchdown stood. It was perhaps the pivotal play in the game, a possible 14-point swing which Haley said "crushed us at the time."
Warner said on the interception, the Steelers showed an all-out blitz, and he couldn't see Harrison around his linemen and the pressure.
"I thought I had Anquan for a second, but he jumped out there and made a play," Warner said. "The unfortunate thing is that we couldn't bring him down."
Harrison, who was undrafted out of Kent State and cut three times by the Steelers before bouncing back to become one of the league's best linebackers, ended his storybook Super Bowl season in style.
"He's had an unbelievable year," offensive tackle Max Starks said. "…That just shows the character of James, he's willing to put his life on the line to make plays … he's deservedly the defensive player of the year, and he showed (it) on the play before the end of the half."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.