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Pittsburgh Steelers beat Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII

TAMPA — The list of the Steelers' past Super Bowl heroes is as long as it is impressive.

Names such as Franco Harris, Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann, each enshrined in Canton, immediately come to mind.

And then you have the man who can be credited with saving Super Bowl XLIII for Pittsburgh: Santonio Holmes.

The third-year Steeler didn't even rank as the most feared receiver in the game. But it was Holmes — not Hines Ward, not Larry Fitzgerald, not Anquan Boldin — who made the winning reception in a breathtaking 27-23 Pittsburgh victory Sunday over Arizona, a catch that will go down as one of the most remarkable in Super Bowl history.

Holmes, who hails from Belle Glade and the muck surrounding Lake Okeechobee, reached into the crisp Tampa air to pull down a 6-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger with 35 seconds remaining, not enough time for Arizona to respond in kind.

It was his game-high ninth catch of the night, and his acrobatic, sideline-straddling reception in the back corner of the end zone sealed the Steelers' sixth world championship and the most valuable player award for himself.

He used the biggest stage as his personal coming-out party. It's exactly the scenario he was hoping for, something he told his quarterback in the huddle during the game's most critical moments.

"Before that drive, I told (Roethlisberger), 'Ben, I want the ball in my hands no matter what, no matter where it is,' " Holmes, 24, said. "I wanted to be the one to make the play, and I did it for our team."

He did that and more.

"Santonio Holmes really made a name for himself today," Ward said.

Holmes had four receptions for 73 yards on the winning drive, but none was more awe-inspiring than the clincher as he managed to keep his feet inbounds and his arms outstretched to make the fingertip catch.

"My feet never left the ground," said Holmes, who had 131 receiving yards. "All I did was extend my arms and use my toes as extra extension to catch up to the ball."

Said coach Mike Tomlin: "Santonio is a guy who loves to deliver. In big moments, we know what we can get from him."

Almost as important as Holmes' catch was the context. Kurt Warner, who along with the Cardinals were stymied for much of the night by a stingy Steelers defense, hit Fitzgerald on a 64-yard scoring strike with 2:37 left. For the first time in the game, the Steelers were on the wrong end of the scoreboard, 23-20.

It only gave them a chance to show how much they thrive in such situations.

It was as methodical a winning drive as you'll see in the Super Bowl with the Steelers covering 78 yards in 2:02. Roethlisberger was 6-for-8 on the drive, managing to brush off oncoming rushers as though they were houseflies. Besides the blitz, the Steelers had to overcome themselves.

"That was a heck of a drive," Roethlisberger said. "We got backed up early on the drive with the penalty, and we had to work the ball all the way down the field."

Even after a holding call against guard Chris Kemoeatu, the Steelers — in typical fashion — kept their composure.

"That's the most fulfilling drive I've ever been associated with in coaching," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said.

"We embrace those moments," Tomlin said. "We think we're built for them."

Such a mentality has served the Steelers well. The franchise likely is running out of places to put all of those Lombardi Trophies after winning a record sixth.

"I see five of them every day when I go to work," Tomlin cracked.

The win was historic for him, too. At 36, Tomlin became the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. He surpassed Jon Gruden, who was 39 when the Bucs won in January 2003. (Tomlin was Gruden's defensive backs coach.)

That sustained success has brought the Steelers sustained support from legions of fans, and it seemed like all of them convened at Raymond James Stadium. Of the 70,774 in the stands, the black-and-gold clad Steelers fans, with their Terrible Towels in full swing, seemed to outnumber Cardinals fans 10 to 1.

Along with Pittsburgh's legacy of greatness, its followers are something that can be counted on.

"They are always there," owner Dan Rooney said.

They saw one of the more frantic finishes in Super Bowl history with the Cardinals resurrecting themselves late in their first Super Bowl only to fall ever so short. Ultimately, their inspiring season had a heart-wrenching end.

"We've done something that is incredible; this run that we've been on," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "A lot of people didn't think we'd be successful. There's not much you can say at this time that is going to make it feel any better."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3377.

MVPs by position

Quarterbacks22

Running backs7

Wide receivers6

Defensive backs3

Defensive linemen2 *

Linebackers2

Kick returner1

* Cowboys end Harvey Martin and tackle Randy White, co-MVPs of Super Bowl XII, count as one MVP

Pittsburgh Steelers beat Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII 02/02/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 2, 2009 9:01am]
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