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Ten years ago, Bruce Arians made Super music in Tampa

His play calling, including Roethlisberger to Holmes, helped the Steelers beat the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.
Santonio Holmes makes the game-winning catch to give the Steelers a 27-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII in 2009 in Tampa. (Times file)
Santonio Holmes makes the game-winning catch to give the Steelers a 27-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII in 2009 in Tampa. (Times file)
Published Jan. 31, 2019
Updated Feb. 1, 2019

TAMPA — Super Bowl LIII is Sunday, Patriots and Rams. And America’s Game, with all its circus, will return to Tampa in two years, February 2021, Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium. Wonder who’ll be there that night to play Tom Brady.

But this is the 10th anniversary of the last Super Bowl in Tampa, the memorable Super Bowl XLIII between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, a seesaw game the Steelers won 27-23 on Ben Roethlisberger’s 6-yard touchdown pass to a leaping, both-feet-in Santonio Holmes with 37 seconds left, an iconic moment in the big game’s history. And a special one for the man who called the play: Bucs coach Bruce Arians.

Arians won two Super Bowls with Pittsburgh, the first as a receivers coach in Super Bowl XL in Detroit against the Seattle Seahawks in 2006. But he was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator 10 years ago in Tampa.

“When you call that drive, it gives you something special to remember,” Arians said.

That game, that drive, that play, that week in Tampa.

“It was extremely special,” Arians said. “It was my first time in one as a coordinator. We practiced out at University of South Florida. Everything was fantastic. The town was great. For the families, it was just a great week. My mom, my sister, my brother all stayed in the same room and had a blast. And obviously the game.”

And obviously the call.

“I never repeat plays in a game,” Arians said. “But we were in the red zone. We had used everything. That play was Ben’s No. 1 pick, so we went back to it. 74 Scat Flasher Z Level. 74 scat is the protection, so we free release the back. The linemen slide away, and the back would be hot in the flat. Hines Ward would be coming across to try to pick for that back or sit down in zone. Santonio ran a corner route behind him.

“The thing was designed to go to the flat. They played zone. Ben pumps it so hard I thought the ball was going to come out of his hands for Hines. Santonio gets a lot of credit for that catch, but that throw was unbelievable, to get it over the corner’s head and put it in a position where ‘Tone’ can just catch it.”

The Steelers took a 17-7 lead on James Harrison’s unforgettable rumbling 100-yard interception return to end the first half. But Kurt Warner and the Cardinals reeled off 16 straight points in the fourth quarter, and a 64-yard catch and run by Larry Fitzgerald gave Arizona a 23-20 lead with 2:37 left.

“Fitz’s catch gave them the lead,” said Arians, who would later coach the Fitzgerald and the Cardinals. “But I looked up and said, ‘Hey, we got plenty of time. We’re built for this.’

“What people don’t realize is that Nate Washington, our flanker, had separated his shoulder and was really running out there one-armed. Hines’ knee had given out, and neither one of them could really run or catch. We had Heath Miller and Santonio Holmes. I just kept telling (Roethlisberger) to pump left, then throw it to Santonio. That drive was what Ben did with the ball to get guys open.”

The biggest play along the way was a 40-yard hookup, Roethlisberger to Holmes.

“I didn’t have anything to do with it,” Arians said. “It was a play designed to go to Heath Miller. But Ben pumps it, hits Santonio, he spins out and gets the big gain. We needed a big chunk. Almost all of the plays from that are still in my head.”

The Steelers were back in the Super Bowl two years later but lost to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Super Bowl XLIV in Arlington, Texas.

“The greatest feeling in the world is winning one,” Arians said. “The absolute worst feeling in the world is when the confetti is coming down on them and you’ve got to walk through it.”

Bucs fans have faded memories of the franchise’s Super Bowl win 16 years ago.

“You got to have a quarterback.” Arians said. “If you have the quarterback, you’ve got to go to the defense, and I don’t think our defense is that far off, personnel wise. I know what Todd (Bowles, defensive coordinator) will do with them. We need to work some up front offensively. But I’ve never walked into a place where the skill positions are as loaded as these are.

“It takes a lot of luck. You’ve got to avoid injuries; you’ve got to stay healthy. But once you start winning, it breeds more winning.”

Arians has pictures from that Super Bowl win in Tampa in his home and office, including a shot of the winning play autographed by Holmes, the biggest play call of Arians the play caller’s career. But it’s not his favorite win.

“It’s really the second biggest. When I think of the biggest victories I’ve been part of, it’s really No. 2. No. 1 was when I was coaching Temple. We beat Pitt for the first time in 45 years, and the Beach Boy were onstage after. We went in, came back out and went on stage with the Beach Boys.”

Let the music play Sunday at Super Bowl LIII. Bruce Arians knows the tune. He’d like to hear it again.

“That’s the goal,” he said.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.