SUPER BOWL XLIII - the game review by guest contributor Colin Stephen

Why (for Colin Stephen) Super Bowl XLIII was the greatest sporting event ever!

Super Bowl XLIIIIn all honesty I think you, Gordon, should answer that question because in relatively recent years you have seen Liverpool win a couple of European trophies on VERY emotional nights.

I on the other hand am a Celtic supporter, but a lover of all sport. I was very emotional many years ago when Scotland won a grand slam at the Rugby.

Again when Celtic stopped Rangers winning 10 leagues in a row (your editor was over the moon about that as well because it was a Rangers' fan who caused the breakup of the fan club), or when they beat Manchester United to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League… or even beating Boavista to qualify for the UEFA Cup final.

I have been very excited about sporting events over the years… especially the last Wimbledon final, which was a cracker between Nadal and Federer.

But let’s talk about the Steelers.

I had watched them beat the Seahawks to win Super Bowl XL, so why was this one so special?

First, the background.

I first got interested in the Steelers back in the 1980's when a friend of mine from the UK went to pastor a church in Pittsburgh and had a couple of the Steelers attend his church services.

If I remember correctly, the players were Craig Wolfley and Gary Anderson. I know there was another, as he once told me that he felt like getting these guys to take up the church offering, as they were huge and would get a massive collection. So, it became the Steelers for me.

I learnt that the Steelers were in fact an immense team with a record to be proud of. That was great, but none of that happened when I supported them.

Yes, Chuck Noll was still the coach, and we had Mike Webster at Centre, but those were painful 5-11 seasons. Those were the days long before the internet, and I think I found Gordon's address in a First Down magazine advertising the Pittsburgh Steelers UK Fan Club. Wow!

I immediately signed up and was the envy of all my work mates, a 49ers', a Giants', a Raiders' and would you believe it – even a Browns' fan! (Editor's note: Now that is stretching my imagination Colin. Fans of the Browns in the UK? Run that past me again... nah, can't be true.)

Those really were the days.

A newsletter from Gordon on the old yellow paper (Ed's note: with black text for obvious reasons), with stats and once a year a Steelers media guide that I read so many times I think I memorized some of them!

Gordon also sent me videos of the games each week. At the earliest – Wednesday after the game I had the full game on VHS and sat and watched every play of the game, as well as the Felko zone and after game interviews. You felt like you knew the players!

As the years went on, we got a new coach, Bill Cowher, but nothing really changed. You knew we would run the football and we had a defense that would knock you into next week.

Yes we had great players, Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, Carnell Lake and others, but we seemed to always fall short of what we hoped for.

Way, way back I remember beating the Oilers in Houston in a playoff game that went into overtime, including a 51 yard field goal by Anderson, only to lose to the Broncos the following week after fumbling the ball, when we really should have won.

(Editor’s note: I pulled my media guide out and that was 1989 when we beat Houston 23-20 and then lost 24-23 to the Broncos  – so without all the help that I have at hand – that’s a good memory Colin.)

Then there was the San Diego championship game where we failed to get to the Super Bowl as we couldn't get the ball in for a touchdown from 3 yards out (a constant problem it seems for the Steelers. Let's hope Gary Russell is the answer to that problem!!)

Then the following year we got to the Super Bowl... and I listened to it on the American Forces Network.

At the time, I was in Albania living with an Albanian family, who didn't know English, and trying to explain to them why I couldn't eat the meal, and why this game was SOOOOOO important... as I moved around the room with the radio trying to pick up the signal!

Super Bowl XXXThat year (1995 – your editor’s first Super Bowl) we lost to the Cowboys… when in reality had Neil O’Donnell’s (final) pass been 3 feet higher, we probably would have won.

(Editor’s note: Last November on a visit to Fire House 4 in Pittsburgh, the fireman who we were talking to said that all will be revealed in a few years – Neil O’Donnell was bribed by the mafia. I don’t subscribe to that theory, but I haven't got over the three interceptions that he threw. A few months later O’Donnell jumped ship to the New York Jets - which is probably why there is talk of the mafia connection. The influence of the Sopranos.)

Interestingly, I’ve just read a fact in the media guide that should get you thinking – O’Donnell entered the game as the NFL’s career leader in fewest interceptions thrown per pass attempt. Now… that should provide the conspiracy theorists food for thought.

That whole year was amazing as we came from a terrible run to win about 8 games in a row including a win from about 30 points from behind the Bengals. I am going by memory so some of these things may be a little out. (Editor's note: Colin is not wrong. Before losing the last game at Green Bay, the Steelers had won six consecutive including 49-31 at Cincinnati. Review of that game here>>>

That loss was sickening, as I dislike the Cowboys.

(Editor’s note – Colin is not alone there - so it appears do most NFL fans. I spoke to a Cardinals’ fan on the bus going to Hertz to pick our car rentals up in Orlando and he told me that he had been to that 1995 Super Bowl – as it was in Arizona. I asked him who had supported and he replied the Steelers, because he hated the Cowboys. The Man Us of the NFL as I always say.

 The 49ers’ fan at my work had seen success year after year. One Super Bowl, the 49ers beat the Bengals in the final 2 minutes – Joe Montana leading the team down field to a winning touchdown in the final seconds. I was annoyed that they were that good and could do that kind of thing… and I could only imagine what it must feel like to see the Steelers win one like that.

Man – I finally got what I hoped for – but it just left my nerves totally shot and me short of breath!

Then came the year we won against the Seahawks.

Both my brothers are Steeler fans, and I phoned one when we played against the Colts in the Championship game… seconds to go.  He commentated for me. "Noooooooo! Bettis has fumbled!!!… it’s a touchdown!!!… no Roethlisberger has tackled him."

I couldn't take it… I prayed…"better to lose it now than in the Super Bowl."

Super Bowl XLWell, you know what happened. Funny enough, I had a feeling even before that game that this was our year and so it turned out to be. A little closer than I thought it would be, and I felt we did not do ourselves justice, but still a win is a win.

We did enough to win, even though our best pass was not by our QB!

Still it was great feeling.

As I lay down to sleep early that morning, my wife asked me why I was smiling!

Why??????? (did she really need to ask?)

And so to 2008-2009.

The schedule – the worst of any team (as Dan Rooney was quick to point out! Nice one Dan!) Worst maybe of ANY team  - EVER!

However, I always had the feeling that if we could just get to the playoffs we could easily beat any team on our day. And so we started with a winning record… but injuries, especially to running backs dampened my enthusiasm and I knew it was just a matter of time until we were too badly beaten up (physically) to challenge.

And all the time a very good Ravens team (which I really don't like! No surprise there! I respect them, but do not like them!!) were breathing right down our neck. A defeat could see us lose the group and also take us out of wildcard contention. But we just kept winning.

Somehow, and I still don't understand how… we always seemed to find a way to win. SOMEONE came up with a big play! This was fun!

You kind of knew that the winning could not last… you just hoped it would be in a game that did not matter and NOT the playoffs.

That game was Tennessee… and I still don't know how we lost, but although it meant we did not have home field advantage, we were in the playoffs.

Another funny thing was the fact that the Albanian TV sports channel suddenly decided to show one live game a week half way through the season, and more often than not it was the best game – i.e. the Steelers!

I was again watching live games in front of the TV instead of following it on or the radio. (My internet connection is not quick enough to see live games  -although sometimes I watched them anyway… in slow motion!!!!!!)

And so we made it to the Super Bowl… beating the Ravens along the way, which really had me believing we had the defence to TOTALLY dominate the Cardinals. I knew they were good, and their effort against the Eagles with quick passing to beat the blitz was a great game plan, and I was a little worried about trick plays that always seem to beat us!

Still I felt it could be a blow out, or at least a controlled, comfortable win for us.

Believe it or not, I was so emotional that I decided to go to my bed.

The game would start at half past midnight, and by 10 pm I was shattered… and the clock seemed to be going backwards.

My favourite musician, Bruce Springsteen was playing the half time show, and the Steelers were there!!! As far as American Football, you don't get any better than that!!

I woke up, I imagine about midnight and tried to drift off to sleep and I did, and woke at 1 am. I was up and in front of the TV. They were showing highlights of the first drive.

I saw the Roethlisberger’s touchdown (I still think he got in) and then could not believe it was negated for a field goal. We had the ball again and comfortably took it down for a TD, 10-0… just as I thought. Controlled football. Let’s get this team 3 and out and get a TD and the game will be over. They won't get 3 TDs (or so I thought).

They came straight down the field and scored a TD and the game was on!

As we approached half time, I thought a field goal at the end of the half would be quite good… but the interception was a little unlucky and NOT at a good time. The last 2 minutes of each half are always important in any game, but in this Super Bowl proved VERY important.

As the Cardinals got down to the 5-yard line, I hoped for only a field goal for them.

James HarrisonThen we got the interception. What a return?

I saw it was HARRISON and couldn't believe he could go all the way. The commentator said that the clock had expired and then he went in for the TD. I was jumping around in front of the TV. (In fact my nine year old said to me the next day, "Dad, I got up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night and you were up watching TV." I was waiting for him to ask what I was doing jumping around the room!!!! My seven year let me off the hook, "Yes," he said, “Dad's team were winning the Super Bowl!!")

The replays showed he might have been down at the one yard line and I had a brief second of worrying that we might go in 10-7 up, but the Cardinals’ Fitzgerald ran off the field and then back on to tackle Harrison and surely that is a foul, and the flag on the play was for a face mask, and I don't know if that was after the interception… if so, as the game can't finish on a penalty we would have the ball at the half yard line.

But then I saw that his knee was on top of Fitzgerald and the TD stood.

Just what you wanted … something to cheer you up for Bruce Springsteen's half time show. And man, did he not go all out – I thought for a minute he was trying to win MVP!!

The second half started just as I imagined, with us in control and the stupid penalties by the Cards only showed me that they were psychologically a defeated team already.

I looked at the scoreboard and said 24 points will be enough. As usual, (when you are a Steelers fan, you know these problems) we couldn't get in from 3 yards out – even after a new series after roughing the holder penalty!
 I was a little worried. A TD and an interception and we could be facing going a point behind!!

They got their TD and suddenly it was 1995 all over again. We couldn't run, we couldn't pass, we couldn't defend, all we could do was miss tackles and hold their pass rush… and that cost us a safety!!
Man do I hate prevent defence!

The Fitzgerald TD was a great one from their viewpoint, but how both our safeties bit to the outside, I still do not know.
 Just over 2 minutes remaining.

Yes we had time, we had the ability… but could we really do it when it mattered?

I knew they would try everything to stop us getting a TD... so a field goal was possible, but could my nerves take it!

I prayed that we would win it in regulation time as I wanted to get SOME sleep and I really was worried about the emotion of it all.

Then we got the penalty for a false start and the writing was on the wall. We had not been moving the ball about well at all in the last few minutes… Hines was a decoy, the man was not fit… he had a lot of heart but he couldn't limp into the endzone… how were we going to get 20 yards for the first down, let alone go to within field goal range?

And then Roethlisberger was back at the 5-yard line, almost sacked, but still managed to get a pass off. Then the high catch by Holmes. I have not seen the replay of the whole drive, just a clip of some plays, but I remember shouting for a pass interference call that never came. Then the pass to Holmes down to the 5-yard line. I really thought as he turned he was open and in for a TD.

We were now 5 yards from a win.

5 yards, but this is the Pittsburgh Steelers. We don't do things easily… we do Immaculate receptions!

5 yards may as well be 95 yards. In fact we would probably have found 95 yards easier. This is the red zone.
This is where we can't seem to get the ball in.

I was screaming for a running play.

Get the ball in the centre of the field. Throw a couple and kick the FG for a tie at the worst.
Roethlisberger threw… far too high.

Then I saw the replay... straight in his hands and Holmes got his feet down. Man – that was it. The poor guy.

Santonio Holmes – even the commentator named it. He said that is the kind of catch that brings you immortality in football. YOU were the one that caught the game winning TD in the Super Bowl.

Santonio HolmesNext play and Roethlisberger throws it and the catch is made. I was hoping (against all hope) that they would give it… but I was sure he was out of bounds. What a relief when the official raised his hands!

But, I knew it would be reviewed.

I watched the replay, just as I thought he was in, they said his right foot looks like it may not be down. I did not see anything to tell me it was NOT down; only that it was SOME catch! I really don't know how these guys do it!
Then the angle from behind, low down to the right and it was clear – touchdown.

There are plays, big plays and there are plays that will be forever shown on NFL footage. This was one of them. Not just the winning touchdown. But THE winning touchdown, the final touchdown of the season, the Super Bowl winning catch.

Thrown into 3 defenders, only able to be caught by the WR and then just by the very tips of his toes. That's how you become great!

A few anxious moments as they got the ball back. Then the fumble. Just as I waited for the review… none came… just the kneel down and the Super Bowl was ours.

It was relief, it was joy, it was a massive smile on my face, it was unbelief that we had done it, it was every kind of emotion you could think of… it was… it was time to breathe again!!

Best sporting event ever!

To be honest, if I could have made it up, that is what I would have wanted.

A come from behind win, Springsteen at half time… an exceptional game by both teams (I think Warner had the second best stats for any QB in a Super Bowl)… and a Steeler win right at the end!

There is sport, there are exciting games… but somehow the Pittsburgh Steelers manage to excel themselves in putting us through every emotion possible and then giving us what we want!

Here's to Super Bowl XLIII Champions – The Pittsburgh Steelers!

1989 GAME 11 November 19th at Cincinnati                       

The Steelers rode into a shootout in "the Jungle" and came away with a 49-31 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals and their fourth straight win. The game looked like it might be a rout, but in the Bengals' favour.

Cincinnati scored touchdowns and a field goal on their first four possessions to take a 21-3 lead. The Steelers responded with a 42-yard touchdown pass from Neil O'Donnell to Ernie Mills. The two teams traded field goals before halftime and the Bengals commanded a 24-13 lead.

The Bengals gained an 18-point advantage after Pittsburgh fumbled on the opening drive in the second half. The Steelers’ offense then took control and scored on five straight drives and the defense forced three punts and two turnovers on Cincinnati's next five possessions.

The Bengals gained 185 total yards and 14 first downs in the first half, but settled for five first downs and 80 yards in the second half. Pittsburgh produced 340 yards in total offense (128 rushing, 212 passing) and 19 first downs in the second half.

Forty-nine points in a game ranked sixth in team history and was the second most allowed in the history of Cincinnati. The Steelers returned from an 18-point deficit, their greatest comeback since December 15th 1985 against Buffalo.

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