TAMPA – That’s what good teams do. Ken Whisenhunt made that point as clearly as the Pittsburgh Steelers made their winning points. Whisenhunt is the coach of the Arizona Cardinals, the team that could have won Super Bowl XLIII.
Except the Steelers won, because that’s what good teams do.
Six Super Bowl victories now for the Steelers, one more than the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. A place in history for the team whose place has always been in the rolling Pennsylvania hills where the Allegheny and Monangahela Rivers merge to form the Ohio.
A comeback 27-23 victory for Pittsburgh. The coaches change, from Chuck Noll to Bill Cowher to now Mike Tomlin. The quarterbacks change, although Ben Roethlisberger has been there for the last two while Terry Bradshaw, in the 1970s, was there for the first four.
What doesn’t change is the image of the Steelers, full of the grit and tenacity that is prized in the mills and mines of the region they represent.
“They made the plays at the end of the game,’’ conceded Whisenhunt, who as irony would have it was an assistant with the Steelers their last Super Bowl victory three years ago.
“And that’s what good teams do.’’
Two minutes 37 seconds remaining. The Steelers, once in front, 20-7, trailed 23-20. What happened to the No. 1 defense in football? What happened was the offense took over.
What happened in this one was that the Steelers, who had allowed only 300 yards once in 18 games this season, gave up 407 to Arizona.
But in the end, it didn’t matter, because Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes in the end zone with 35 seconds remaining.
But it didn’t matter, because the Steelers were Super Bowl champions.
This was a splendid Super Bowl, an exciting Super Bowl, a Super Bowl of missed opportunities and successful plays and continuing suspense.
This was a Super Bowl when what should have been no less than a cinch field goal for the Cardinals turned into a 100-yard interception return at the end of the first half by Pittsburgh’s James Harrison, verifying his selection as NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
This was a Super Bowl of courage by Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, who threw two touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald in the fourth quarter after throwing that interception in the second quarter but still finished with his second defeat in three championship games.
This was a Super Bowl when Holmes, often ignored because the stars of the Steelers are the guys on defense, Harrison, Troy Polamalu, James Farrior, was selected MVP.
“That’s been our story all year,’’ said Tomlin, at 36 the youngest coach of a Super Bowl winner. “We’ve got a team that doesn’t blink in the face of adversity. It’s never going to be pretty or perfect . . . but they’ve got a great deal of resolve.’’
It may say something about progress in America that Tomlin becomes the second African-American to coach a Super Bowl champion, but unlike Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts two years ago, very little was made of the fact.
Tomlin received a congratulatory phone call from President Obama, who had announced, eschewing bipartisanship, he was rooting for the Steelers, mainly because Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney, supported Obama in the campaign.
“Actually,’’ said Tomlin, “I couldn’t hear (Obama). I heard congratulations and thanked him for it.’’
It was noisy on the field, Steelers fans, waving their yellow “Terrible Towels,’’ the great majority of the crowd of 70,774 at Raymond James Stadium. It was nosier in the Steelers locker room.
“We’re a team,’’ said Tomlin, who in his third season with the Steelers is one of the reasons, “and that’s why there’s no division in the locker room. When the chips are down, No. 7 (Roethlisberger) and company will ante up and kick in.’’
Or run in. Or, on the final drive, pass in.
“Santonio,’’ agreed Tomlin, “is someone that just loves to deliver in big moments in big games. I think he said it earlier this week at one of the eight or nine interview sessions . . . We know what we can get from him, and we appreciate it.’’
What all of us got from this Super Bowl was, well, something Super, a game which had all sorts of twists and turns, a game which gave so many different players a chance to make a difference.
In the end it was Roethlisberger and Holmes and the Pittsburgh Steelers. They were the ones with the Lombardi Trophy, because they did what good teams do. They won.