Head referee Terry McAulay and company got off to an inauspicious start on the first drive of the game after ruling a 1-yard touchdown run by Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. However, following a challenge by Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the play was overturned as the ball never broke the goal line. To the line judge's credit, it wasn't a blatant mistake. But in the end, the play was overturned because the ruling on the field was incorrect and the Steelers settled for a field goal.
Throughout the game, the Cardinals were by far the more penalized team. Arizona was cited for five penalties resulting in 46 yards during the first half alone. They picked up right where they left off after being flagged for three 15-yard penalties on the Steelers' first offensive possession of the second half. In total, Arizona racked up 11 infractions for 106 yards compared to Pittsburgh's seven penalties for 56 yards.
In arguably the most significant play of the game, Steelers LB James Harrison intercepted Warner at the goal line and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown. During the spectacular run back, a possible illegal block in the back call against Pittsburgh LB LaMarr Woodley was overlooked. The Steelers took advantage of the 14-point swing and jumped out to a 17-7 lead into halftime.
Perhaps the most obvious blunder came after one of the biggest plays in Super Bowl history. Roethlisberger found outstretched WR Santonio Holmes in the corner of the end zone with just 35 seconds left on the clock, giving Pittsburgh a 27-23 lead. An elated Holmes bypassed the NFL's rule of not using the ball as a prop, and clearly did just that. The officiating crew apparently missed the prolonged celebration which would have given the Steelers an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and forced Pittsburgh to kick off from its own 15-yard line.
Take nothing away from the Steelers as they certainly earned their NFL record sixth Lombardi Trophy. In reality, Pittsburgh marched 88 yards against a Cardinals defense that had allowed -2 yards in the previous three possessions. A holding penalty on the first play of the game-winning drive backed the Steelers up to their own 12-yard line before Big Ben managed to lead his team down the field for a score.
With the outcome now embedded in the record books, one can't avoid thinking what could have been. What if the Steelers didn't score on Harrison's record setting return? What if Pittsburgh would have kicked off from their 15-yard line? What if Warner had one more opportunity to toss a hail marry to all-word WR Larry Fitzgerald? What could have been…Unfortunately, we'll never know.
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