So… Was it a Fumble?
I enjoyed watching Super Bowl XLIII for the most part. As a football fan, I tend to favor teams with quarterbacks that I like, and I like Big Ben, so I was more or less routing for the Steelers to win. However, for the drama and story, I was also routing for Arizona, who was making its first appearance at the Super Bowl. All in all, I was looking for a clean, exciting game.
To some extent, I got that. Things were a little dull in the first quarter as Pittsburgh dominated, but the Cardinals got their game together to engineer a touchdown drive to make it 10 – 7, and to also shut down the Pittsburgh offense twice, the second time with an interception that seemed to guarantee at least a halftime tie. But then Harrison managed a goal line interception when it seemed Arizona was going in for the touchdown, and he took the ball 100 yards (with time expiring) to put the Steelers up 17-7 at half.
The second half started rocky for Arizona, as well. They had the ball first possession of the half, but failed to do anything with it. Here I must interject and say that I felt the officiating over all was lacking (I know you could call holding on practically every play, but still…), and at times it even felt that the officials were in Pittsburgh’s pocket. (And I say that being a moderate Steelers fan!) So on this first drive, Warner was hit as he was trying to pass, the ball popped out, and it was ruled a fumble. Maybe the officials were a little cautious about calling incomplete passes after Ed Hochuli’s memorable call week 2 when San Diego came visiting the Broncos, but I thought the call was poorly made. Indeed, on review the call was overturned and Arizona only had to punt.
Yet on the Steelers’ very next drive, the Cardinals seemed bent and determined to self-destruct. They committed three 15-yard penalities that kept the Steelers’ drive alive (although the roughing the passer call I think was questionable). On the third, they had managed to stop Pittsburgh and force a field goal, only to then run into the holder. With a dramatic defensive hold, they managed to stop Big Ben another three times and keep it to a field goal.
Arizona came alive after that, scoring a touchdown to make it 20-14, and then pinning the Steelers at their own 1 yardline with a perfect punt and recovery. Forcing a safety then brought the score to 20-16, and Arizona capitalized on the next drive with an open field catch by Larry Fitzgerald, who then turned on the afterburners and blazed into the endzone. (At one point in time, I thought Polamalu was fast, but he never even closed the gap on Fitzgerald.) So now, the game has reached one of its most exciting moments. The underdogs had taken the lead, 23-20, with under 3 minutes to go. Could they hold out?
Unfortunately not, as the defense apparently decided to quit the game early. Pittsburgh quickly took the ball back down the field and Big Ben connected with Santonio Holmes in the endzone, and Holmes managed to get two tiptoes down for a touchdown. With only 29 seconds and starting from their own 23, though with two timeouts, things looked bleak for Arizona. However, with two quick passing plays they reached midfield and looked to possibly make one two daring stabs at the endzone.
And then it happened. Warner was once again hit as he was trying to pass, the ball popped out, Pittsburgh jumped on the ball, and the play was ruled a fumble with the resulting game-ending change of possession. Now, all of us were expecting a review called down from the booth. After all, this was the Super Bowl, this play would effectively end the game, and a similar play had been overturned earlier in the half. The officials reviewed Holmes’ amazing effort to get both feet in bounds just minutes ago. Surely they would review this call. But then, before we knew it, Big Ben took a knee and the game was over.
So, it was a great final showing for Arizona, and despite their penalty problems, they made quite a game against the dominant Steelers. But the handling of the fumble at the end of the game left a sour taste in my mouth. It made the whole game end in a dud, as opposed to the exciting finish I’d hoped for. My wife tells me to get over it, since she’s of the firm opinion that challenging referees’ calls should never happen to begin with, but despite her admonitions, I’m discontent.
First, I think it was close enough to warrant a look. I don’t think the evidence was there to overturn the call, but I think the same case could be made if the play had been ruled incomplete as opposed to a fumble. Warner’s hand was back when the ball was hit. It move a little in his hand, but the ball never left his hand until after his arm came forward in a pass. I’ve read some articles on this, and the general consensus was that because there was some loss of control before Warner started into his forward pass, the fumble was justified. And yet, at such a crucial moment, such a close call was not given any consideration, and before we knew it, the game was over.
Now, I only saw the one or two replays NBC aired, but it looked possible that it could have been ruled an incomplete pass after review. Coupled with Pittsburgh’s unsportsmanlike conduct, Arizona would have had a chance with 8 seconds remaining at Pittsburgh’s 42. Odds are heaviliy against a miraculous touchdown catch under such circumstances, but it would have been fun to see. But that’s not the point. The point, I feel, is that the play should have been reviewed. 19 times out of 20, the play is reviewed. For an important game like the Super Bowl, I would have placed the play in the company of the 19, rather than the odd man out. That it wasn’t reviewed makes me feel uneasy, almost conspiratorial.
So, should the play have been reviewed? If so, was it really a fumble? History will record it as so, but without the official review, I’ll always wonder.