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How Was James Harrison Not Super Bowl XLIII MVP?

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We’re really getting spoiled here. After a stretch of rather boring Super Bowls — the most of exciting of which included game winning field goals! — we’ve now had two straight Super Sundays distinguished by mesmerizing catches. In Super Bowl XLIII, Santonio Holmes’ toe-tapping catch with 35 seconds left in the game gave the Pittsburgh Steelers the 27-23 lead and the win. His reward was the game MVP trophy. Last year, David Tyree made an even goofier catch to keep the Giants’ winning drive sustained. To improve on this next year, someone’s going to have to catch a football with their crotch.

But in spite of those tremendous plays, Holmes didn’t have the best play of the night. After all, he’s a wide receiver and his job is to make great catches. Earlier in the game, we saw an even better touchdown catch by a non-receiver. And he didn’t even start out the play in the proper end zone.

Steelers linebacker James Harrison’s runback touchdown to close out the first half of Super Bowl XLIII was, to say the least, a game changer for the ages. With the Arizona Cardinals down 10-7 and looking to tie or take the lead on a first and goal play, Harrison picked off Kurt Warner’s pass and ran 100 yards for the touchdown. He didn’t just run untouched with a convoy of Steelers blockers, he really had to make some moves to shimmy out of grasps and avoid running out of bounds. The Cardinals’ stud receiver Larry Fitzgerald never gave up on that play either, so Harrison had to outrun him as well. In fact, some may consider it the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history.

Many people have made game-saving and game-winning catches on the biggest state in football. Hell, Tyree made one just last year. But nobody has ever scored a 100-yard touchdown in Super Bowl history.

It goes without saying that his defensive cohorts will back him up, but safety Troy Polamalu quipped later, “That was the difference in the game. We had a defensive touchdown, and they didn’t.”

Holmes had nine catches and 131 yards, both game highs, so it makes some sense to give him the MVP since he was making plays the entire game. Harrison’s stat sheet didn’t show up with much else — four tackles, three solo — but to make the greatest individual play in a Super Bowl decided by four points, well, I don’t see how anyone else by comparison deserves the MVP.

(Photo credit: Associated Press)

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  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I think that whomever pulled this little stunt should get MVP(Most Valuable Porn)


  • Jay Skipworth

    Matt, could it be the throat punch late in the game? How did Roethlisberger not win it? If Tom Brady or Peyton Manning had orchestrated that last drive, it wouldn’t have been close. Holmes played a great 4th quarter, but was it MVP worthy? I question this as you have.

  • Matthew T. Sussman

    Well, the quarterback is always the easy answer for MVP. He really was fantastic in that final drive — and holy shit, nobody could bring him to the turf — but Holmes’ catches and YAC trumped the throws, I guess.


    I agree with Steve Young, that Roethlisberger shoulda been the MVP.

  • CallmeMaddy

    I kept saying throughout the game that Harrison should be MVP. Holmes wasn’t a bad pick though. Yay Steelers!


  • Tan The Man

    For a big buy, Harrison had great footwork…

  • Wade Baffa

    I think the single most important thing you said was, of Holmes, “he’s a wide receiver and his job is to make great catches.” That, to me, is the reason I believe Harrison should have received the award. To see a man of Harrison’s size rumble 100 yards down the field, after making a great read on Warner, avoiding tacklers that should have caught up to him at the 50-yard line, was pure determination and brilliance. It was a game-changing moment. A dagger to Arizona. Bravo, big man.

  • Tony

    There is no question Harrison was the game’s MVP without a doubt. The Steelers literally would not have won if not for that play. Sure Holmes made a nice catch, but he’s really lucky he even saw the ball again after letting the previous (game winning) pass literally go right through his hands. Arguably Hines Ward (or other receivers) could have done what Holmes did given the opportunity, but very few can out run an entire offense in a 100 yard dash.

    If you’re going to give it to Holmes you might as well give it to Fitzgerald. There contributions compared, Larry was far more “valuable.” Harrison’s value, on the other hand, isn’t even close in this game.

    Good piece Matt.

  • Dr. Juliann Mitchell, PhD

    As a long time Steeler fan and as someone who lived in Pittsburgh for 18 years I have to agree with you Matt. It should have been Harrison as MVP. You hit the nail on the head with your piece. Very nicely done!


  • Josh Hathaway

    If we’re going to give Ben points for being clutch on the final drive, why not give them to Holmes for being clutch at the same time?

    Harrison made one huge play. Holmes had several, including the game-winning catch. I’m all for giving more consideration to defensive players but I think they got it right this time. If Arizona had won, I think Darnell Dockett should have gotten serious consideration for how well he played along the line.