Harrison's 100-yard run was a game changer

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison nears the end zone on a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown as Arizona Cardinals wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston, right, try to stop him during the second quarter of the NFL Super Bowl XLIII football game, Sunday, Feb. 1, 2009, in Tampa, Fla.

John Bazemore/The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 9:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 9:15 p.m.

TAMPA, Fla. James Harrison didn't win the Defensive Player of the Year award by making plays like this. He's a sacker and a run-stuffer, not a long-distance runner.

Didn't matter. Harrison went the distance on a 100-yard interception return one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl and Steelers history to swing the NFL title game on Sunday night when it appeared the Arizona Cardinals were ready to take the halftime lead.

On a first-and-goal play from the Steelers 2 with 18 seconds left in the half, Warner threw a short pass over the middle intended for Anquan Boldin, who had made two catches for 11 yards on the previous two plays.

Harrison, the Steelers' right outside linebacker, read the play perfectly and cut in front of Boldin to make the interception at the goal line and take off up the Arizona sideline. The All-Pro linebacker was slowed twice on either side of the 50, with Warner himself trying and missing to make the tackle, before being hauled down by a face-mask tackle but not before thrusting the ball across the goal line.

The play was reviewed to see if Harrison got the ball across the line and the call was upheld, allowing the Steelers to seize a 17-7 lead when it appeared the Cardinals, once down 10-0, might take a 14-10 halftime lead. The replay was important because no time was left and Pittsburgh couldn't have run a play from scrimmage.

What a matchup: the Defensive Player of the Year met the NFL Man of the Year Warner was announced as the winner minutes before kickoff and, this time, Harrison came out the winner.

Not only that, Harrison's return brought a bit of excitement to what otherwise had been something of a drab Super Bowl, and was the second such memorable play in as many Super Bowls, this year's version of David Tyree's against-his-helmet catch for the Giants last year.

It was fitting that Harrison had such a lengthy return. Cut four times by NFL teams, three by the Steelers, he mulled a career as a long-distance trucker or bus driver before the Steelers brought him back in 2004 and he stayed. He became a starter only last season and made the Pro Bowl team and, this season, his 16 sacks won him the AP Defensive Player of the Year award.

Harrison had only three previous interception returns in his career. A 33-yarder this season was his longest.

Previously, the longest interception in a Super Bowl game was Kelly Herndon's 76-yarder for Seattle against Pittsburgh in Detroit three years ago. The longest play was Jake Delhomme's 85-yard TD throw to Muhsin Muhammad for Carolina against New England five years ago Sunday.

The Steelers' Willie Parker had a 75-yard touchdown against Seattle, the longest run in Super Bowl history.

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