the sports section

Best Super Bowl Ever?

In the hours after last night’s Super Bowl, which most pundits had spent all week deriding as a “travesty” (hello, Charles Pierce in Slate) and “a regional game no would watch” (Tiki Barber), the only real debate was whether this was the best Super Bowl ever, or just one of the best. No one’s doubting that it was the best fourth quarter, except for those who went into cardiac arrest halfway through.

In the end, Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes improvised the Steelers through one final drive to beat a courageous Arizona Cardinals team (Sad Vader) 27–23. (ESPN’s Chris Mortensen nailed the final score exactly.) Usually, all one hopes for from a Super Bowl is for it to be close enough to hold attention for four hours and provide one iconic image or moment. Last night’s game had three, at least.

First was James Harrison’s wild 100-yard interception return at the end of the first half, reversing what could have been a Cardinals halftime lead and generally dropping everyone’s jaws with the longest play in Super Bowl history. (It appears Harrison, exhausted, had never run that far in his life.) Then, late in the fourth quarter, Kurt Warner hit Larry Fitzgerald (whom the Steelers had mostly stifled all evening) for a 64-yard streaking touchdown to give the Cardinals their first lead and, in the eyes of many, the victory.

But then came Roethlisberger’s freewheeling, look-ma-no-hands final drive, which culminated in a catch by Holmes that was every bit as improbable and amazing as David Tyree’s last year. (Holmes was named MVP, and couldn’t possibly have deserved it more.) It was the type of play that will make every Super Bowl highlight video until we are all dead.

Whatever the general consensus about the Super Bowl as American Event, or the overall state of the NFL as it stands in 2009, the Super Bowl game itself has now provided overwhelming entertainment value for two years running. The best two games in the NFL over the last two seasons have been in the Super Bowl. It’s difficult to come up with a better advertisement for your game than that. Chances are, someone at your Super Bowl party last night said something like, “You know, I don’t usually watch football, but even I was excited by that game.” That’s exactly what the NFL wants, and no matter what Charles Pierce and Tiki Barber thought about it, last night’s Super Bowl couldn’t have possibly gone better. Unless you were an Arizona Cardinals fan, of course.

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Best Super Bowl Ever?