Just as it was last October, a team of ne'er-do-wells came together and nearly did the impossible, deserving every ounce of credit. But in the end, it again was a team from Pennsylvania that denied the storybook ending.
In the annual handoff of football to baseball, Ben Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes for a 6-yard touchdown pass with 42 seconds left, and the Steelers won a record sixth Super Bowl with a 27-23 victory over a Cardinals team that captured hearts all over.
What a game. What a handoff. What an act to follow.
Have no fear. Baseball always knows how to follow this act.
The black and gold of the Steelers now gives way to the black and gold of the Pirates -- just one of 30 teams that all can consider themselves contenders in this Major League Baseball era of competitive balance. That was just displayed when the Rays got to the last World Series and lost to the Phillies in five games.
Now it is the national pastime's turn. Now it is time for Pirates president Frank Coonelly to present his team to his fans in football paradise, and time for D-backs president Derrick Hall to present his fans to the same market that was so electrified by the Cardinals.
"The Penguins made it to the Stanley Cup finals last season, the Steelers are ... wrapping up a sixth title, and we're certainly working hard to make it Pirates in the World Series and working on our own sixth world championship," Coonelly told MLB.com after the third quarter. "Steeler fans are Pirates fans. We certainly have not given them the type of performance over the last several years they deserve, and we're working hard to give them the caliber of team this championship town expects."
"The attention definitely turns to baseball at this time," Hall told MLB.com at halftime. "With Spring Training -- certainly my favorite words are 'pitchers and catchers reporting.' With our market in particular, the excitement of the Cardinals, I'm hearing from the same fans: 'If the Cardinals did it, and they're gonna do it, then the D-backs need to do it as well.' When a market is energized, it helps everybody. There's an expression I like to use: When there are high tides, all boats rise. We're one of those."
It is time to talk about the great plays and the TV commercials that the average person just witnessed on NBC. It is time to talk about baseball, because the trucks have just left Progressive Field in Cleveland on their way to Arizona, the first pitchers and catchers are inside of two weeks away now, and as a baseball fan you can feel it.
Thank you, football. We'll take it from here.
|This is the eighth time an MLB team has won the World Series and had a team from the same state win the Super Bowl three months later.|
9:49 p.m.: Larry Fitzgerald catches a quick post route from Kurt Warner and races up the middle of the field for a 64-yard touchdown. The Arizona Cardinals -- who have the longest drought of championships among all pro sports teams other than the Cubs -- have come from behind for a 23-20 lead with a little over two minutes left. Not even the Budweiser Clydesdale who gallantly rescued the white circus horse during the first half could have pulled this off.
9:33 p.m.: Think of one Major League Baseball team that wears exactly the same colors as its local city's NFL team, and you think of the Pirates and their black and gold. Frank Coonelly is president of that baseball team that hopes to carry over the energy level of this Steelers team, and he joined MLB.com after the third quarter to share his thoughts on the night so far and the annual transition to baseball.
MLB.com: You're up, 20-14, and hanging on in the fourth quarter. Your counterpart Derrick Hall of the D-backs told us at halftime that you would boast about the lead but that there was "a lot of football left." So are you ready to boast?
Coonelly: "It's still a lot of football. My thoughts are the Steelers defense is winning the game for them. They've done that all year. It's a remarkable group of guys, obviously James Harrison is the Defensive Player of the Year, and [defensive coordinator Dick] LeBeau called the perfect play, making the Cardinals think they would blitz and then Harrison runs into the interception. The Steelers have missed some opportunities and it should be more than a two-TD lead, so I am sure they're nervous."
MLB.com: Where are you watching this and what food has been served?
Coonelly: "I'm watching it at a friend's house with about 20 other people. What haven't we had? Meatballs, chicken, lasagna, eggplant parmesan. We're now working on fruit salad, cookies ... I'm sure I'm missing something."
MLB.com: Just speaking as a Steelers fan, what has it been like being around fans of such a traditional powerhouse these past several days?
Coonelly: "Steelermania is a remarkable thing, something where they're a very important part of this town. Everywhere I went yesterday, and out to dinner, I think my wife and I were the only two people in the restaurant not wearing Steeler jerseys. Breakfast this morning, the same thing, we're the only two. Every store I was in today, every clerk and person working the store had their Steeler jersey on. When I was coming over here to my friend's party an hour before gametime, the town was literally a ghost town. Everyone was where they intended to be.
"Just to tell you the emphasis we put on football, all the public schools will start two hours late [Monday]. It was announced last week. They have some justification -- they want to make sure all the bus drivers get in safely. I think it's so they can hopefully enjoy a sixth Super Bowl victory."
MLB.com: Derrick Hall also mentioned that you probably will be hoping for some "spillover" and that for all of us this is the handoff to baseball. What are your own hopes and wishes as a Pirates exec coming off this big night for your football franchise?
"That's exactly it. The Penguins made it to the Stanley Cup finals last season, the Steelers are hopefully wrapping up a sixth title, and we're certainly working hard to make it Pirates in the World Series and working on our own sixth world championship. Steeler fans are Pirates fans. We certainly have not given them the type of performance over the last several years they deserve, and we're working hard to give them the caliber of team this championship town expects."
MLB.com: You just made a couple of key moves, locking up Paul Maholm to a three-year extension and signing free agent Eric Hinske. He just made the last out of the last baseball year, back in the World Series at Philly.
Coonelly: Right, we locked Paul up and added Hinske to the roster. He will add significant power off the bench. He had championship experience with the Rays last year, and we think that will be helpful.
MLB.com: Those Rays just made it to the World Series after nothing but a losing history. The Rockies got there for the first time the year before that, and go back another year and the Tigers ended a World Series drought. What kind of season could it be for the Pittsburgh Pirates?
Coonelly: "I don't like to make predictions, but I think we'll be much better and I think we're going to surprise a lot of people."
MLB.com: We're transitioning to a new baseball year with more economic adversity than most people ever have known. We have seen added value for fans in ticketing packages almost across the board. How are your Pirates and Major League Baseball in general equipped to help entertain fans in these times?
Coonelly: "Baseball in general is the most fan-friendly affordable sport among the professional sports by far. Here in Pittsburgh, we decided not to raise ticket prices again, for the seventh straight year, and again we introduced some really attractive value packages. For the full season ticket holders this year, you can buy a full season ticket for as low as $399. It's certainly a way to help when people are looking for fan-friendly, affordable entertainment."
MLB.com: Any last thoughts about Harrison's return? If you win, it's a play for the ages like Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception.
Coonelly: "It was incredible. I was glad to see they got the oxygen to him quickly. It was remarkable. I thought LeBeau's play call was just right on target, they seemed to know what the play was. And Harrison got from end to end."
8:20 p.m.: Derrick Hall, president of the D-backs, just called us after James Harrison's historic 100-yard interception return for a touchdown closed out the first half. Naturally, Hall is hoping his Arizona club will be in baseball's jewel event come next October. He also is hoping his town's other team comes back. Here is how the conversation went:
MLB.com: What was your reaction to how the first half ended? You were on the verge of at least tying the score and went down by 10 with that 100-yard interception return.
Hall: "That was unfortunate. We were on the goal line and it looked like we were going to take the lead, so we're not too thrilled with that. But nonetheless, a whole half is left."
MLB.com: Where are you watching the big game, and what food is being served?
Hall: "I'm watching it from home. Family is over, we're having a traditional party. We have shrimp platters, meatballs, chicken wings and vegeterian dishes for those who eat that healthy fare. We've got it all."
MLB.com: How would you describe the energy level in your sport's market right now?
Hall: "It's a lot of excitement for the Cardinals. It reminds me of our 2007 team with a very young team, really catching the nation by surprise. I think it's just what the Cardinals needed, because this has always been a football-heavy town just waiting to wake up. I do think we awoke a sleeping giant with a tremendous season. It's good for the Cardinals and ultimately good for all sports in this market.
MLB.com: What was your prediction for tonight?
Hall: "As good as Pittsburgh's defense is and as good as Arizona's defense has played lately, I thought it would be high scoring. I had 28-24, Cards."
MLB.com: And your evaluation so far?
Hall: "It's certainly a great game. I was surprised how quickly the first half went. Now I'm concerned because you can't let the game get out of hand. With Pittsburgh's offense capable of being very explosive, you can't let the game get out of hand. Having deferred to get the second-half opening kickoff, we have to take advantage of that."
MLB.com: We see this night as the annual metaphoric handoff from football to baseball. Is that how you see it as a baseball executive and football fan?
Hall: "No doubt. The attention definitely turns to baseball at this time. With Spring Training, certainly my favorite words are 'pitchers and catchers reporting.' With our market in particular, the excitement of the Cardinals, I'm hearing from the same fans: 'If the Cardinals did it, and they're gonna do it, then the D-backs need to do it as well.' When a market is energized, it helps everybody. There's an expression I like to use: When there are high tides, all boats rise. We're one of those.
"I just think that with this economy, baseball is really going to benefit because fans are looking for an outlet, they're looking for an entertainment escape, and there's no better affordability than baseball. When you look at the D-backs, who are the most affordable pick in baseball, there's a great deal of excitement and anticipation for our fans. So when you close the books on the '08-'09 season of the NFL, you open that book for baseball.
"As you know, this D-backs team is a team that has spent more time in first place the last two years than any other team, went to the playoffs the year before last, spent the majority of time in first place last year, and we have a great amount of hope in this market. Combine that with the fact we signed Jon Garland and added him to a rotation that features Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Doug Davis and Max Scherzer -- there is so much excitement and anticipation in the air. I'm thrilled."
MLB.com: We'll be talking to your Pittsburgh counterpart, Pirates president Frank Coonelly at halftime. What do you think he will say?
Hall: "He's a great guy. I imagine he's pulling for the Steelers just as I am the Cards. He will be in a similar situation. He's in a market focused primarily on the Steelers, but he's got a great fan base. He'll tell you it will spill over. He might boast a little bit about the halftime score, and I'll just tell him there's a lot of football left."
MLB.com: Tom Gordon's agent says you are "close" to a deal that would add his client to your bullpen. Is that true?
Hall: "I'll leave the details to [general manager] Josh Byrnes, but we've definitely had discussions. All signs are that he's throwing well and seems to be healthy. If you can add a guy like that to your roster with a veteran presence and a lot of character, he's a proven winner and a proven leader in the clubhouse."
If the Steelers hold on, it will complete a successful few months for the Keystone State after the Phillies won the World Series. The Steelers would also surpass the Pirates in total number of titles, as the Pittsburgh franchises are currently tied with five apiece.
We have to say a word about the e*trade baby. Strong, real strong. He has a singing sidekick on this night, and that spot midway in the second quarter has serious Most Valuable Ad potential. "Can't flex the golden pipes?" Baby was flyin'.
Not so for the Cardinals offense at that point. The ad followed those two big pushbacks after Arizona got into Steelers territory, first the illegal chop block by Edgerrin James and then the sack of Kurt Warner. Big sequence in the game, and then just when you thought the Cardinals were going to come back and at least knot the game anyway, The Play happened.
7:01 p.m. ET -- In the first truly funny ad, Mr. Potato Head ejects Mrs. Potato Head's lips from the car, and then gets rid of her evil eyes, too. Alas, we have just located Mrs. Potato Head's mouth. She is wearing a baseball hat now, too.
Instant replay was an immediate factor in this game, as referees overturned the Ben Roethlisberger touchdown call after a coach's challenge. That resulted in a field goal, and 3-0 instead of the presumed 7-0.
Instant replay is going to be a bigger factor than ever in the upcoming Major League season, because it will mark the first full season featuring the limited use of available technology. Once again, in baseball's case, the capability only will be used to rule on unclear boundary rulings -- the typical long ball that was or wasn't a home run. Right now, there is a dark control room down the hallway here at the MLB.com headquarters that one day soon will again come to life with on-demand video resources for any umpiring crew that feels obligated to utilize it.
The 3-0 score after the first quarter was an amazing success story for Arizona, given how lopsided the quarter actually was. Total net yards was Pittsburgh 121, Arizona 13. The Steelers picked right up where they left off in the second quarter, finally driving it into the end zone when Gary Russell scored from the one -- 10-0, Steelers.
Jennifer Hudson has to get props for one of the most stirring renditions of the Star-Spangled Banner in recent Super Bowl memory. Whitney Houston's classic was the standard against which all are measured.
Ah, another great thing about the World Series. You get to experience a maximum of seven national anthems. How many will it be this fall? History will be waiting for the answer. If it goes the distance, it will be the latest World Series in baseball history. The season is starting late, with the traditional Monday openers coming this time on April 6.
On that afternoon, the famous Budweiser Clydesdales will perform their traditional romp around the warning track as part of the St. Louis Cardinals' Opening Day celebration. On this night, a Clydesdale soared across a canyon and romped into a circus and heroically left with the white circus horse. Then the other Cardinals were back in action. The night is young, but baseball's time is coming soon.
5:47 p.m. ET -- Welcome to our Super Bowl liveblog. First off, don't even bother with the "I thought this was MLB.com comments." A select few sports fans never will get this, but everything in life is a baseball story. Everything. When you have 80 million fans a season, you have a critical mass that features football fans, music fans, political fans, every walk. MLB.com tips its cap to everything, because, well, we are here as usual.
Secondly, we have a couple of special guests lined up for this liveblog. Representing the American Football Conference participating city will be D-backs president Derrick Hall, who we'll be talking to at halftime. After the end of the third quarter, we are looking forward to chatting with Pirates president Frank Coonelly. Each executive is immersed in the excitement of the football moment, while also looking forward to sharing with you just what this handoff means to Major League Baseball fans.
They won't see an Arizona vs. Pittsburgh World Series next fall, naturally, because their teams both play in the National League. But they share the majority of sentiment that is reflected throughout baseball fandom -- anyone can reach the next Fall Classic. Anyone. The Pirates have not had a winning season since 1992, but the Rays just went from a lifetime of losing seasons to the World Series and the Rockies reached their first Fall Classic in the previous autumn. Anything is possible.
It's just like the Cardinals being in the Super Bowl. Out of all the factoids that overwhelm this magical Roman-numeral event on our sports calendar, this is the one we remember most: The only team in major sports that has gone without a championship longer than this Arizona franchise are the Cubs. The Cardinals won their only title in 1947, when, coincidentally, it was based in Chicago -- two years after the Cubs last reached the World Series. In old St. Louis terminology, locals often referred to the "Baseball Cardinals" and the "Football Cardinals" -- or, more likely, just "Cardinals" when you were referring to the legendary baseball franchise and then "Football Cardinals" when you meant the gridiron guys.
In 1987, the Baseball Cardinals lost to Minnesota in a seven-game Fall Classic in which the home team won each game. The next year, the "Football Cardinals" were moved to Arizona by owner Bill Bidwell. They seemed haunted forever after that. Since that move, the Baseball Cardinals have had their moment (2006), and even Arizona got a ring when the 2001 D-backs won it all. Now it is Arizona's turn in the big show, led by a quarterback in Kurt Warner, who took the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title in 2000.
This feels like Tampa Bay last year, facing down the powerhouse Red Sox to win the pennant, just like that. It seems like all you see are Steelers jerseys and sentimental shouts of "Go Cardinals" by those who love the upset. The Steelers are a 7-point favorite, and if they win, they will own the record with six Super Bowl rings.
Now we are already transfixed on pregame, and there is a baseball story here already. The most downloaded tune in the history of iTunes is "Don't Stop Believin'" -- the legendary classic from Journey. That was in no small part due to the White Sox, who were supported during their 2005 world championship run by Steve Perry and that theme music. Journey played that song on NBC as part of the pregame show, albeit without Perry.
It wasn't even close to the same without him. Another reason baseball gets it right.
Kickoff starts at 6:28 p.m. ET. The game is on NBC.
Maybe you noticed that Derek Jeter just had his annual charity golf event in Tampa, Fla. -- site of this Super Bowl -- and was thrust into the spotlight of Super Bowl prognostication. Again, it was amusing to see all the commenters on news articles who asked why it is news that the Yankees shortstop gave his prediction -- Steelers winning. Everything is a baseball story. If you don't agree with that, then you are on the wrong site. We share it all. We don't go away.
"I'm not a football expert, but I'll just take Pittsburgh," Jeter said.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and retired Steelers running back Jerome Bettis each have supported Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation, so his pick was based on that.
"I pull for guys I know," Jeter added.
We even heard from former Yankees and Mets outfielder Darryl Strawberry, who said he was glad to see Warner back in the title game.
"You've got to be happy for a guy like Kurt. He's a wonderful guy, and he does wonderful things," Strawberry said. "To see him in the spotlight again is great."
It's time for the Super Bowl. Then it's time for baseball. Someone call the handoff tonight. We can't wait much longer. Please leave your comments and we'll respond in the comments as the night goes on. Also remember to start your own blog.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.