Steelers Roll Cards; Hines Ward Grabs MVP Honors

Mike McMaster

The following stories are predictions for this weekend’s Super Bowl XLIII in the form of fictional post-game reports.

On Sunday, Larry Fitzgerald Sr.’s arsenal of a pen, pad and tape recorder felt a little heavier than usual. It shouldn’t have been anything new for the 53-year old reporter for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He had covered 28 Super Bowls since 1981, and there had always been a loser.

The defeated locker room was the same as usual. Jerseys were strewn about, and as the players slowly trickled back into the room and found their lockers, Fitzgerald Sr. could hear the muffled cheers coming from the stadium above, the hissing of the showers in the next room and the almost inaudible sobs of those whose Super Bowl dreams had been cut one win short.

But even though everything was the same, for Fitzgerald Sr., everything was different. The Pittsburgh Steelers had just won their second Super Bowl title in four seasons, and star receiver Hines Ward won his second Super Bowl MVP. The speedy, eleven-year veteran was questionable for the big game, having had struggled all week with a sprained MCL in his right knee. But Ward was not the receiver everyone, including Fitzgerald Sr. was interested in talking to. Instead, in his 29th Super Bowl appearance, Fitzgerald Sr. fought to position his microphone in front of the locker of number 11, his son and All-Pro wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald Jr.

The 6’3″ star receiver had carried the Cardinals to the Super Bowl using his lightning-fast feet and his Velcro-covered hands. But in the Super Bowl, it was not to be. Running backs Tim Hightower and Edgerrin James were stopped cold by a fierce Steelers defense, anchored by 2008 NFL defensive MVP James Harrison. With the run-first gameplan destroyed early in the contest, the Cardinals had no choice but to put the ball in the hands of 37-year old Kurt Warner, whose prayers were unanswered by the Cardinals savior receiver.

Fitzgerald, whose sure hands had led him past the Jerry Rice’s NFL record for receiving yards in a post-season, was visibly frustrated on the sideline during the game, as his 37-year old quarterback was unable to get him the ball.

Casey Hampton, the Steelers’ 325 lb. nose tackle, served as a plug in the middle of the Steelers defensive line, and with his help, the Steelers were able to effectively take away the run game early.

With the running game neutralized, the Steelers were able to blitz Warner using their speedy linebackers in their 3-4 front. Warner was sacked three times, and he never developed a rhythm within the pocket. He was intercepted two times trying to throw to his All-Pro receiver while being hurried by the Steelers unrelenting linebackers.

But even though the Cardinals offense struggled, their explosive passing game allowed them to push across two scores. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was on the receiving end of one score, registering seven catches for 65 yards, while Steve Breaston caught five passes for 74 yards.

But 14 points was not enough to beat the Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Roethlisberger made a bid for Super Bowl MVP, completing 16-24 passes and throwing for 247 yards and three touchdowns.

Big Ben was outperformed only by his veteran receiver, Hines Ward. Ward was on the receiving end of two of the three touchdown strikes, and threw a game-changing block on the outside to spring running back Willie Parker for six.

So when the game clock struck zero, the final score was 24-14, and Fitzgerald had only four catches along with three drops and one score to show for it. Fitzgerald looked at the giant scoreboard in disgust, and quietly walked back to the locker room, dodging and weaving through crowds of reporters on his way.

When he took his place in front of his locker to answer questions from anxious members of the media, he saw one reporter feigning professionalism while desperately trying to mask his disappointment.

For Fitzgerald Sr., the reporter, Super Bowl XLIII was the same as all the rest. There was a winner, and there was a loser. There were tears of joy, and sobs of disappointment. For Fitzgerald Sr., the father, Super Bowl XLIII was a first. He had never covered a game in which his son was the most electrifying player, and he had never covered a Super Bowl that his son had lost.

As his son prepared himself to speak to the media, Fitzgerald Sr. vied for position to make sure he could hear every word. He knew that Larry wouldn’t say anything he would regret. Being a reporter, he had coached his son time and time again about what he should and should not say to the media sharks circling his locker for a story. He knew that Larry was going to be asked why he had under-achieved, and he knew Larry could handle it. But he was still disappointed. Fitzgerald Sr. had wanted to write about a humble winner, and not a gracious loser.