Just when it looked like it was going to be case of too little, too late the Pittsburgh Steelers conjured up a dramatic late scoring drive to defeat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23, their touchdown in the final minute sealing a record sixth Super Bowl triumph.
|Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger celebrates after Super Bowl XLIII [EPA]
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found a leaping wide receiver Santonio Holmes in the end zone with a six-yard scoring strike with 35 seconds remaining to cap an eight-play, 78-yard drive that broke the hearts of Arizona's players and fans who were dreaming of a debut triumph.
Until Holmes's late intervention, the Cardinals had outscored the Steelers 16-0 in the final quarter to forge a 23-20 lead and looked poised to complete the greatest comeback in the 43-year history of the Super Bowl.
However, Roethlisberger refused to concede and took just over two minutes to drive the Steelers down the field for the game-winning touchdown.
It needed a number of tense video replays to confirm that Holmes had stayed in bounds in the far corner of the end zone, but ultimately his ninth catch of the game from Roethlisberger proved his most important one.
Holmes had four catches during the winning drive alone and was named the game's most valuable player.
"It speaks volumes about our team," Steelers receiver Hines Ward said.
"We never gave up. To come back and win it like this is just unbelievable."
Pittsburgh had dominated most of the game and looked set for a comfortable victory with a 20-7 lead going into the final quarter against a side in their Super Bowl debut.
Warner lead revival
But Arizona were in no mood to surrender under the guidance of 37-year-old quarterback Kurt Warner, a gritty former Super Bowl-winning MVP with the St Louis Rams almost a decade ago.
Warner hauled the Cardinals back into the contest when he found Larry Fitzgerald with a one-yard touchdown pass midway through the final period to trim the lead to 20-14.
A safety with just under three minutes left cut the Steelers' lead to four points as the Cardinals seized the momentum.
Warner made the most of the opportunity, finding Fitzgerald on a quick post that the speedster turned into a 64-yard touchdown to give Arizona a 23-20 lead with just 2:37 remaining.
|Larry Fitzgerald, left, had given his side the lead in the dying minutes [EPA]
Roethlisberger, however, then worked the clock beautifully on the game-winning drive.
"It was now or never," Roethlisberger said he told his team mates.
Roethlisberger completed 21-of-30 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown, making up for a poor performance in Pittsburgh's 21-10 Super Bowl triumph three years ago over Seattle.
Harrison turns defence into attack
The late drama came in stark contrast to Pittsburgh's early dominance that culminated in a stunning play at the end of the first half when linebacker James Harrison returned an interception a Super Bowl record 100 yards for a 17-7 lead.
With Arizona on the Steelers' one-yard line and looking to take a lead into the locker room, Harrison stepped in front of Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin and intercepted Warner's pass on the goal line.
The NFL's Defensive Player of the Year rumbled down the sideline, breaking several tackles along the way, and stumbled into the end zone as time expired to close the opening half.
The Cardinals challenged the play, arguing that Harrison was tackled inches short of the goal line but NFL replay officials reviewed the tape and refused to overturn the touchdown.
Instead of taking the lead at halftime, or at least kicking a game-tying field goal, the Cardinals found themselves 10 points down.
Pittsburgh's triumph, before 72,000 fans on a clear but cool night at Raymond James Stadium, gave the Steelers one more Super Bowl victory than the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys.
The victory saw fans proclaiming the victory as a completed "Six Pack".