So… Was it a Fumble?

I enjoyed watching Super Bowl XLIII for the most part.  As a football fan, I tend to favor teams with quarterbacks that I like, and I like Big Ben, so I was more or less routing for the Steelers to win.  However, for the drama and story, I was also routing for Arizona, who was making its first appearance at the Super Bowl.  All in all, I was looking for a clean, exciting game.

To some extent, I got that.  Things were a little dull in the first quarter as Pittsburgh dominated, but the Cardinals got their game together to engineer a touchdown drive to make it 10 – 7, and to also shut down the Pittsburgh offense twice, the second time with an interception that seemed to guarantee at least a halftime tie.  But then Harrison managed a goal line interception when it seemed Arizona was going in for the touchdown, and he took the ball 100 yards (with time expiring) to put the Steelers up 17-7 at half.

The second half started rocky for Arizona, as well.  They had the ball first possession of the half, but failed to do anything with it.  Here I must interject and say that I felt the officiating over all was lacking (I know you could call holding on practically every play, but still…), and at times it even felt that the officials were in Pittsburgh’s pocket.  (And I say that being a moderate Steelers fan!)  So on this first drive, Warner was hit as he was trying to pass, the ball popped out, and it was ruled a fumble.  Maybe the officials were a little cautious about calling incomplete passes after Ed Hochuli’s memorable call week 2 when San Diego came visiting the Broncos, but I thought the call was poorly made.  Indeed, on review the call was overturned and Arizona only had to punt.

Yet on the Steelers’ very next drive, the Cardinals seemed bent and determined to self-destruct.  They committed three 15-yard penalities that kept the Steelers’ drive alive (although the roughing the passer call I think was questionable).  On the third, they had managed to stop Pittsburgh and force a field goal, only to then run into the holder.  With a dramatic defensive hold, they managed to stop Big Ben another three times and keep it to a field goal.

Arizona came alive after that, scoring a touchdown to make it 20-14, and then pinning the Steelers at their own 1 yardline with a perfect punt and recovery.  Forcing a safety then brought the score to 20-16, and Arizona capitalized on the next drive with an open field catch by Larry Fitzgerald, who then turned on the afterburners and blazed into the endzone.  (At one point in time, I thought Polamalu was fast, but he never even closed the gap on Fitzgerald.)  So now, the game has reached one of its most exciting moments.  The underdogs had taken the lead, 23-20, with under 3 minutes to go. Could they hold out?

Unfortunately not, as the defense apparently decided to quit the game early.  Pittsburgh quickly took the ball back down the field and Big Ben connected with Santonio Holmes in the endzone, and Holmes managed to get two tiptoes down for a touchdown.  With only 29 seconds and starting from their own 23, though with two timeouts, things looked bleak for Arizona.  However, with two quick passing plays they reached midfield and looked to possibly make one two daring stabs at the endzone.

And then it happened.  Warner was once again hit as he was trying to pass, the ball popped out, Pittsburgh jumped on the ball, and the play was ruled a fumble with the resulting game-ending change of possession.  Now, all of us were expecting a review called down from the booth.  After all, this was the Super Bowl, this play would effectively end the game, and a similar play had been overturned earlier in the half.  The officials reviewed Holmes’ amazing effort to get both feet in bounds just minutes ago.  Surely they would review this call.  But then, before we knew it, Big Ben took a knee and the game was over.

So, it was a great final showing for Arizona, and despite their penalty problems, they made quite a game against the dominant Steelers.  But the handling of the fumble at the end of the game left a sour taste in my mouth.  It made the whole game end in a dud, as opposed to the exciting finish I’d hoped for.  My wife tells me to get over it, since she’s of the firm opinion that challenging referees’ calls should never happen to begin with, but despite her admonitions, I’m discontent.

First, I think it was close enough to warrant a look.  I don’t think the evidence was there to overturn the call, but I think the same case could be made if the play had been ruled incomplete as opposed to a fumble.  Warner’s hand was back when the ball was hit.  It move a little in his hand, but the ball never left his hand until after his arm came forward in a pass.  I’ve read some articles on this, and the general consensus was that because there was some loss of control before Warner started into his forward pass, the fumble was justified.  And yet, at such a crucial moment, such a close call was not given any consideration, and before we knew it, the game was over.

Now, I only saw the one or two replays NBC aired, but it looked possible that it could have been ruled an incomplete pass after review.  Coupled with Pittsburgh’s unsportsmanlike conduct, Arizona would have had a chance with 8 seconds remaining at Pittsburgh’s 42.  Odds are heaviliy against a miraculous touchdown catch under such circumstances, but it would have been fun to see.  But that’s not the point.  The point, I feel, is that the play should have been reviewed.  19 times out of 20, the play is reviewed.  For an important game like the Super Bowl, I would have placed the play in the company of the 19, rather than the odd man out.  That it wasn’t reviewed makes me feel uneasy, almost conspiratorial.

So, should the play have been reviewed?  If so, was it really a fumble?  History will record it as so, but without the official review, I’ll always wonder.

19 Responses to So… Was it a Fumble?

  1. paul zummo says:

    Yes, it was a fumble.

    In the booth, they made it sound like it was reviewed, though it didn’t seem that way. If not, it should have been, but it was most definitely a fumble.

  2. Mark DeFrancisis says:

    It was definitely a fumble.

    And Big Ben showed nerves of steel during that glorious final drive, did he not?

    Can you tell I am a Pittsburgh native?

  3. Ryan Harkins says:

    Mark — we can tell. And yes, Big Ben showed nerves of steel, not just on that last drive, but in the first quarter as well. He was absolutely astounding, nothing at all like the nervous, mistake-prone Ben we saw in Super Bowl XL. I was disappointed in one other regard, I have to admit. I thought Polamalu would have 2 interceptions, and he only came close to picking one off. But in general he did an excellent job (especially in the first half) of rendering Fitzgerald ineffective.

    I take it you enjoyed the game immensely? I hope so, for it was a fun game to watch.

  4. Gerard E. says:

    Vastly entertaining game. Moderately interesting by halftime, but seemed to channel the energy from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s blistering, brilliant 12-minute performance. By the fourth quarter, forget the playbooks with the fancy plays. Both teams were scratching and clawing to grab the Lombardi Trophy. Other than the NBC shot clearly proving that Santonio Holmes’ feets were in bounds for the winning TD, the best closeup was of Larry Fitzgerald, whose prior pick six gave the Cards their first lead, mouthing Oh No. Slightly better than the Steelers’ James Harrison, whose 100-yard pick put the Black and Gold up front, losing his cookies and giving a savage beatdown to a Cardinals’ special teams type. Seems to be a decided improvement in the quality of Big Games. Beginning last year, when the Eli-to-Tyree connection set up the Giants’ midtown madness days later. Last night, loads of highlights. Congrats to both teams for making their Super Bowl decidedly super. With special fondness for Art Rooney- good Catholic, enlightened owner, guardian of civic treasure in Steel City. Each player has his cell phone number- in case they ever need his help. Now that’s a team worth celebrating.

  5. Gerard E. says:

    Correction- Dan Rooney, fine Steeler owner. Clearly following the pattern set by daddy Art, horse player and fine old guy whom we hope dwells with the saints and angels in glory.

  6. not a fumble; his arm was moving forward. But it was just another blown call that went the Steelers way, including the 3 personal foul calls on that one FG drive. It was eerily familiar to the last Steeler superbowl.

  7. Ryan Harkins says:

    Michael, I agree greatly that there were blown calls the refs made (especially since they seemed to benefit the Steelers much more than the Cardinals). But on that drive, the face mask penalty was obvious, and the running into the place holder was obvious. You couldn’t really argue much against those, as disappointing as they were. But the roughing the passer? I thought that was a poor, poor, poor call. Still, it gave the Cardinals’ defense a chance to give us an amazing stop. In six tries, the Steelers couldn’t get it in the endzone, even after all the help they received.

    Still, was it just me, or was this a season of bad calls? Aside from Hochuli’s forgetting how to be a good referee, I remember a Dallas Cowboys game (I now don’t recall who they played), but Barber took the ball, and the defender grabbed his face mask and pulled his head almost all the way around. No call. And the announcers even made the comment, “Either he was channeling the spirit of The Exorcist, or that was a blatant face mask.” It seemed every game there was a blatant face mask that wasn’t called.

  8. paul zummo says:

    his arm was moving forward.

    It was, just without the football. 🙂

    I’m not a Steelers’s fan, though I was rooting for them (I almost never root for the underdog except when the Giants are it). I missed the Personal Foul calls, but thought that officiating was poor, but equally for both sides.

  9. Jay Anderson says:

    The penalty calling was so one-sided you couldn’t help but think the refs were in the pocket of Mr. Rooney. The Cardinals set a Super Bowl record for penalty yards but the Steelers had what – only 2 second-half penalties called against them? The Steelers earned the win with that last TD drive, but the Cardinals were fighting uphill the whole game against the refs.

    Even still, the difference in the game was the 10-14 point swing at the end of the 1st half when, instead of getting a field goal to tie or a go-ahead TD, Warner threw an INT that went the other way for a Pitt TD. Without that play, the Cardinals win that game. They otherwise outplayed the Steelers.

    It’s unfortunate for the Cardinals that they played such a great game and overcame such lousy officiating to nearly win the game, but lost anyway.

  10. Dale Price says:

    The worst call was the roughing the passer penalty against Dansby. Shouldn’t have been called. Other than that, I thought the refs got it right. The Cardinals racked up some stupid, stupid penalties. And I don’t know why Whisenhunt laid off the no-huddle after Warner shredded the Steelers for a quick six using it. Blame Whisenhunt, blame Warner for the red zone int, but the refs didn’t blow it.

    Oh, and yes, it was a fumble. 🙂

  11. Jay Anderson says:

    I’m not a blame the refs kind of guy, but I have to reiterate – and thereby take issue with my friend, Dale – that the refs blew.

  12. Jay Anderson says:

    But, despite the refs blowing overall, yes, that was a fumble at the end of the game.

  13. John Henry says:

    Didn’t look like a fumble to me; his arm was moving forward and he pushed the ball out. It should have been reviewed at a minimum. If the ‘tuck rule’ wasn’t a fumble, then that shouldn’t have been.

  14. Jeff Martin says:

    Sure looked like a fumble to me. As soon as the linebacker hit his arm which was still behind his back the ball was loose. He did not have control of the ball. I can’t get over all the complaining over a game. Arizona fans where was your offense for the first three quaters of the game? You come alive for one quater and want a win???????? Quit crying and look forward to next year. Steeler fans enjoy the win. It was an entertaining game.

  15. Jay Anderson says:

    Who’s an Arizona fan? And one wonders if you were even watching the game if you believe Arizona’s offense was absent for the first 3 quarters. They dominated the 2nd quarter offensively, and Pitt’s half-time lead was due to Warner’s throwing an INT in the red zone that was returned for a TD. That’s a 10-14 point swing.

    Pitt deserved the win because they drove for the winning TD at the end of the game. They did what it took to win the game. I’m certainly not trying to take that away from them.

  16. Jeff Martin says:

    Jay, what I said was not neccessarilly meant for you. I simply saw a fumle during a game that people try to say he had control of the ball. The linebacker clearly knocked it loose. Just because his arm goes forward without control of the ball doesn’t mean it was an incomplete pass. It was a game. By where was the offense I look at it this way. Most good teams can move the ball on you between the twenty yard lines. Now how well a team protects the end zone is big.Arizona scored seven points in the first half.Where was this high powered offense????

    As good as the Arizona defense did in the game when the game was on the line Pittsburgh’s offense delivered and killed the clock. Game over.

    I just hate to see people complaing about a game when there are so many other things we could be complaining aboout that would help every one.

    It was just a game.

  17. Jay Anderson says:

    I just hate to see people complaing about a game when there are so many other things we could be complaining aboout that would help every one.

    It was just a game.

    Arguing about the wouldas and the couldas and the shouldas is part of the fun.


  18. John Henry says:

    Arguing about the wouldas and the couldas and the shouldas is part of the fun.


  19. Jeff Martin says:

    you know you folks are right. I guess it is a good past time as no one is getting hurt. I enjoyed you folks comments.

    Take care.

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