Saturday, February 11, 2006

Super Bowl XL Play-by-Playlooza

It didn't go down smooth, and it caused a headache. I watched the Super Bowl. You watched the Super Bowl. Did you see what I saw? Considering the fuss over whether Ben Roethlisberger actually broke the plane, or whether Darrell Jackson really interfered, or whether Jerramy Stevens fumbled, I'm not sure any two people saw the same game. It's like Rashomon, for God's sake. Since the final gun sounded and the Steelers began taking turns kissing the Lombardi Trophy (without wiping it down in between, I notice), we've been going over the game footage. Every play, every ad, every in-game promo, every content-free sideline report has been evaluated for our annual Super Bowl Play-by Playlooza. Enjoy:

PAST SUPER BOWL MVPs: The parade of MVPs was a neat idea, though it wouldn't have been possible had the Patriots won the AFC title. (And suddenly I understand the Asante Samuel interference call ... ) Deion Branch, unaware they'd be doing this thing in reverse order, was surprised that they pushed him out there first. Tom Brady was booed lustily by the pro-Pittsburgh crowd even though he was nice enough to leave his necklace of Steeler ears at home. Kurt Warner looks like he can barely walk. In fact, most of the "younger" quarterbacks seemed to have trouble: John Elway and Steve Young were stiff, Troy Aikman appeared to hobble, and Phil Simms sort of waddled out of the tunnel. Those guys are still on their original knees, though. Joe Namath had his swapped out years ago and was bouncing along just fine as he scanned the crowd for Suzy Kolber, while Roger Staubach glided like he was on wheels. Surprisingly, the running backs seemed much better off, particularly Emmitt Smith, Marcus Allen and John Riggins, who came dressed as a European playwright. Ray Lewis looked like a pimp in the very best sense of the word, and Jerry Rice looked like a pimp in the very worst sense of the word. Desmond Howard looked like he was just happy to be there. Ottis Anderson, Randy White, Chuck Howley and Len Dawson did not. Larry Brown, who helped kill the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX, was booed, too, but probably would have been regardless of who was in the stands. Lynn Swann came out with the politician smoothness that got him into the Hall of Fame while Al Toon got left out, and will make him the next governor of Pennsylvania. Franco Harris, Doug Williams and Bart Starr are just awesome and always will be. There were a few others, but who cares, really.

TEAM INTRODUCTIONS: If there was any doubt that this was a Steelers home game, it was erased by the reception given the Seahawks. No team should ever have to take the field at the Super Bowl to a chorus of boos. The game's supposed to be at a neutral site, and even if the crowd is slanted one way or the other, they could at least show some appreciation for the accomplishments of both teams in getting there. That was bush.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Ford Field sits about a mile from the U.S.-Canada border, which may explain why the three performers gave us three different songs, sung simultaneously. With Aaron Neville, Aretha Franklin and Dr. John all attacking from different directions, the poor Star-Spangled Banner doesn't stand a chance.

COIN TOSS: A beaming referee Bill Leavy welcomes the team captains and the rest of America to Super Bowl XL, the first and last Super Bowl that Bill Leavy will referee. Tom Brady gets another enormous boo, though this time it's for his outfit, which is just a few neck chains short of the full Monero. Yep, that's velvet all right. With the actual flipping of the coin taken out of the officiating crew's hands, Seattle wins the toss and elects to receive. Matt Hasselbeck makes no bold assertions about what he's "gonna" do with the ball. After a final commercial for Blockbuster Video -- wait, Blockbuster is still around? -- we're ready to go!

KICKOFF 15:00Before the game can even start, Captain Buzzkill Al Michaels calls out Seattle's Josh Scobey for fumbling the first kickoff of the year, in Jacksonville in Week 1. Scobey doesn't fumble this one. Heh.
1-10-SEA1814:557-yard pass.
2-3-SEA25 14:295-yard pass.
1-10-SEA3014:178-yard run.
2-2-SEA38 13:478-yard pass.
1-10-SEA4613:281-yard run by Shaun Alexander. If Mike Holmgren is smart -- and I read a magazine article that says he is -- he'll assign someone to lock up Troy Polamalu on every play and force Anybody-But-Troy to stop the Seattle offense. On this play, Walter Jones and Jerramy Stevens both go looking for Polamalu and keep him away from Alexander. Polamalu has become the best safety in the league, but there will come a time when an opponent builds a game plan based on drawing him into traps and exploiting his free-ranging ways. Today won't be that day, though.
2-9-SEA47 12:44Darrell Jackson is wide open but, alas, only 6 feet tall. Hasselbeck's first incompletion sails high.
3-9-SEA47 12:40Clark Haggans sacks Hasselbeck for a 4 yard loss.
4-13-SEA4312:19Tom Rouen comes in for his first punt and just booms it. Goes 80 yards on the fly, easily. Right into the end zone.
AD!AD!Bud Light: Cartoon violence in an office setting. Neither funny nor clever.
AD!AD!Burger King: A Busby Berkeley homage to the Whopper. I like hamburgers, but this makes me less inclined to eat them. At all. Cost: $2.5 million, plus production expenses. I'm sure the shareholders are thrilled.

1-10-PIT2012:09False start, Heath Miller. These refs, it's like they're throwing the flag on Pittsburgh every damn play.
1-15-PIT1512:09For the first time since the wildcard round, the supposedly run-first Steelers run first ... and Willie Parker is stuffed. A graphic tells us that Ben Roethlisberger is just the second QB to win three road games to get to the Super Bowl. No disrespect to Big Ben, because no one played a bigger role in getting the Steelers to Detroit, but the graphic could just as easily have said "Jeff Reed is only the second kicker to win three road games to get to the Super Bowl," because only one other team had won three road games to get to the Super Bowl. Regardless, the graphic doesn't bother to tell us who was the first (1985 New England Patriots; QB Tony Eason; K Tony Franklin).
2-15-PIT1511:351-yard pass.
3-14-PIT1610:47False start. This is supposed to be a Pittsburgh crowd, but it's making so much noise that first Miller jumped, and now Matt Starks. Steeler Nation has invaded Detroit, but it sent the doughy reserves rather than the elite troops.
3-19-PIT1110:32ABC cameras wander into the crowd for our first look at Jerome Bettis' parents. But why are they wearing Lofa Tatupu jerseys? Down on the field, Roethlisberger scrambles for 10. Tatupu makes Mrs. Bettis proud by laying a nice lick on him.
4-9-PIT21 9:49 Chris Gardocki punts. Peter Warrick loses 2 yards on the return. And holy cow, Peter Warrick is playing in the Super Bowl.
AD! AD!Sierra Mist: Kathy Griffin and a chubby Boomer Esiason stand-in play TSA screeners confiscating counterfeit 7-Up. A cavity search is hinted at. Overall, it's OK.
AD! AD!Bud Light: A guy with that slacker hair you only see in commercials has a secret beer fridge. It's just the first ad, and I'm already tired of the gag.
AD! AD!16 Blocks: Bruce Willis looks like William H. Macy in this movie, but he still shoots people. Mos Def and David Morse are in it, too. Lookin' good!
AD! AD!Stay tuned for the Rolling Stones. Only another hour and change to go.

1-10-SEA369:39We return from commercial to a tight shot of a black ball sack. John Madden explains that in the Super Bowl, it's hard to hold onto your balls because they're so slick. He says he heard this from Matt Hasselbeck. On the field, Mack Strong gains no yards, but any play in which you get hit by Kimo von Oelhoffen and don't have to be driven off on a cart is a good play.
2-10-SEA369:049-yard scramble.
3-1-SEA45 8:2810-yard pass. Jackson is looking mighty sweet.
1-10-PIT457:46Pass to Alexander appears incomplete, but the officials call it a completion, which makes it a 2-yard loss. There's no way to know for sure. ABC blew its tape budget on Emily's Reasons Why Not, so it isn't doing replays tonight.
2-12-PIT477:086-yard pass. Madden says Hasselbeck is 6-foot-4, and "you don't think of those guys as scramblers." Daunte Culpepper is 6-4. So is Aaron Brooks. Randall Cunningham, too. Vince Young is 6-5. What do you mean when you say "those guys," John? Ah, I'm just funnin' ya.
3-6-PIT41 6:2418-yard pass called back by a holding call on Seattle guard Chris Gray. The replay -- hey, a replay! -- confirms that it's definitely a hold and that the hold directly affected the play.
3-16-SEA495:53Downfield pass nearly picked off by Ike Taylor.
4-16-SEA495:48Al Michaels reminds us that Tom Rouen's wife is six-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Amy Van Dyken. Then Rouen kicks it into the end zone again. Dude is just banging the crap out of the ball. You almost hate to tell him that that isn't necessarily the aim.
AD! AD!Toyota Camry: Wooden dad and adorable young son talk about hybrid cars in both English and dubbed-over Spanish. Cute spot that even the English-only crowd can get behind, but if that kid is really that guy's son, I'll eat my hat.
AD! AD!FedEx: Expensive dinosaur special effects for their own sake. Mildly amusing the first time, it will be less so with each airing.
AD! AD!Bud Light. More slacker hair, this time in the forest. I was hating where this one was going -- until the guy left his friend behind to get killed by the bear. Thumbs-up to that.

1-10-PIT205:39We come back from commercial with another Rolling Stones promo. Look, some people are going to switch over to the Lingerie Bowl, and there's nothing you can do about it, OK? Let it go. This is followed by a nice replay of Seahawks center Robbie Tobeck sucker-punching Kimo von Oelhoffen. A cheer rises up from Carson Palmer's house. On the field, Willie Parker is stuffed for no gain.
2-10-PIT205:026-yard run. The Seattle defense introduces itself. I used to like when the guys just said their names and where they went to college. Now everybody has to name-check their old neighborhood, hometown or grade school. Next year: Each player gives a shout-out to the gated community where he lives.
3-4-PIT26 4:20Incomplete pass.
4-4-PIT26 4:14Punt. Warrick gets 12 yards on the return and proves Cincinnati dead wrong, man.
AD! AD!V for Vendetta: This ad starts out looking so much like the 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial, I nearly missed that it's a movie. There's a guy wearing a mask that, oddly, makes him look like a Johnny Depp character.
AD! AD!Diet Pepsi: Jay Mohr and Diddy, two of my favorite people. The tune Diddy comes up with is catchy, but the title, "Brown and Bubbly," is disgusting. I know Diet Pepsi is brown and bubbly, but for God's sake, don't say it.
AD!AD!Jimmy Kimmel Live. No thanks. Good Morning America interviews the van der Sloots. Really, no thanks.
AD!AD!In-game promo: Troy Polamalu tells the Lombardi Trophy what he'd do with it if he could just get it alone for an hour.

1-10-SEA49 4:014-yard run.
2-6-PIT47 3:2220-yard pass.
1-10-PIT27 2:4811-yard pass.
1-10-PIT16 2:08Oh boy, here we go. A 16-yard pass to Jackson appears to be a touchdown but is erased by a penalty. In the past week, America has gone Zapruder over Super Bowl XL, and this play is just the first few grainy frames ... like, the part where the guy waves the umbrella up and down. The replay appears to show Steelers safety Chris Hope grabbing Darrell Jackson as the Seattle wideout comes across the goal line, then trying to grab him again in the end zone. Jackson appears to shove Hope's arms -- and, thus, Hope -- away. Back, and to the left. Back, and to the left. Back, and to the left. Back judge Bob Waggoner waits. Hope starts bouncing. Waggoner hesitates. Hope starts stomping. And the flag comes out. Back, and to the left. Steeler fans suddenly acknowledge that they didn't really believe Joey Porter's lunatic ravings about conspiracy, and Paul Tagliabue reaches for the aspirin.
1-20-PIT26 2:001-yard run.
2-19-PIT25 1:184-yard loss.
3-23-PIT29 0:35Hasselbeck hangs the ball in end-zone airspace too long. D.J. Hackett mistimes his leap and can't come down with it.
4-23-PIT29 0:27Josh Brown, 47-yard field goal. Plenty of leg. I bet he could hit 'em all day: 47-yarders, 50-yarders, even 54-yarders!
AD! AD!Aleve: Leonard Nimoy has a complicated relationship with the Spock role, the Trekkers and everything that surrounds them, I'm sure. So I'm glad to see that if the money's right, he's not averse to throwing a bone to Star Trek nation, so long as he gets to aim for the head. I liked it.
AD! AD!Ameriquest: A mother and daughter are led to think a doctor has killed Daddy. It's supposed to be funny, but it's just sad. What this has to do with home mortgages, I have no idea.
AD! AD!Bud Light: Guys are drinking on the roof. The one guy who doesn't lie to his wife and drink beer ends up getting hurt. Haw haw. That's worth $2.5 million right there.
AD!AD!Lost: Seems like a waste of a golden opportunity to promo a hit show during the Super Bowl when you could be trying to pump up the ratings for something that really needs the help. (Emily's Reasons Why Not!)

KICKOFF 0:22Josh Brown kicks it into the end zone, which you're supposed to do on kickoffs, and Ricardo Colclough takes it out to the 20. After the kick, Michele Tafoya tells us that Mike Logan is hurt. Who? The guy who would be playing safety if Troy Polamalu were hurt, which he isn't. This is the best they can do? Melissa Stark would have Ken Whisenhunt tacked to the wall by now, and Suzy Kolber would at least have Richard Todd proposing marriage.
1-10-PIT20 0:17Steelers' possession opens with another incomplete pass.
2-10-PIT20 0:09A long pass to Hines Ward is broken up nicely by Seattle DB Jordan Babineaux. Lo 'n behold, another flag sails in -- possibly from the back (and to the left) judge. The officials huddle and declare that there was in fact no helmet-to-helmet hit on the play, as alleged by the flag-thrower. This is both heartening and alarming. Heartening because the crew got together to make sure they got it right. Alarming because one of those stripey guys was so certain he saw something that didn't actually happen that he threw his penalty marker.
3-10-PIT20 0:06An incomplete pass ends the first quarter without a single Pittsburgh first down, yet the Steelers are down only 3-0.
AD! AD!Diet Pepsi: Jay Mohr and Jackie Chan. Having Diet Coke stand in as Diet Pepsi's stunt double is funny, but isn't that saying that Diet Pepsi is a coward? That, faced with danger, Diet Pepsi goes brown and bubbly in its pants?
AD! AD!Cars: I already saw this film. It was called Every Pixar Movie Made in the Last Decade. Scrappy underdog who dreams big. Blah blah blah.
AD!AD!Dancing With the Stars. Eleven months after "wardrobe malfunction" jokes became totally played out, ABC is making them during the Super Bowl. Maybe this means they'll let the Rolling Stones say "cock"!
AD! AD!Acura: A generic couple drives its huge SUV through a lovely stretch of countryside. As the vehicle passes, it turns the pastoral landscape into a filthy concrete jungle. More ad agency brilliance. Next time, try to come up with something that doesn't make the client product look bad.
4-10-PIT20 15:00Punt. Warrick rips off a 34-yard return, but it's called back on a holding penalty. Interestingly, the crowd boos the flag. ABC, of course, shows the wrong replay: Etric Pruitt wasn't flagged for holding the gunner at the line; he was flagged for allegedly holding Tyrone Carter downfield, during the return. I still can't see the hold downfield (perhaps Michele Tafoya had that camera tied up). In the wider shot, the contact looks minimal, and Carter doesn't start hopping around and pointing until after the flag is thrown.

1-10-SEA2514:445-yard run. In her first sideline report of the game, Chevrolet Employee of the Month Suzy Kolber hatches an exclusive: Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and his quarterbacks coach, Jim Zorn, have discussed how he should play quarterback against the Pittsburgh Steelers. "I've watched Matt between series," Kolber says (I'm telling Broadway Joe!). And what did she see? Hasselbeck and Zorn have been "analyzing plays." I love it when we go behind the scenes.
2-5-SEA30 14:15Kolber wraps up her report by oomphing that Hasselbeck is ready to "attack" the Steeler defense. He promptly throws a pass over Bobby Engram's head. John Madden jumps in and tells us that he's never seen "a quarterback, in a Super Bowl, as cool as these two guys (Roethlisberger and Hasselbeck)." Ken Stabler just kicked a shoe at the TV.
3-5-SEA30 14:11Cool-Hand Matt hits Joe Jurevicius for 15 yards.
1-10-SEA4513:423-yard run.
2-7-SEA48 13:095-yard run takes the ball into Pittsburgh territory.
3-2-PIT47 12:29Hasselbeck throws a perfect pass to Jerramy Stevens, the Official Straw Man of Super Bowl XL, and he drops it. If anyone could find Joey Porter, I bet he's saying: You don't catch the ball with your mouth, son. The pass is ruled incomplete, but the replay certainly looks like it was a catch and fumble. After the game, Steeler fans will point to this play as evidence that Seattle got its share of breaks from the officials. It's an iffy argument at best. After Stevens loses the handle, the ball rolls out of bounds; if it had been a fumble out of bounds, Seattle would have had first down at the Steelers' 25 rather than fourth-and-2 near midfield. True, Steelers linebacker James Farrior might have been able to get to the ball if he hadn't pulled up at the whistle. But if he had recovered it, Pittsburgh probably would have had possession at about the 15 yard line. As we'll see, it's better for the Steelers that Farrior doesn't recover.
4-2-PIT47 12:22Fourth-and-2 on the opponents' side of the field. You have Shaun Alexander, the league MVP and an excellent short-yardage back, on your sidelines. Go for it or punt? Bill Belichick would go for it. Hell, Steve Spurrier went for it all the time, and usually made it. Mike Holmgren instead sends in Touchback Tom Rouen and his 10-megaton leg. For once, Rouen drops a punt inside the 5. Josh Scobey watches it hit at the 1, then loses track of the ball. Touchback. Now would be the perfect time for Michaels to run his mouth about Scobey, but he shot that wad before the game had even kicked off.
AD! AD!Budweiser: The horses are playing football again, and this time all the other animals are watching. A bald-ass shorn sheep runs across the playing field. For those too thick to get the joke, a cowboy points out that the sheep is streaking. It's kind of funny and rather cute, but Bud goes and ruins it with CGI-animated critters acting like people. Too much. Too bad.
AD! AD!ESPN Mobile: This jock-packed ad cost a fortune to make, and it looks great, but it suffers from the same disconnect seen in most ads for these kinds of tech toys. Namely, if you're the sort of person who can't bear to be away from TV or Internet sports for more than an hour at a time, you don't need an ESPN-enabled phone, because you never leave the house. You also aren't a normal-looking person like they show in the ad. You're pasty and 600 pounds because you spend every waking moment on your ass, staring at your TV, computer or TV/computer phone. (Deadspin tells you what to expect from ESPN Mobile.) Best thing going for this ad? Torii Hunter.
AD! AD!Grey's Anatomy: Coming up right after the Super Bowl! My wife loves this show.

1-10-PIT2012:13Returning from commercial, we're treated to another graphic, this one saying Pittsburgh is the first team to fail to make a first down in the first quarter of the Super Bowl since the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. Reading from the Book of Conventional Wisdom, Al Michaels credits "that dominant Chicago D" for shutting down the Patriots from the get-go. What really killed New England in the first quarter, however, wasn't the Bear defenders; it was the Patriot receivers, who kept dropping Tony Eason's passes in the red zone. But that's neither here nor there. If I were Roethlisberger, I'd find all these comparisons to Eason a little unsettling. On the field, OH MY GOD, Jerome Bettis is in the game for the first time! Where are his parents? SHOW ME THE PARENTS! Roethlisberger gets flushed out of the pocket. Pass incomplete.
2-10-PIT2012:07Michaels runs down the Jerome Bettis saga for those who missed the pregame show. Or any show on ESPN since late December. "It's a great story," he says, one that we can all recite by memory. One that has probably been written into the new Iraqi constitution by now. One that I wouldn't mind never hearing again ... and I absolutely love the guy. "Will he or won't he retire, is the question," Michaels says. (Foreshadowing!) Still no shot of the parents! Bettis gets the ball for a 2-yard gain. Where are the parents? Don't they love him anymore?
3-8-PIT22 11:258-yard pass. With the game nearly one-third over, Pittsburgh has a first down. Be gone, ghost of Tony Eason!
1-10-PIT3010:4418-yard end-around by Hines Ward. Madden calls this a "gadget play," which it isn't, though from the way the Seahawks are caught with their pants around their ankles, you'd think it was. At this point in the season, how can a Hines Ward end-around catch anyone by surprise? Marquand Manuel gets hurt on the tackle, and we have an injury timeout.
AD! AD! Monkeys in people clothes are always funny. But it's time for ad agencies to replenish their stock of ironic par-tay songs. Cum on Feel the Noize is close to 25 years old; whole swaths of the population don't get the joke. All that aside ... monkeys in people clothes! Ha!
AD! AD!Cadillac: There's a new Escalade. So what. Can it destroy countryside like the Acura?
AD! AD!United Way: I doubt NFL players wear their jerseys in public, much less wear them when doing charity work.
AD! AD!Did you hear the Stones are playing at halftime?
1-10-PIT4810:19Madden says the end-around could change the momentum of the game. Then Roethlisberger hangs a big fat pass for Michael Boulware to intercept.
AD! AD!Mission: Impossible III: I don't want to get sued, so I'll just move along.
AD! AD!The Dove Self-Esteem Fund: The triumph of counterprogramming. Dopes who have been sitting on the couch watching ads with rail-thin models all football season are forced to think about the effect on their own daughters. Pedestrian execution, but a great idea.
AD! AD!The Evidence: As a credulous Forensic Files addict, I want to watch this show. No, I need to watch this show.

1-10-SEA1710:093-yard pass.
2-7-SEA20 9:324-yard run. Oh, there's Joey Porter, getting his first tackle, and it's sort of a gift, as Shaun Alexander ran into traffic. If Jerramy Stevens had the nerve to show his face after dropping that third-and-2, I bet he'd be saying: You can't bring the ballcarrier down with your mouth, son.
3-3-SEA24 8:472-yard pass. Having scotched the Steelers' best drive to date, the Seahawks fail to matriculate.
4-1-SEA26 8:27Tom Rouen doesn't punt it into the end zone, but it's not like he didn't want to. On the return, Antwaan Randle El goes airborne and gets folded over backwards in the most painful-looking hit I've seen in a while. It's grisly, as if they moved his waist up to the middle of his back, then bent him in half there. Randle El's down on the ground kicking his legs in pain, but he should be glad he can move them at all.
AD! AD!The Shaggy Dog: What's less amusing than watching Tim Allen act like a dog? Listening to Chris Berman do "play by play" of Tim Allen acting like a dog. A movie this recognizably stupid has to be geared toward only the smallest of children, right? Guess not, because it's rated PG. They must have left in the scene where the dog eats his own feces.
AD! AD!Ford Escape Hybrid: Kermit the Frog sings It's Not Easy Being Green to emphasize the environmental benefits of a gas-electric hybrid. Doesn't Ford know that in 2006 drivers want an SUV that turns pasture land into parking lots? Acura does.
AD! AD!Michelob Amber Ultra: Flipping the script on inane light-beer ads, a playful touch-football game turns bone-crushingly violent. This is the best ad yet. The only thing that weakens it is that the girl gets payback at the end. I understand why they have to do that, but it takes the edge off.
AD! AD!Desperate Housewives: Shaq sinks a free throw, then says he loves the show. Yeah, right. Everyone knows Shaq can't make free throws.
AD! AD!In-game promo: "It's a pillar of strength," Roethlisberger says. "When you see it, everybody knows what it means." We're supposed to think he's talking about that trophy. But we know better.

1-10-PIT418:151-yard run.
2-9-PIT42 7:373-yard run.
3-6-PIT45 6:59Whoa. Here's something now: a 12-yard shovel pass on a busted play. Nice.
1-10-SEA436:151-yard run.
2-9-SEA42 5:3620-yard pass to Cedrick Wilson on a seam route. Double nice.
1-10-SEA224:53Roethlisberger puts it right in Ward's hands in the end zone, and Ward drops it. Not so nice.
2-10-SEA224:475-yard pass to Jerome Bettis. It's not Bettis' first play of the game, but it seems to be the first time the crowd notices he's on the field because they cheer him like he's Buzz Aldrin just back from the moon. Too bad, because the gain is wiped out by the last penalty that will be called on Pittsburgh tonight: offensive pass interference on troublemaker Heath Miller. For no real reason, Michaels and Madden launch into a story about what a great referee Bill Leavy was at the high school level. Mike Holmgren has a part in this story, too, but it's hard to follow, and I don't think anyone cares. Least of all me.
2-20-SEA324:21Grant Wistrom sacks Roethlisberger for a loss of 8.
3-28-SEA403:58Big Ben's best play of the game. His only "big" play of the game, really, but it comes when it matters. Flushed to the left, Roethlisberger does an all-pro job of buying time and guiding traffic. He tightropes the line of scrimmage before sailing a rainbow to Hines Ward on the 3 yard line. Thirty-seven yards on third-and-28? Triple nice. Everyone is talking about Roethlisberger's poise on this play -- and he did a great, great job escaping the pressure -- but if Michael Boulware just tries to break up the pass, rather than going for the interception, Ward doesn't make the catch, and we have a 3-3 game. Time out on the field.
AD! AD! For those of you who have now sat through two years' worth of this company's Super Bowl ads and have no idea what it does, is a domain name registrar. At, it must still be Y2K, because they just spent $2.5 million to show us a woman whose breasts are threatening to come out of her top. (This is another "wardrobe malfunction" joke, by the way.) They call her the " Girl," as if anybody knows or cares. She's better looking than the sock puppet, but not as effective. What a waste.
1-3-SEA3 3:09So here we are on the 3 yard line. Fuel up The Bus! Because this is where The Bus gets rolling! And no one wants to get run down by The Bus! Or get caught under the wheels of The Bus! All shall acknowledge The Bus! Jerome Bettis, heartbroken because his parents don't appear to have come to the game, is stopped short of the goal line.
2-1-SEA1 2:32Oh, wait, there's the Bettis Family! They came after all! Someone in the stands is holding a sign that says "Absolute Bettis Championship," which is kind of a stretch to spell out ABC. "Another Bettis Championship" would be better, but they're still working on the first. Jerome Bettis, weighed down by the key to the city, is stopped short of the goal line again. Two minute warning.
AD! AD!Poseidon: No Shelley Winters, no peace.
AD! AD!Gillette Fusion: So many jokes have been made about blade inflation in the razor industry that the well is bone dry. In other countries, scientists are performing face transplants and putting 10,000 songs on a flash drive the size of a bobby pin. In this country, we're putting our R&D budget into figuring out how to get another blade on a razor head. What's funny is that this ad, with all its hokey special effects, was less effective in selling the Fusion than simply watching Ben Roethlisberger use it to shave off his beard Monday night on Letterman. Try not to overthink, people.
AD! AD!Desperate Housewives: We get it. Men like it, too.
3-1-SEA1 2:00The Zapruder Bowl, Act II. Roethlisberger dives for the goal line on a quarterback keeper, and the officials call it a touchdown. That much, everybody agrees on. Everything else, it seems, is open to interpretation. Regardless of what anyone tries to tell you, the replays are inconclusive. From some angles, it looks like the ball broke the plane; from others, it looks like it didn't. My opinion? I didn't think he got in. (Roethlisberger told David Letterman on Monday that he didn't think he got in, either.) Even so, I don't have a problem with the play being ruled a touchdown -- but there's a tremendous problem with the way the officials ruled it a touchdown. As he reached the plane of the goal, Big Ben got popped by Seahawks linebacker D.D. Lewis and was driven downward and slightly backward, and the ball hit the turf about a half-foot short of the line. Head linesman Mark Hittner ran in from the left sideline with one hand raised over his head. That's the signal for spotting the ball. When one hand goes up, it means the official has determined that the ball is down in the field of play. Thus, no touchdown. Halfway to the pile, however, Hittner suddenly threw up both hands to signal touchdown. Here's the problem: Once Hittner started running, Roethlisberger was not only down, he'd been driven back from the end zone. There is nothing Hittner could have seen after he began running that would have verified a touchdown. If you see a TD, then call it when you see it. If you don't see a TD, then don't call it at all. It's the way the call was made, much more than the call itself, that made the officials look like they were in over their heads.
AD! AD! That lady with the strange little lilting voice. Eh. Do advertisers get a discount if they reserve only the replay-challenge TV timeout? Because I can't imagine Overstock would pay full price.
AD! AD!Walt Disney World: We see vintage footage of Walt Disney, America's most beloved FBI stoolie, welcoming us to "this happy place," and we're encouraged to join in the celebration of "50 years of magic" at Walt Disney World. Problem is, Disney World is only 35 years old. The original Disneyland, that faded old strip mall outside L.A., is the one that just turned 50. Makes you wonder when Disney is going to cut the cord to Anaheim for good.
AD! AD!In-game promo: Bill Cowher fingers the Lombardi Trophy and tells it, No one can love you like me. Um, ABC? There is another team playing in this game, you know ...

KICKOFF1:55Perhaps embarrassed by the Steeler-heavy promos, Michaels and Madden return from commercial to talk up Mike Holmgren's wife, who's serving on a humanitarian medical mission to Congo. Michaels takes the opportunity to show off, mentioning that the capital of Congo is Brazzaville. Madden doesn't dignify that with a real response. Nor should he, because Kathy Holmgren is actually in the other Congo, the one formerly known as Zaire and the one with its capital at Kinshasa. Oh, snap! On the field, Jeff Reed kicks to Maurice Morris, who returns it 16 yards, and of course the whole thing is called back on a penalty. No replay, but we get another Rolling Stones promo, and that's all that matters.
1-10-SEA271:4619-yard pass. Seattle hustles to the line.
1-10-SEA461:284-yard pass to Shaun Alexander, who stays inbounds for no discernable reason. The Seahawks waste 10 more seconds before calling time out. Michaels says this game reminds him of New England-Carolina two years ago. Yeah, I don't think so.
2-6-50 1:1310 yard pass after a beautiful blitz pickup by Seattle guard Steve Hutchinson, who steered Troy Polamalu halfway to the locker room without breaking a sweat. Seattle hustles back to the line.
1-10-PIT400:54Hasselbeck goes for it all, but Darrell Jackson doesn't bother to watch where the sideline is, and he catches it out of bounds. There was some fuss over this play on the Internets, but I don't see it. Jackson needed both feet inbounds and only got one. The fact that he kicked the pylon with his one good leg is irrelevant. Meanwhile, Steelers corner Ike Taylor got caught out of position, and it nearly cost him, so naturally he comes up screaming for a flag. Corners ... and people say receivers are drama queens. Seattle hustles back to the line. (I'm repeating this for a reason.)
2-10-PIT400:48As the play goes off, Madden notes that Seattle still has a timeout left. Remember that. Handoff to Alexander for 4 yards. "I don't understand that play," Madden says, as the clock ticks past 33 seconds. At 20 seconds, Hasselbeck is still screwing around calling the next play. By 14 seconds, Michaels, Madden, all of Seattle, everyone who bet the Seahawks, most casual observers and even some Steeler fans are beside themselves. Finally, Cowher is so offended he can't take it anymore, and he calls time out. Hasselbeck runs over to the sidelines to confer with Holmgren. You know, when Holmgren was in Green Bay, he used to scream at Brett Favre for the littlest things. Here, his quarterback just wasted 30 seconds in the Super Bowl, and he looks like he just wants to hug him.
3-6-PIT36 0:13Another deep pass to Jackson, who again isn't watching the sideline. Another one caught out of bounds. Michaels wants Holmgren to know that he's not angry, just disappointed. Madden is muttering to himself.
4-6-PIT36 0:07Josh Brown misses the 54-yard field goal, but you can't really blame him, because as far as I can tell, the strategy was to get out of the half without scoring again. It worked! Give Brown a shot from 10 yards closer, and this kick is good. The Seahawks end the half with a timeout still on the board (or, as Michaels says, "on the wall"). Maybe they can try to get something for it on eBay.

1-10-PIT44 0:02Remember when Bill Cowher called a surprise onside kick in Super Bowl XXX? I think it would have been a masterstroke if he'd run one of his razzle-dazzle plays here and gone for the touchdown. It could have stuck the dagger in Seattle's heart and broken off the handle. Instead Roethlisberger takes a knee, and we go into the locker room at 7-3.

COACH INTERVIEWS: Michele Tafoya corners Bill Cowher, the frustrated but loving dad. "Ben has got to settle down," he says with a smile. "I think he'll be OK if he gets settled down." He praises his defense, but the smile fades as he talks about his other kids, the ones in the running game who really need to get cranking. He talks about Ben some more, and the smile returns. There's such deep affection in that igneous face when he talks about his terrified young quarterback that you can't help but like the guy. Suzy Kolber, meanwhile, has to chase down Mike Holmgren and tackle him from behind as he screams at the officials. Holmgren is playing the role of angry dad, but his anger isn't focused on his wayward son, Matt Hasselbeck, but rather on his senile Pop-Pop, Bill Leavy. We get a dumb, fail-safe graphic that says the last team to win the Super Bowl after trailing at halftime was the Cowboys against the Bills in Super Bowl XXVIII.

AD BLOCK: Sprint: Golf guy hits another golf guy in the face with his cellphone. It's funny, but I wish I hadn't heard so much about it beforehand, because I was expecting it. NFL Network: "The Super Bowl, about as American as America gets. ... Tonight, we're all connected by the game." We see Len Dawson and Bart Starr watching TV together. Tedy Bruschi playing with his kids. Matt Leinart at home with his dog. We've truly crossed into the Twilight Zone when a sports league appears to be the entity that can most convincingly deliver a message of unity and common purpose. Desperate Housewives: Again. United: Something about samurais and fire-breathing dragons. Very pretty. And rather inspirational, for something that involves air travel.

THE STONES: We begin with a montage reminding us that the Rolling Stones have been around since before Bert Bell was even born. This is to assure parents that there will be no funny business and kids that there will be no entertainment. Mike Wilbon argues that there are two cities in the USA where you simply do not book foreign bands for an event like the Super Bowl: Nashville and Detroit. After watching the Stones wheeze through a few of their dessikated klassiks, I'll go along with Wilbon. Whether the act is American or British, however, there are some things no one is allowed to say at the Super Bowl: "come" and "cocks". Mick Jagger is animated, but Keith Richards appears distracted, Ronnie Wood seems bored and Charlie Watts looks like he's just in it for the paycheck. Aren't we all. It's hard to believe the Stones have become such soft targets, but there you have it. They could have at least had the Hells Angels come up and kill someone for old times' sake.

AD BLOCK: Nationwide/Wachovia: Two financial institutions lean on minor sight gags to show us that it's murder having children. Ford: And now, the guy with the toughest job in Detroit tonight: Bill Ford, explaining why Ford is closing plants and laying off workers -- without saying "closing plants" or "laying off workers." Disney: Seattle and Pittsburgh players practice delivering the "I'm going to Disney World" line. Cute, and nicely humanizing. In-game promo: And now it's Jerome Bettis' turn to make sweet love to the Lombardi Trophy. Christ Almighty, ABC really is in the bag for Pittsburgh. Oh, wait, here's Matt Hasselbeck. Maybe he'll be ... Oops, nope, back to Ben Roethlisberger. We get a quick look at Shaun Alexander, and then we're back to Bill Cowher. Everybody please shut up, and let's get back to the game:

KICKOFF 15:00Before the kick, Suzy Kolber relays Mike Holmgren's assurances that Seattle's dreadful clock management at the end of the first half was all part of a larger life lesson. She appears to believe it, but then again, she was also pretty convincing when she told us New England was going to have a vending machine play slot receiver. Michele Tafoya doesn't have anything of substance to add. We also learn that Jerome Bettis is miked up tonight, and ABC plays the audio from Roethlisberger's TD dive. Surprisingly, we hear all the Seahawks shout "No!" and all the Steelers shout "Yes!" What did I say about going behind the scenes? On the field, where we're playing football for the first time in four hours, Ricardo Colclough returns the kick to the 25. A scuffle breaks out, but the officials resist the urge to go ahead and throw Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander out of the game. Kidding!
1-10-PIT25 14:54"I think this is a big drive here," Madden says, one play too early. Pass incomplete.
2-10-PIT25 14:50 Handoff to Willie Parker off right tackle. Seattle safety Michael Boulware is the only Seahawk between Parker and the end zone. Boulware overpursues and takes himself out of the play, Parker streaks past him, and look at that sonofabitch go! Touchdown, on the longest run in Super Bowl history (for once, we get a graphic that means something). It's the biggest moment of Willie Parker's football career -- quite possibly his entire life -- and ABC opts to show Jerome Bettis running off the field. At this point, the script is even screwing Pittsburgh players.
AD! AD!Ameriquest: Turbulence during a red-eye flight makes it appear as if two passengers are having sex. And that's why you should have your mortgage with Ameriquest.
AD! AD!Motorola: The MotoPebl cellphone came to Earth from space eons ago. Humans were just a little late in getting the cell towers built.
AD! AD!Sharpie: Great ad with a guy in a pirate costume using a Sharpie retractable to sign autographs. Pirates are funnier than monkeys, actually.
AD! AD!Lost: Yadda.

KICKOFF14:38 Kick returned to the 29.
1-10-SEA2914:31Incomplete pass.
2-10-SEA2914:276-yard pass.
3-4-SEA35 13:457-yard run.
1-10-SEA4213:09Alexander finally uncorks one for 21 yards. After he's tackled on the sidelines, Seneca Wallace helps him get up. The Wallace sighting makes Seattle fans' hearts go pitter-patter for an instant.
1-10-PIT3712:44Hasselbeck threads a pass in the middle of three defenders and lays it right on the hands of Jerramy Stevens at the 7 yard line. Stevens drops it, of course. Al Michaels seizes the chance to bring up the "back-and-forth" trash-talking between Stevens and Joey Porter leading up to the game. Though when you really look at what was said, there was very little "forth" and a whole lot of "back."
2-10-PIT3712:375-yard run.
3-5-PIT32 11:50Pass incomplete to Darrell Jackson. There is far more contact here than there was on the play in the end zone, but no flag on Jackson this time. Thus ends yet another 40-yard Seattle drive.
4-5-PIT32 11:45Seattle is down by two scores on Pittsburgh's 32 yard line. Go for it? Nope, send Josh Brown out to try a 50-yard field goal. Wide left.
AD! AD!Budweiser: Aw, that baby horse just can't wait to spend the rest of its natural life pulling the beer wagon!
AD! AD!Nationwide: Fabio could turn into a creepy old gondolier at any moment, and that's why Nationwide should handle your finances. Does Nationwide have the same ad agency as Ameriquest?
AD! AD!NFL Mobile: Mr. Wilhelm from Seinfeld berates a man in the produce section about the good old days, when people had to get scores from the Internet. Made me laugh.

1-10-PIT4011:40Seahawks defensive backs Marquand Manuel and Andre Dyson are both out. (Foreshadowing!) Hines Ward makes a nifty fingertip catch and picks up 15 yards. John Madden says, "Doesn't Hines Ward make an amazing play every time you watch him?" I concur that Ward is phenomenal, but so far he's dropped one touchdown pass and another that would have been a first down. The catch on third-and-28 was more his quarterback's doing. What Ward has been up to this point is average, not amazing. This is not a dig at Ward, or even at Madden. It's a dig at the star treatment: No criticism for making mistakes, heaps of praise for NOT making mistakes. So let's not start bleeping each other's bleeps just yet.
1-10-SEA4511:126-yard run by Bettis. He's miked up, you know. ABC plays audio of Bettis celebrating Parker's touchdown, again. In Soviet Russia, Bus catches you!
2-4-SEA39 10:33Pass incomplete. Antwaan Randle El nearly caught it, so it appears they've got his spine glued back together.
3-4-SEA39 10:2716-yard pass. Ward gives Kelly Herndon a fantastic juke to pick up an extra 8 yards, but the ABC guys have already praised Ward on this drive, so we're left to bleep his bleep on our own. Besides, we've got to save our energy in case The Bus gets the ball.
1-10-SEA239:46Great 12-yard run by Bettis.
1-10-SEA119:05Bettis for 4 more.
2-6-SEA7 8:26If I were Seattle, I'd be expecting Bettis to get it again. Sure enough. No gain. There's some confusion among the Steelers, and they call time out to talk over their next move. Smart, because the last thing you want down here is a turnover. OK, OK. I peeked ahead.
AD! AD!Hummer: A giant robot has sex with Godzilla, and the result is a Hummer H3. Tagline is "It's a little monster." Take that, Acura: Your SUV despoils the countryside. Ours destroys cities!
AD! AD!Practical Solutions cleansers: I guess germophobes watch the Super Bowl, too.
AD! AD!Sons and Daughters: The hook for this sitcom is that it's "unscripted." And six months from now, we'll find out that that wasn't really true, and there'll be a low-wattage foofaraw about honesty in broadcasting, and they'll drop the improvisation premise altogether, and the show won't be picked up for a second season.
3-6-SEA7 7:52Speaking of scripted programming: Returning from commercial, Michaels tells us, "Here comes a big, big play." Sure enough, Roethlisberger tries to flip it to Cedrick Wilson, and Kelly Herndon jumps the route and intercepts it. Big Ben tries to run him down, but Bryce Fisher throws No. 7 aside like he's in a cartoon. One could make a case that Roethlisberger was hit in the back, but Fisher was looking him in the face and had one hand on the inside of his jersey, which is usually enough to prevent a flag. Totally ignored in all the commentary has been Randle El, who pulled a Ben Watson and ran Herndon down from a mile away.

1-10-PIT207:384-yard run.
2-6-PIT16 6:55Incomplete pass to Bobby Engram. Jerramy Stevens gets held on the play, but he'd have dropped the ball anyway, so don't shed any tears.
3-6-PIT16 6:51I don't know what's more amazing on this play: Stevens actually catching a pass, or Stevens holding on to it long enough for the officials to rule it a touchdown. Troy Polamalu got suckered into a pick on the play, leaving Stevens all alone. Otherwise, I suspect we'd have gotten another helping of Jerramy's Low-Fat Buttered Fingers.
AD! AD! Monkeys and jackasses. Now if they'd just add pirates.
AD! AD!Taco Bell: Dweeb in classic car makes hottie on sidewalk fall in love by eating 560 calories' worth of Crunchwrap Supreme in the middle of traffic. ¡Yo quiero fewer advertising cliches!
AD! AD!Slim Fast Optima: Now controls hunger up to 4 hours, about half as long as it takes to digest the Crunchwrap Supreme.
AD!AD!Sons and Daughters: We're into the repeats now. Hey, that's the guy who does the robot in the Geico commercials.
AD! AD!In-game promo: ABC has run out of Steelers, so Matt Hasselbeck gets a chance to slip his hand up the Lombardi Trophy's skirt. The hat ain't foolin' no one, Matt.

KICKOFF6:45A graphic tells us Kelly Herndon's 76-yard interception return was the longest in Super Bowl history, surpassing Tony Eason's 75-yard scamper for John Madden's Raiders in Super Bowl XI. The kickoff is a touchback. While the Pittsburgh medical staff attends to Chukky Okobi, the boys in the booth climb aboard a favorite hobby horse of the 2005 playoffs: Steelers coach Bill Cowher is essentially undefeated when his team leads by 11 points or more. Why 11 points? Probably because his teams have lost 10-point leads a few times. For whatever reason, commentators can't let Cowher's record stand on its own, so they have to slice it this way to make it appear even more dominating. This is also why we always hear about Brett Favre's record when the kickoff temperature is 34 degrees or less, rather than 35 degrees. He's lost a few games in 35-degree weather.
1-10-PIT206:453-yard run by Willie Parker. Parker's bottle is fresh out of lightning, so 3 yards is the best he's going to do for the rest of the night.
2-7-PIT23 6:123-yard run by Willie Parker. See?
3-4-PIT26 5:332-yard run. Verron Haynes doesn't have any lightning either. Al Michaels kicks it over to Suzy Kolber, who reports that Seattle defensive tackle Rocky Bernard is doubtful to return after hurting his hamstring on Herndon's interception return. "It looks like he was hit by a sniper" on the play, is her rather unfortunate choice of words. I'm thinking that's going to give Joey Porter all the motivation he needs for the rest of the night.
4-2-PIT28 4:54As Chris Gardocki is punting, Madden asks why Bernard had to pull down his pants if he only had a pulled hamstring. Michaels tells a lame joke about a five-second delay. Tell it to the Stones, Oswald.
AD! AD!Gillette Fusion: Again with the "revolutionary" five-bladed razor. It's a great piece of grooming equipment, I'm sure, but the rest of us will go on worshipping our same old God, if that's OK with you.
AD! AD!The World's Fastest Indian: Can't make heads or tails of it.
AD! AD!Toyota Tacoma: The ad where the pickup gets hit by a meteor was one of the best of 2005. This one, in which a Tacoma is tossed about by the surf, is in the same vein but just isn't as good. Pretending like the ad was shot with a webcam was a pretty neat idea, though. I'm sure I'll be sick of the gimmick soon, but not now.

1-10-SEA274:38Perfect, yet incomplete, pass. Take a wild guess whose hands the ball hit with a clank.
2-10-SEA274:37 False start, Sean Alexander. Matt Hasselbeck protests, but we saw Alexander twitch while the camera was tight on him. Save it for the book, son. With nothing else to do, Madden rides Jerramy Stevens some more for dropping passes.
2-15-SEA224:37Incomplete pass.
3-15-SEA224:3013-yard pass ain't enough.
4-2-SEA35 3:52Antwaan Randle El returns the punt 20 yards to the 36. Now, this actually would have been a great time for Rouen to put it in the end zone. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

1-10-PIT363:39Someone at ABC has some explaining to do, because there's no commercial break for the change of possession. Madden says Ford Field suddenly smells like gadget play. He says it could happen on this drive. His nose it a lot more sensitive than yours or mine. In the meantime: incomplete pass to Jerame Tuman. First a tight end named Jerramy, then a tight end named Jerame ... for once, I actually miss Jeremy Shockey.
2-10-PIT363:338-yard scramble. Pittsburgh sideline freaks out when Roethlisberger is tackled roughly rather than escorted to the end zone.
3-2-PIT44 2:58Incomplete pass.
4-2-PIT44 2:55Chris Gardocki punts. Peter Warrick suddenly goes Old School Bengal and lets the ball bounce at the 20 and roll all the way to the 2. You can fair-catch those, Pete. On the sideline, we see Roethlisberger conferring with his coaches and third-string QB Tommy Maddox. Oh, dear Lord. Tommy Maddox is 18 minutes away from a Super Bowl ring.

1-10-SEA2 2:41Another change of possession goes by without a commercial. That's at least $10 million. Suzy Kolber reports that Matt Hasselbeck told Jerramy Stevens on the bench, "Stay with it; the drops are OK." Coach Holmgren isn't so peppy, and as the drive starts with a 5-yard run, Stevens is watching from the sidelines.
2-5-SEA7 2:138-yard scramble. Hasselbeck hook-slides, but three Steelers still try to nail him. Aaron Smith kicks Clark Haggans in the head. Hasselbeck appears to lay the ball beside Haggans' crumpled body.
1-10-SEA151:343-yard pass to Ryan Hannam.
2-7-SEA18 1:019-yard pass to Ryan Hannam. Who's Ryan Hannam? Apparently he's the tight end Holmgren calls on when he doesn't trust Jerramy Stevens anymore.
1-10-SEA270:2921-yard pass.
1-10-SEA480:02Al Michaels thinks the Seahawks will let the clock run down to the end of the third quarter. Instead, Seattle hustles to the line and runs another play. They're very efficient at the end of odd-numbered quarters. Incomplete pass.
AD! AD!Sprint: If you never watched The Benny Hill Show, this ad doesn't make much sense and isn't very funny. If you have watched it, then the ad makes sense, but is somehow even less funny.
AD! AD!ESPN: Monday Night Football is moving.
AD! AD!Land Rover: An SUV driver bypasses traffic on the Ginza and behaves like a self-important jackass.
AD! AD!E-Trade: Stephen Hawking, Ernest Hemingway and Marion Jones are unique, and so are you. So come be one of E-Trade's 4-million-plus clients.
AD! AD!Geico: That lizard used to sound like a butler. Now he sounds like a soccer hooligan.
2-10-SEA4815:005-yard run.
3-5-PIT47 14:17 17-yard pass to Bobby Engram. Ike Taylor finally tackles Engram, then gets up talking trash. I'm interested in knowing what you boast about when you've just given up 17 yards.
1-10-PIT3013:326-yard run. Time for another meaningless graphic: The largest deficit a team has overcome to win a Super Bowl was 10 points, Washington over Denver, Super Bowl XXII. Remember, Seattle was down by 11. Eleven! Did ya hear the one about Bill Cowher and the 11-point leads?
2-4-PIT24 13:105-yard run.
1-10-PIT1912:35Jerramy Stevens holds on to another pass, this one for an 18-yard gain to the Pittsburgh 1 yard line. (The official runs in with one hand raised to signify the ball is down short of the end zone, by the way.) The way this game has been going, you'd have to be crazy to think this will stand, and it won't. There's yellow on the field -- and in Seattle fans' shorts -- as Sean Locklear is called for holding. On the replay, there doesn't appear to be holding. Madden says he doesn't see holding. Nearly everyone who isn't a Pittsburgh fans doesn't see holding. But the official does. The officials have been seeing a lot of things tonight. Football Outsiders studied every play of the game and concluded that what Locklear did could be construed as holding -- but that the officials chose to enforce this interpretation only on this play. This problem has been building all year: "Holding," as defined by the NFL rules, occurs on every play of every game. And those rules are enforced so inconsistently and so selectively that they are a joke.
1-20-PIT2912:08Hasselbeck sacked for 5-yard loss.
2-25-PIT3411:347-yard run by Shaun Alexander. Joey Porter brings him down with a textbook horse-collar tackle, which was made illegal just last off-season. The officials see the horse-collar but don't call it. However, this isn't an issue of selective enforcement, because officials never call the horse-collar. Still, in the space of three plays, we've had a horrible call and a horrible non-call. What else can happen?
3-18-PIT2710:54Oh, this can happen: Hasselbeck floats a horrible pass waaaay over Darrell Jackson's head but riiiight into Ike Taylor's breadbasket. Taylor returns it to the 27, where Hasselbeck brings him down by the legs. The replay is very clear: Haselbeck throws himself at Taylor and cuts his legs out from under him. In football, where these guys live and work, that's called a tackle. In the bizarre experimental theater production the officials are staging inside their heads, it's an illegal low block. Bob Waggoner, the back (and to the left) judge responsible for the ticky-tack interference call in the first quarter, throws the flag. Fifteen yards are tacked onto the end of Taylor's interception return, and the NFL's greatest show officially becomes a sham. This is the point where I almost quit watching, because I knew how the game was going to come out (with Pittsburgh on top), and I knew what the story line was going to be (officials bungling the game rather than Pittsburgh winning it). Bill Leavy, meet Phil Luckett.
AD! AD!Degree anti-perspirant: "Stunt City," where it looks like 1978. The concept: Even if you're a stuntman performing acts of derring-do all day long, your pits won't stink if you use Degree. This is one of the rare commercials where the set-up actually relates to the product. Well played, Degree!
AD! AD!Emerald Nuts: Some stuff goes on, but it doesn't matter. "D&D geeks eat Emerald Nuts" appears to be the message.
AD! AD!Fidelity Investments: Paul McCartney has lived a full life, so Fidelity should handle your money. Sorry, but I found the non sequiturs at Ameriquest and Nationwide more appealing.
AD! AD!Boston Legal: This fall, Tom Selleck and Michael J. Fox join a cast that already includes Candice Bergen and James Spader. Once they get ALF on board, they should have the 1980s all sewn up.

1-10-PIT4410:46As we return from commercial, Hasselbeck is talking with Tony Corrente, who is charting the game on the sidelines as the backup referee and thanking everyone from God on down that he's not on the field responsible for this pack of monkeys. A replay of the Hasselbeck penalty confirms that neither the inmates nor the guards are running the asylum. On the field, Willie Parker picks up 1 yard before being tackled at the knees -- or is it "blocked low"? -- by Marcus Tubbs.
2-9-PIT45 10:107-yard pass.
3-2-SEA48 9:44Beautiful 5-yard quarterback draw.
1-10-SEA439:04Pittsburgh sets up bunch left. At the snap, Roethlisberger pitches to Willie Parker, and Antwaan Randle El breaks for the backfield. Half the home viewers immediately shout "Reverse!" -- but the entire Seattle defense follows Parker, save for Michael Boulware, whom Roethlisberger tangles up with a diving block. The reason only half of viewers shouted "Reverse!" was that the other half was shouting "Option pass!" And sure enough, Randle El pulls up and throws the single best pass of the night to Hines Ward, whom the Seattle secondary has let get free. Al Michaels screams "Gadget play!" and this time he's actually correct. Touchdown puts the Steelers up by two scores. And whom does the ABC camera find first? I'll give you a hint: It's not Randle El, who threw the pass; or Roethlisberger, who threw the key block; or even the coach who called the play. Madden comments that everyone on the field should have known what was coming. That ain't just 20/20 hindsight. That's a fact. Extra point makes it an 11-point lead again.
AD! AD!Budweiser: Using those flip-cards that they hand out at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, a stadium full of fans simulates the shotgunning of a beer. Glad I didn't bring my kids to that game.
AD! AD!Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: The surprise movie hit of 2003 becomes the inevitable movie sequel of 2006.
AD! AD!MasterCard: The "priceless" campaign has worn so thin you can read the stock tables through it, but putting a MasterCard in MacGyver's wallet is a stroke of genius. Never thought I'd say this, but this ad would have been better if it were a full minute rather than 30 seconds. It's not like MasterCard doesn't have that kind of bread -- I've seen my statement.
AD! AD!Dancing With the Stars: Stripper chic.

KICKOFF8:56Al Michaels tells us that Bill Cowher just breathed a "figurative sigh of relief" after the interception that set up the game-clinching (did I ruin it for you?) drive. I'm a total stickler on the correct use of "literally" vs. "figuratively," but this may be the first time I've ever heard some one say "figurative" when the proper word was probably "literal." It's been that kind of night. Josh Scobey brings the kickoff out to the 16.
1-10-SEA168:48Incomplete pass. Michele Tafoya reports from the sidelines that the Steelers had planned to throw an option pass off a reverse in the Super Bowl. Good to know. Thanks, Michele.
2-10-SEA168:40 Hasselbeck scrambles 18 yards, then flops right on top of his slick ball. The ball squirts away, Troy Polamalu picks it up, and Hasselbeck brings him down (guess how). The officials rule it a fumble (understandably, considering the bang-bang nature of the play), but ABC immediately dials up a replay showing Larry Foote making contact with Hasselbeck before he went down. The Seahawks challenge and get the ball back. This is another play that would later be identified in some quarters as a close call that went Seattle's way -- except that it didn't go Seattle's way, and Mike Holmgren was forced to challenge the play. It was also the only big call against Seattle that could be challenged.
1-10-SEA348:114-yard run. After the play, as the Seahawks diddle around much as they did at the end of the second quarter, Madden makes the first ominous mention of "tempo."
2-6-SEA38 7:3313-yard pass.
1-10-PIT497:19There was a time when a quarterback would always want to be compared to Brett Favre. This year, however, to say someone is "playing like Favre" means he's wasting plays, and ultimately possessions, by taking shots downfield even though his team is having success moving the ball five to 10 yards at a time. On this down, Hasselbeck plays like Favre. Incomplete pass.
2-10-PIT497:13Seneca Wallace is in the game at wide receiver! Aaaaaaand, it's a 2-yard run by Alexander. And that's it for Wallace.
3-8-PIT47 6:36"Playing like Favre" can also mean getting sacked at the worst possible time. Like now: 5-yard loss.
4-13-SEA486:28OK. Fourth-and-13 is never going to be easy, but at this point you're down by two scores. You have the ball at midfield. If you go for it and miss, you're going to need a three-and-out or else this game is over. But if you punt ... well, then you're going to need a three-and-out or else this game is over. Plus, your punter has been dropping kicks in the end zone all day, which means that by punting you'd be giving up the ball and control of the game, and you probably will gain only 30 or so yards of field position. Add it all together, and going for it seems like the best call. And here comes Tom Rouen, who puts it in the end zone on the fly. Bill Cowher points to the scoreboard and orders Roethlisberger to bleed the clock like George Washington on his deathbed.
AD! AD!World Baseball Classic: Remember the Goodwill Games? This is sort of like that, except there'll be only one sport, and goodwill has been a little low.
AD! AD! So, GoDaddy decides to spend $5 million on Super Bowl ads and runs the same dumb ad twice. That's one way to economize.
AD! AD!Nationwide: Getting married involves taking on someone else's financial commitments. Why, that actually ties in with Nationwide's business. And it only took three tries to get it right.

1-10-PIT206:15Jerome Bettis, back in the game to grind the clock, is stopped by Seattle defensive tackle Chartric Darby for a 2-yard loss. Incredibly, Darby struts around waggling his head in oh-no-not-today-baby fashion. Um, dude, look at the scoreboard. Forty-two seconds bleed away.
2-12-PIT185:336-yard run, and there goes another 48 seconds.
3-6-PIT24 4:45Ben Roethlisberger calls for a timeout after the play clock has plainly reached zero, and yet no penalty is called. At this point, the officials are screwing up so relentlessly that it almost isn't even worth noting, but on this play the crew actually huddles up to confirm that they made the wrong call before sending Bill Leavy out to announce it. Whatever. With that punt at midfield, Seattle's already given up anyway. When the play finally comes, it's a short dumpoff that Antwaan Randle El carries through the entire Seattle defense for 7 yards and a first down. The umpire ends up going down hard in the pile, and a quick cut to the sidelines catches Holmgren smirking. If a Seahawk had kicked the zebra in the head, we might have seen a full smile.
1-10-PIT313:594-yard run. Seattle timeout. No ads, just brought-to-you-bys.
2-6-PIT35 3:543-yard run. Seattle timeout. No ads, just a miked-up Bettis delivering a motivational speech in the huddle. "It's no different than Week 1. Just do what you've been doing." For the record: The Steelers won in Week 1; the Seahawks lost.
3-3-PIT38 3:513-yard quarterback keeper. Roethlisberger gets somewhat jobbed on the spot of the ball, but it's still enough for the first down. That banging noise is Seattle's coffin lid going on. The long-suffering Bill Cowher celebrates, as does the insufferable Joey Porter.
1-10-PIT413:092-yard run. Seattle timeout. No ads, just a retrospective on Roethlisberger's season-saving tackle against the Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs. Madden says: "Maybe that tackle is what really put them here." He's right. The tackle also made the difference between spending the offseason complaining about the officiating and spending the offseason dismissing other people's complaints about the officiating as "whining." Big circles, man.
2-8-PIT43 3:04Bettis for no gain.
3-8-PIT43 2:184-yard gain takes us to the two-minute warning.
AD! AD!Running Scared: Gunfights, machetes, slow-motion violence, $100 bills. It's all very Tarantino. Then someone gets hit with a slapshot, and we're told the movie opens Feb. 24.
AD! AD!Outback Steakhouse: This guy with a fake Australian accent isn't worth my time.
AD! AD!Westin Hotels: No smoking.
AD! AD!In game promo: Bettis sweet-talks the pants off the trophy one last time. So dazzled is Bettis that he mistakes the trophy for the Stanley Cup: "The Lombardi Trophy with your name on it means that you're the champion of the world."
4-4-PIT47 2:00The league's collective bargaining agreement stipulates that in every game Chris Gardocki plays, it must be mentioned at least once that he's never had a punt blocked. Al Michaels squeezes it in just before the final kick of the game. Gardocki punts into the end zone. Touchback. Since it last had possession, Seattle has lost four and a half minutes of game time and all its timeouts and still trails by 11. Smart move, punting the ball.

1-10-SEA201:51Seattle needs two scores: a touchdown with a two-point conversion, and a field goal. Everyone repeat along with John Madden: "You can't use up all your time in trying to get the touchdown and then not have any time to get the other score, so you have to get any type of score as quickly as you can." And here we go: 6-yard pass? Over the middle? Wow. If I had to pick a way to use up nearly one-fifth of the time remaining in my season, that wouldn't be it.
2-4-SEA26 1:2835-yard pass to Joe Jurevicius. Now that's more like it.
1-10-PIT391:05Ball thrown away.
2-10-PIT391:00Pass incomplete.
3-10-PIT390:52Pass incomplete.
4-10-PIT390:47Paul Allen stands on the sidelines watching as his championship hopes slip away, leaving him with nothing but $25 billion. Call me shallow, but if I had to choose, I'd want the money. It's fourth-and-long again, so maybe the Seahawks should punt. It worked so well six minutes ago. Nope: 13-yard pass to the Pittsburgh 26. Turns out you can do it.
1-10-PIT260:35Hasselbeck spikes the ball to stop the clock.
2-10-PIT260:34Kick the field goal? No. Pass incomplete to Shaun Alexander.
3-10-PIT260:27Kick the field goal? No. 3-yard pass to Jerramy Stevens. What an odd time to try to boost his confidence. Stevens, in his final highlight-reel move of the day, tries to stretch the 3-yard gain into a 4-yard gain rather than get out of bounds.
4-7-PIT23 0:08Kick the field goal? No. No time. Pass to Stevens at the goal line. Fittingly for this game, he drops it. Fittingly for this game, Joey Porter, the only man in the league with two ass holes, doesn't make the tackle but is there to jibber-jabber at him. Bill Cowher is sopping wet and making out with his wife. Jerome Bettis has a new hat.

1-10-PIT23 0:03Roethlisberger takes a knee. Hines Ward is the Most Valuable Player, just edging out Joe Montana. Cowher goes looking for Holmgren, but both coaches are directed to different areas of the field, and there will be no handshake. The NFL will investigate and determine that no snub occurred. The NFL will investigate the officiating and determine that no mistakes occurred, either.

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