Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.
Arizona vs. Pittsburgh (-6½)
Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, the "Lap Dance Capital of the World," pits the upstart Cardinals against the Steelers, and both teams, like many who visit the fine city, are there looking for a happy ending. The Steelers are gunning for their sixth Super Bowl title, which would put them one up on the Cowboys and 49ers. It's the Steelers seventh appearance in the Super Bowl, with their only loss coming in Super Bowl XXX, a 27-17 loss to the Cowboys. Mike Tomlin knows a victory on Sunday would cement his place in Steeler lore among former Super Bowl-winning coaches Chuck Knoll and Bill Cowher.
"The significance of this game isn't lost on me," says Tomlin. "My legacy is at stake, but more importantly, of this organization's five Super Bowl wins, not one has come in the Chinese 'Year of the Ox,' which just began on Monday, not to be confused with the American 'Year of the Ax,' which began for NFL coaches as soon as the regular season ended. I certainly don't want to be known as the coach of the Pittsburgh team that lost the franchise's second Super Bowl, the first being that loss to the Cowboys in 1996, a year known to Neil O'Donnell as the 'Year of the Goat.'"
"Just a side note here: former Broncos running back Travis Henry was born in 'The Year of the Rabbit,' which makes sense, because that dude's gone 'five-hole' more than Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sydney Crosby. And when Travis and his offspring sing 'We Are Family,' it makes Willie Stargell and the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates' version of the same seem like a small production."
Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who served as Pittsburgh offensive coordinator when they won Super Bowl XL, has strong motivation of his own to bring the Cardinals their first Super Bowl win. When Bill Cowher retired, Whisenhunt was passed over for the Pittsburgh head coaching job, a position that eventually was awarded to Mike Tomlin.
"Tomlin got the job," says Whisenhunt. "And I got jobbed. Even my offensive line coach, Russ Grimm, had his fairy tale existence shattered when he was passed over for the job. But I don't have time to be bitter, except when I'm cruising Lake Havasu on my yacht, the Sweet Revenge. For now, I'll speak no more of this, lest not until Sunday's pre-game speech, when I'll give my team an embellished and practically fictional account of how I was wrongly overlooked for the job. But I've got nothing but respect for Tomlin."
"Likewise," says Tomlin. "I've got nothing but love for Ken. And Biz Markie. But really, who says 'Nobody beats the Whis'? I did for the job. And I plan to in the Super Bowl, provided the game is not close and I'm not forced to make a clutch decision, like unnecessarily going for a two-point conversion. Or having Big Ben roll out and fall down instead of trying in earnest to pickup the game-clinching first down. Or having the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year fill in as a deep-snapper."
Like most Super Bowls, the outcome of this one is likely to be determined by the play of the quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner each have a Super Bowl victory already, and both have overcome their share of adversity in their careers.
"I just hope my attempt to 'go for two' finds more success than Coach Tomlin did in last year's playoffs," says Roethlisberger, whose surname loosely translates to "man incapable of wearing his baseball cap correctly."
"As for Warner, I see a lot of similarities in our career paths. We both went through a lot. Kurt went through NFL Europe to get here. I went through a windshield to get here. I've tolerated nagging injuries; Kurt's tolerated a nagging wife. Kurt believes in a higher power. I believe in the power of Santonio Holmes to get himself, and others, high. And Kurt and I can both spell 'cat,' assuming we're spotted the 'C' and the 'A.'"
Indeed, there are similarities. But there are stark differences between Warner and Roethlisberger. Warner is a traditional pocket passer, and makes his best throws when not hurried. Roethlisberger, while able to make throws in the pocket, is often at his best on the run, and some of the Steelers' biggest plays have come when Roethlisberger evacuates the pocket.
"Therein lie the dilemmas facing the defenses," says Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "If, when, and how to pressure the respective quarterbacks. The Cardinals will want to get some pressure on Roethlisberger, while at the same time keeping him contained in the pocket. Good luck with that. Lord, he was born a scrambling man."
"With Warner, our task is a little more complicated. Given time, Warner will easily find an open receiver. But if he knows we're coming, he'll tear our blitzes apart. So, ultimately, our goal is to upset Warner's rhythm, fluster him, and make him second-guess himself, and I see no better way to do that than with blasphemy, the worship of false idols, countless violations of the Ten Commandments, and commitment of six of the Seven Deadly Sins. You know, the things that wouldn't even bother Matt Leinart."
"So, we can't go after Warner with a 'devil-may-care' attitude. In short, we've got to raise hell."
However they choose to defend Warner, the Steelers must do what none of Arizona's previous playoff opponents have done, and that's properly defend wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Most experts agree that defenders must be physical with Fitzgerald at the line of scrimmage and disrupt his route. That's sound strategy, assuming Fitzgerald doesn't push back. But he's big enough to take care of himself in these situations. Whatever the Steelers choose to do with Fitzgerald, the Cardinals will still have the advantage, either with one-on-one coverage on Fitzgerald, or another receiver facing one-on-one coverage, due to a double-team on Fitzgerald.
Whisenhunt should have some great insight as to defending Roethlisberger, as he called the plays in the Steelers 21-10 victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
"I've got Big Ben's number," says Whisenhunt. "I coached Ben to one of the worst quarterback performances in Super Bowl history. Just think what I can do when I'm on the other side."
After a non-eventful first half of the first quarter, the Cards take over after a Steeler punt, and, after some light bickering on the sideline between Warner, Anquan Boldin, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Arizona drives into Pittsburgh territory. From the 20-yard line, Haley calls a wide receiver screen to Boldin, who takes it in for a touchdown. Boldin celebrates wildly, which ironically, looks just like a Boldin tantrum. Boldin then admits that he suffers from "IED," or "intermittent explosive disorder," a behavioral disorder characterized by explosive fits of anger, often due to a feeling a helplessness that often arises when the exploits of a teammate and record-setting wide receiver deprives the afflicted of the attention needed to satiate said afflicted's ego.
The Steelers strike back immediately, as Roethlisberger hits tight end Heath Miller for the tying score. The teams play virtually even through the second period, and the Steelers take a 14-13 lead.
At halftime, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band hit the stage with songs that span much of Springsteen's four-decade career. Ever the showman, Springsteen sprinkles his performance with songs relating to the NFL's past and present. The set list includes song about Larry Fitzgerald ("(You Can't) Cover Me"), Carolina Panther cheerleaders ("I'm Going Down"), Dick LaBeau's defensive schemes ("Brilliant Disguise"), and obscure former New England Patriots defensive linemen, ("The Ghost of Tim Goad").
Springsteen caps his performance with 1984's bouncy "Dancing in the Dark," and is joined on stage by former NFL linebacker Bryan Cox. At the song's completion, Springsteen takes a bow to a standing ovation, while Cox flips the crowd off and storms from the stage. But not before ripping Springsteen's shirt off, which segue's quite nicely into the encore, "Cover Me."
Afterwards, in his dressing room, Springsteen is involved in a disturbing skirmish with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and actor Tony Danza, as the three heatedly debate the question "Who's the Boss?"
Once the second half begins, the intensity heats up, and both teams begin taking more chances downfield. Fitzgerald get free on a halfback option pass from James, and Roethlisberger hits Nate Washington for a score on a flea-flicker. Jeff Reed gives the Steelers a 24-23 lead late in the fourth, but Warner, buoyed by a miraculous 25-yard completion to Steve Breaston in which a concentrated swarm of locusts temporarily blinds cornerback Ryan Clark, leads the Cards into field goal range. Neil Rackers kicks a 41-yard game-winner. Arizona wins, 26-24.