TAMPA, Fla. - Santonio Holmes won the MVP and James Harrison made the play that will be replayed until Super Bowl C, but this one was all Big Ben.
The city of Pittsburgh wouldn't be planning a Super Bowl parade if it weren't for Ben Roethlisberger, believe that.
Their top-ranked defense came up tiny in the fourth quarter (Kurt Warner was an absurd 14 for 19 for 224 yards in the final quarter). Their running game? Non-existent.
The reason the Steelers won? Roethlisberger would not let them lose. And as remarkable as Holmes was on the final drive, Roethlisberger's improvisational magic was what kept Pittsburgh from a potentially humiliating loss.
It's something the 27-year-old has done over and over again this year. Playground football. Seat-of-your-pants stuff that - if you bleed black and gold - you may end up watching through your fingers.
He's got a little Elway in him. The difference is, he's 2-0 in his first two Super Bowls while the Broncos legend didn't get a win in the ultimate game until he was 37.
"When it was down to the end, three points I thought was a given," said Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians of the winning drive that began with 150 seconds left and Pittsburgh down 23-20. "We've been in this situation six times this year and he's done it every time."
The game-winning drive will be put in the Roethlisberger time capsule as the epitome of what has made him one of this generation's greats.
On a first-and-20 play, he got 14 to Nate Washington on a little step-up delivery. On a third-and-6, he pumped and moved and bought time and got Holmes for a 13-yard gain. Then he hit Washington for 11 more and scrambled to pick up 4, taking a wicked hit from Karlos Dansby. Now there were 62 seconds left and the ball was at the Cardinals 46. Then Ben got the big one. With a wicked pump fake moving the defense, he reloaded and hit Holmes who streaked past a falling Aaron Francisco for a 40-yard gain.
On first-and-goal he sailed one through Holmes' hands in the left corner of the end zone.
On the winning throw to Holmes in the back right corner of the end zone, Roethlisberger looked off two receivers, kept his feet moving then made a seemingly dangerous throw that cleared three Cardinals defenders and found Holmes, who did a snappy toe tap for the score.
"What was the call?" Roethlisberger was asked.
"Drop back. Scramble right. Scramble left. Find someone open," he cracked.
And that's his M.O. Behind an offensive line that he defends to the hilt but is, in reality, porous, Roethlisberger is under constant siege. But that's when he's at his best.
After the AFC Championship win over Baltimore, Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce said the Cardinals should do, "Anything but rush him."
He welcomes the pressure. In chaos, he thrives.
"He was heroic with his play and he is very deserving of any awards he might receive from tonight," said tight end Heath Miller.
Roethlisberger quarterbacked the Steelers in their last Super Bowl win, the yawner over Seattle in Super Bowl XL. He was, however, disgusted by his own performance. The stage wasn't too big for him this time around.
"I played a little better than I did last time so it feels a lot better," he said. "To be able to come back on that last drive, probably a drive that will be remembered for a long time ... it feels really good. Really special."
Sometime in the future, people might just look at the numbers in this Super Bowl and say, "Eh, pretty good game. Roethlisberger was 21 for 30 for 256 yards with a touchdown and a pick.
But the greatness is in the details. The fact that his big-game wideout Hines Ward was diminished. The fact that Pittsburgh couldn't run the ball (58 yards on 26 carries). The fact that the Steelers defense spent the last quarter letting him down. The fact that, when he delivered what could have been the most remarkable throw of the game - a 19-yard completion on third-and-10 thrown from the back of the end zone - the completion was wiped out by a holding call and a possible game-sealer had turned into a safety. The fact that he made so many plays possible for the sensational Santonio Holmes by doing things no other quarterback in the game does right now before he got rid of the ball.
"To do that in a Super Bowl," said Warner. "That adds to your lore, right there."
It sure does.
- Tom E. Curran, NBCSports.com