Super Bowl XLIII pitted the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers against the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals. Arizona, led by head coach Ken Whisenhunt and quarterback Kurt Warner, took its 9-7 record into the Super Bowl hoping to capture its first title since 1947 (when they were the Chicago Cardinals) … the longest stretch without a championship in NFL history and the second-longest stretch in U.S. sports history. Yet the squad remained optimistic that a Super Bowl victory would be brought to the desert. The Steelers, under the leadership of head coach Mike Tomlin and QB Ben Roethlisberger, were looking to add a sixth Super Bowl title to their ranks, a distinct likelihood given their 12-4 regular season record … the second-best record in the NFL that year. With the Steelers leading the NFL in fewest points (13.9) and yards (237.2) allowed per game during the regular season, while also ranking second in sacks (51), it seemed reasonable to assume that the final score of the contest would favor the AFC.
Super Bowl XLIII was played on February 1, 2009, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. To the surprise of almost no one, Pittsburgh took the opening kickoff and moved down the field on a 71-yard scoring drive, and Jeff Reed making a successful 18-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead. Pittsburgh vaulted to a 17–7 halftime lead after linebacker James Harrison returned a Super Bowl-record 100-yard interception for a touchdown. Trailing 20-7 as the clock started in the fourth quarter, the Cards scored 16 unanswered points (highlighted by wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald's 64-yard touchdown reception) to take the lead with 2:37 remaining in regulation play. The Cardinals franchise, however, would be denied the Lombardi Trophy, as Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes managed a six-yard, game-winning touchdown catch with a mere 35 seconds left on the clock, as the Steelers topped the Cardinals, 27-23. That play, along with his four receptions for 73 yards on that final game-winning drive, earned him Super Bowl XLIII MVP honors — only the third Pittsburgh receiver to win the award. More than 98.7 million viewers in the United States tuned in to watch the game, making it (at the time) the most-watched Super Bowl in history.