TAMPA, Fla. -- In a game highlighted by momentum shifts, it was, in the opinion of Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the biggest one of them all.
"Obviously, we needed every play that we got, but that was a huge play," LeBeau said of James Harrison's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown right before halftime in Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday. "I've said, and I believe it, it's the greatest single defensive play in Super Bowl history. I really believe that."
It was a 14-point swing that proved big in the Steelers' 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cardinals were looking to put their stamp on a first half in which the Steelers had helped themselves to a 10-point lead. Arizona pulled within 10-7 on a Ben Patrick touchdown catch and, following a 4-yard pass to Anquan Boldin, was sitting on Pittsburgh's 1 with a first down and 18 seconds on the clock.
With the Steelers showing blitz, the Cardinals lined up with Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald wide left, running Fitzgerald on a fade route to the corner of the end zone. Boldin ran a slant toward the middle of the end zone, looking for a quick pass from Kurt Warner.
Harrison, who was responsible for covering Arizona running back Tim Hightower, dropped back and read the play perfectly, intercepting Warner's pass and taking it all the way to the other end zone for the score.
"We had a play call where we were basically on a max blitz," Harrison said. "Kurt had to get it out, so he had to throw a quick slant in or out, and I guessed on in and basically just shifted out, flowed out, and he threw it straight to me."
After that, it was all or nothing. Take it 100 yards for seven or be tackled and go to the locker room.
"All of a sudden, James started running out, and all we were thinking was that he had to score because if he gets tackled, it's nothing," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.
Said Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley: "That was a real big play. If he wasn't right there, that would have been six points for them. It was one of those plays that when you go back and watch all the Super Bowls, that'll probably be No. 1."
After Harrison made the interception, it was up to the rest of Pittsburgh's defenders to supply the necessary blocks.
"As a defense, we had to go out there and block," cornerback Deshea Townsend said. "I'm running down the field, and I see the running back and I hit him, but I didn't knock him down. Then I still see James coming, so I got him again. And James took it to the house. That was a real big thing going into the half."
Harrison, whose longest interception return before Super Bowl XLIII was a 33-yarder back in Week 11 against the San Diego Chargers, was intent on making it to the end zone.
"It was very tiring, but it was all worth it," Harrison said. "I was just thinking that I had to do whatever I could to get to the other end zone and get seven."
Harrison's return was a Super Bowl record, eclipsing Kelly Herndon's 76-yarder for the Seattle Seahawks -- against the Steelers no less -- three years ago in Super Bowl XL. It also was the longest play in Super Bowl history.
"That was amazing," Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said. "Once he got to the 50, I was like, 'Keep going, keep going, keep going.' I actually missed the block on Larry Fitzgerald. Otherwise, it would have been so much easier. Larry hustled and made a great play, but James Harrison is a great player -- that's why he's the defensive MVP. Guys like that make big plays on the big stage."