The news raised a few eyebrows the other week, but not much more than that. Bryant McFadden signs with the Arizona Cardinals. Buh-bye. Nice to know ya. Next...
Really now, is that any way to treat the cornerback who got the Steelers to Super Bowl XL single-handedly? I mean literally.
Hit Rewind. Naptown, Jan. 15, 2006, AFC division playoffs. Steelers 21, Colts 18. Fourth quarter, less than two minutes on the clock. On fourth down, quarterback Peyton Manning is sacked at Colts 2-yard line. The Steelers sideline is all bear hugs, fanny-pats and high-fives. Game over.
Uh, we know what happens next, don't we?
Suddenly, inexplicably, fullback Jerome Bettis executes a spin move at the two-yard line and linebacker Gary Brackett smacks his helmet on the ball. Fumble? Fumble!
The ball takes a generous bounce into the hands of cornerback Nick Harper, who's off to the races while Steelers World is in cardiac arrest. Somehow, in full backpedal, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger trips up Harper at the Colts 42-yard line, or else he would still be running today.
Just like that, the home team has the ball and momentum. Fast-forward. Second-and-2, Steelers 28-yard line, 31 seconds on the clock. Quarterback Peyton Manning fades into the pocket then looks to his left downfield, where McFadden is stuck in single coverage against wide receiver Reggie Wayne near the goal line.
If I'm McFadden in that situation, then two words come to mind. Skid marks. I mean, the guy is a 24-year-old rookie with one career start to his credit, for goshsakes. Not only that, but Wayne has come into his own one of the best receivers in the game -- he has caught seven balls for 97 yards in the game already.
McFadden has the man covered. Trouble is, his back is to the ball. Just when the rook appears to be toast, he looks back over his right shoulder a split second before the ball arrives to the intended target (see that, Ike Taylor?).
McFadden is able to get his desperate right hand on the spiral and alter its course slightly. Future Pro Bowler that he is, Wayne almost grabs the wobbler anyway before it falls harmlessly to the turf.
Heard of The Immaculate Reception? The Immaculate Tackle? Well, this play deserves to be known as the Immaculate Deflection, if you ask me.
On third down, Manning throws to Wayne again, but this time McFadden reads the plays quickly and nearly picks it off. On fourth down, with 22 seconds on the clock, placekicker Mike Vanderjagt goes extreme Norwood on a 46-yard field goal attempt, and the Steelers survive one of the wildest, wackiest fourth quarters in playoff history.
The instant classic will always be remembered for Troy Polamalu's interception that was overturned mistakenly, Bettis' bobble, Roethlisberger's tackle and Vanderjagt's choke job. You almost never hear about McFadden's game-saver, though, which has stayed under the rader much like he did the last four seasons.
Now suppose that McFadden had been beaten for six points on the play. Think about the ripple effect that it would have had on NFL history. Jerome Bettis goes from a 24-carat legend to a tarnished one. Roethlisberger goes from superhero to just another one-time Super Bowl-winner.
Instead of a Colt's rear end, Vanderjagt remains an idiot, as Manning once called him. Manning and the Colts go from postseason underachievers to a potential Team of the Decade candidate. The Steelers have one fewer Super Bowl in their trophy case. And Bill Cowher is remembered as the head coach who couldn't win the Big One mostly.
Three years later, McFadden is history. Maybe the Steelers will miss him in the future. Maybe they won't. Either way, the next time that McFadden comes back to the 'Burgh, the least that the Steelers and their fans can do is give him what he gave them one memorable afternoon. A great big hand.