Mike Tomlin Reveals How Larry Fitzgerald Left Him ‘Paralyzed’ in 2009

Getty Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin reacts during a game.

It’s rare that Mike Tomlin lets his guard down in a media setting. As head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tomlin maintains a certain face in front of the camera.

But former Steeler Ryan Clark got Tomlin to let that guard down in the casual setting of the Tomlin family basement. The Pivot podcast interview offered fans a glimpse into the Tomlin psyche that we don’t often see. And the stories that came from it brought newfound respect for the Steelers head coach — even from the hardened fans who don’t believe in him anymore.

In his decade and a half with the Steelers, Tomlin is 1-1 in the big game, and nearly let the one win slip through his hands.

Late in the interview, Clark set the scene for the legendary Super Bowl 43 story unknown to Steelers fans — until now.

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The Big Score

“In the fourth quarter, Larry Fitzgerald loses his mind,” said Clark.

Of course, the Fitzgerald play is one that all Steelers fans want to forget but can’t.

In the final minutes of Super Bowl 43, with the Steelers holding onto a narrow four-point lead, Kurt Warner finds a wide-open Fitzgerald who has nothing but open field in front of him. Safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu are in pursuit as Fitzgerald takes it in for a 64-yard score to put Arizona ahead.

“I tell you, man, I needed a security blanket that day,” Tomlin explained of that Super Bowl Sunday in Tampa, Fla. “I had my brother down there on that sideline, my brother four years older than me.”

“And like certain things you need when stuff really gets thick. I wanted my brother on the sideline in that Super Bowl. You know what I mean? I just needed that familiar, that home.”

Tomlin described his response to Fitzgerald’s epic score.

“That’s what I think about when… when Larry Fitzgerald caught that ball, man, and went down the middle of the field on us, I was paralyzed for a split second. Like, like, like, like everybody else.”


Shock and Awe

It’s not often that Mike Tomlin is at a loss for words. But Eddie Tomlin snapped him back to reality.

“My big brother walked by me, man, he hit me on my hip and that woke me up. He didn’t say nothin’ ’cause he was scared to death.”

Tomlin described how Eddie is a fan like you and me. So, when Eddie was down on the sideline, he was struck by the awesome gravity of the event.

“He’s not in the profession of coaching. He’s like a fan that you gave a chord to and put him down there on the sideline. He was like, wow, you know, so I wasn’t looking for anything substantial from him, but his presence ’cause that’s my big bro.”

“But you don’t know the purpose of someone’s presence until you discover it.”

Eddie’s purpose was to shake his little brother out of his paralyzed state so he could lead his team to victory.

“And my brother was there to hit me on my hip when Larry Fitzgerald went down the middle of that field, man, because that’s really all he did. He didn’t say nothing.”


The Rest is History

At that very moment, with the final 2:30 remaining, it was up to the Steelers’ offense to get the job done.

Mike Tomlin trusted Ben Roethlisberger to make it happen. The defense, still reeling from the Fitzgerald score, could only watch.

“Ben’s ability to navigate [a two-minute drill], that is the very best thing that he does,” Tomlin said. “Like when it’s thick, he’s most normal when it’s up against it. Come on. That was the very best thing that he did.

Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes for a beautiful six-yard acrobatic catch sealed the game with 42 seconds on the clock.

The Pittsburgh Steelers left Tampa Super Bowl Champions.

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