Like everyone else, Bo Orlando was captivated by another fantastic finish to the Super Bowl.
But unlike the average fan, Orlando has some insight into why the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to perform their championship-winning last-minute heroics.
“It’s just that never-lose attitude,” Orlando said. “It represents that city. They are a blue-collar city. They have that old tough-guy kind of attitude.”
Orlando knows that because he wrapped up a nine-year NFL career by playing the 1998 season with the Steelers. It was an injury-plagued season for Orlando, a former Berwick High School star who turned into a hard-hitting NFL safety.
“I had a great stretch there,” said Orlando, 42, who settled in Bethlehem, where he is now an assistant high school coach. “I wish I could have played for them longer, being from Pennsylvania.”
He played in the NFL long enough to see his share of late-game rallies. He even was on the losing end of one of the league’s most famous playoff shootouts when the Buffalo Bills rallied to defeat his Houston Oilers, 41-38, in a 1992 AFC wild card game.
So Orlando has experienced heartache similar to what the Arizona Cardinals must have felt when Santonio Holmes’ 6-yard touchdown catch with 35 seconds left lifted the Steelers to a Super Bowl XLIII victory.
And Orlando can sympathize with the Cardinals defenders.
“Being a defensive back, I think the offense always has such an advantage,” said Orlando, who hit like a wrecking ball during his NFL days with Houston, San Diego, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
“When you’re out on the field, you’re out there one-on-one with a Larry Fitzgerald, a Keyshawn Johnson, or a T.O. (Terrell Owens). Those guys all have ability; they all know where they’re going. We have to backpedal, we have to guesstimate. It’s not a pretty sight.”
But it helps explain how the Steelers could limit Arizona’s Pro Bowl receiver Fitzgerald to one catch for 12 yards through three quarters Sunday, only to watch him run rampant over the final 15 minutes when Fitzgerald’s six catches, two touchdowns and 115 receiving yards helped the Cardinals rally for a late lead.
And how a lightly regarded receiver like David Tyree can come up with the catch of his life and complete the greatest play in Super Bowl history by trapping the ball against his helmet while fighting off a defensive back. Tyree’s miraculous play kept the winning touchdown drive alive for the New York Giants in last season’s title game against the New England Patriots.
And how Holmes, known more for his sprinter’s speed than his acrobatic skill, can suddenly transform into Lynn Swann while pirouetting the sideline to pull in the touchdown that gave the Steelers a 27-23 victory over the Cardinals.
Don’t buy the argument that defensive fatigue plays a part in any of that.
More likely, the sense of desperation with time running out kicks in an adrenaline rush. Some players use it to elevate their play to heights they didn’t know were possible to reach. Others are frozen by it.
“There are some players who play tentative,” Orlando said. “Some players go for it all. They just have a knack for going for it, and being in the right place at the right time.”
In a lot of those moments, big gamblers like Tyree and Holmes cash in at the table. The rest walk away broken by what they have lost.