It's been no secret to anyone who reads this blog that this season has been a strange one, to say the least. So it's fitting that the final game of the year would be an equally strange mix of wild highs and opportunistic capitalization that has defined the entire year. On the one hand, there is Larry Fitzgerald emerging from the brink of Super Bowl irrelevance to prove that yes, the Cardinals did belong here. There was Ben Roethlisberger defying the notion of a quarterback as a byproduct of offensive protection, creating time where none should have reasonably existed. Then there was Santonio Holmes, who cemented his place in Steeler history by singlehandedly decimating the Cardinals defensive backfield on the final drive.
But at the same time, there were also the strange errors and questionable circumstances that have tainted the whole experience of the 2008 season. The final "fumble", the uncharacteristically dumb offensive play calling in the first half, the inability of either team to really utilize their greatest strengths to their advantage, all of these seemed to take away from the matchup, making the game itself less meaningful. The analogy would be Brady's injury at the start of the year, taking the entire contest of the season and bringing its significance into question. This whole year, in fact, has felt less like gladiators showing their strength than scavengers circling, waiting for the next opportunity to prowl onto the scraps and become king of the corpses. Fun to watch for any fan of strategy, but not exactly the stuff of inspiration.
And yet the game somehow felt alright. Really, can you ask for anything more than a fight that comes down to the last punch? True, it wasn't pretty, but it was every bit the fight that you would have wanted from these two teams, matching their paces for the season, if not their abilities. The Steelers setting the tone, the Cardinals defying the convention, and then the Steelers finding a way to make it all work despite the bumpy trip to the finish. If the season was disappointing because teams seemed to focus more on destroying the characters around them than etching their own into the league's story, at least this final conflict seemed to make sense of the chaos that brought both of these surprising survivors to the arena.
In the end, I suppose the real level of satisfaction with the game will be similar to the level of satisfaction with the season, depending on what images you choose to take with you. There are those who will be unable to erase Kurt Warner pelting a ball right into the chest of James Harrison, followed by Harrison stumbling behind bewildered offensive players, the end to a season built on mistakes, mishaps, and the inability to recover from either. That's a valid image. Then again, there are those who will remember Santonio Holmes grabbing a ball out of the sky that Big Ben manufactured time to throw, a meeting of two talents lifting each other up out of lowered expectations. That's a valid view, too. Perspective can be tricky like that.