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Super Sunday Makes For Defining Moments

Images Resonate With Millions Who Watch

The image of John Riggins shaking off Miami tacklers for a 43-yard touchdown on fourth-and-one in Super Bowl XVII is one Redskins fans will always remember.
The image of John Riggins shaking off Miami tacklers for a 43-yard touchdown on fourth-and-one in Super Bowl XVII is one Redskins fans will always remember. (AP File Photo)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 1, 2009; Page D01

TAMPA -- Most longtime Washington Redskins followers have the image either framed on a wall if not burned forever into their memories: Running back John Riggins took a fourth-and-one handoff, raced through an attempted tackle by Miami Dolphins defensive back Don McNeal and dashed 43 yards to the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter of a victory in Super Bowl XVII.

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Riggins knows what the moment meant.

"Clearly," he said here this week, "that changed my life."

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals will play in Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday before a crowd of more than 72,000 at Raymond James Stadium and a nationwide television audience of about 100 million. NBC, which is broadcasting the game, sold 30-second ad spots during its telecast for a record $3 million each, even amid an economic crisis.

The stakes are high in many ways.

Super Bowl Sunday is a day of myth-making. It is a day when reputations are made and broken, when lasting images are created.

"There's no other way around it," Riggins said as he sat in a room at the Tampa Convention Center last week. "If something else happens in that situation, say you don't make the yardage and they take over, they win the game, you become an afterthought because there's nothing really worse . . . than being the team that loses.

"I would guess if Don McNeal had been able to come up and stick his helmet in my chest and drive me backwards and make the stop, I'd be the one that would be the afterthought, I guess. That's the nature of a sport, the moment that something happens that perhaps changes the outcome of a game. You're either the hero, or you're the goat."

Riggins defended McNeal, saying McNeal didn't have a clean shot at him and other defenders could have made the play. He's not calling McNeal the goat of that game, he added. But that doesn't change the image captured in the photographs, and in the mind's eye.

In Detroit three years ago, when the Steelers won their fifth Super Bowl title, the focal point was running back Jerome Bettis, who was playing his final NFL game.

"It is enormous," Bettis said this week. "To get the brunt of the Super Bowl attention pointed at you, it's a lot of heat. Win, lose or draw, it changes your life. For a lot of people in the country, it's the one time they pay attention to sports and the coverage of sports, the one time they watch it on TV or read the stories or watch the interviews. If you're the focal point in this game, everyone will remember you. Sometimes it's not for the right reason, but they will remember you."

The Buffalo Bills reached four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s, a remarkable achievement. But they lost all four. So they are remembered by many for those losses, not as teams that came close to being one of the all-time dynasties.

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