TAMPA, Fla. -- He walked into an interview room, still clutching the last football used in Super Bowl XLIII.
A good 20 minutes had passed since Ben Roethlisberger took the final snap to run out the clock on Pittsburgh's 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. But Roethlisberger hadn't let go of the ball -- and he won't.
"I gave the last one to Jerome [Bettis],'' Roethlisberger said. "I'm keeping this one.''
If ever there was a gesture that symbolized a game, it was Roethlisberger's keeping the ball. The Steelers had won a Super Bowl (XL) before with Roethlisberger as their quarterback. But this was the first time Roethlisberger really won a Super Bowl.
What Roethlisberger did in the final moments forever put to rest the myth that he's nothing more than a caretaker. On the biggest of stages, Roethlisberger showed he's the kind of quarterback who can rally a team in the final minutes and throw the pass of a lifetime when it matters most.
Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 78 yards on eight plays and hit Santonio Holmes with a 6-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds left to win the game.
"We called it scramble left, scramble right until somebody gets open,'' Roethlisberger said.
It was also the moment when Roethlisberger officially took his place alongside Terry Bradshaw in Pittsburgh lore. Holmes was selected as the game's most valuable player and linebacker James Harrison sure made a case for Super Bowl MVP with his 100-yard interception return for a touchdown at the end of the first half.
But more than anything, this was Roethlisberger's game. The kid who won that previous Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks in Detroit by handing off to Bettis and Willie Parker and not screwing up is just a memory now. Roethlisberger evolved into a finished product Sunday night as he became only the 10th quarterback to win multiple Super Bowls.
That's why Roethlisberger, along with Holmes, is going to Disney World. Sometime late Monday morning, they'll be the central figures of a parade in the Magic Kingdom.
At some point in the near future, Roethlisberger probably will be paraded through the streets of Pittsburgh, where he'll be bigger than ever. The winning drive and the winning pass put Roethlisberger over the top, but his body of work to that point wasn't bad.
In a shootout with Arizona's Kurt Warner (31-of-43 for 377 yards with three touchdowns), Roethlisberger put up some solid numbers of his own. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 256 yards with a touchdown and an interception, finishing with a 93.2 passer rating.
That's a lot better than Roethlisberger's previous Super Bowl performance. That one came in his second season and the Steelers won almost in spite of him. In that emotional game, after which Bettis immediately retired, Roethlisberger completed 9 of 21 passes for 123 yards with two interceptions. His 22.6 passer rating was the lowest by a winning quarterback in Super Bowl history.
But this time was a completely different story. This time, strong defense and the running game didn't have to totally carry the Steelers. This time, Roethlisberger did.
"I really didn't feel nervous,'' Roethlisberger said. "I felt more nervous when the [military] planes flew over [before the game]. It was a lot different than last time.''
"He's a winner, first and foremost,'' Arizona defensive end Bertrand Berry said. "He's about [buying] time in the pocket and making big plays. He did what he's always done. Most quarterbacks wouldn't have been able to do what he did. You have to give him credit. They're the champions because of the way he played.''
The Steelers are the champions because Roethlisberger was solid all game and spectacular when he needed to be. They're the champions because Roethlisberger's winning pass was thrown with three Arizona defensive backs in the vicinity, but was in a spot where only Holmes could possibly catch it.
The Steelers also are the champions because their quarterback isn't a nervous kid anymore. If anyone still thought that was the case, Roethlisberger showed how much the Steelers really are his team by giving a little speech in the huddle when the Pittsburgh offense went back on the field after Arizona had taken a 23-20 lead with 2:37 left. At that time, the Steelers were in real danger of losing after squandering what was once a 13-point lead.
"I told the guys, 'It's now or never, guys. We'll be remembered forever if we do this,'" Roethlisberger said.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers did it, and now they will be remembered forever.
"I played a little better than I did last time, so it feels a lot better to be able to come back on that last drive,'' Roethlisberger said. "It's probably a drive that will be remembered for a long time, at least in Steeler history.''
And Roethlisberger will have the football to prove it.
Pat Yasinskas covers the NFL for ESPN.