Steelers Release CB Bryant McFadden, Owner of One of the Biggest Plays in Franchise History

Bryant McFadden's up-and-down career with the Steelers ended Wednesday, with NFL writer Adam Caplan reported his release after six seasons with the team - and one with Arizona.

It's not a surprise. McFadden had a hamstring injury early in 2011 and eventually lost his position to William Gay, as well as the nickel role to Keenan Lewis.

NFL Films won't likely be airing a documentary on McFadden's Hall of Fame career. The Steelers will probably give out the No. 20 at some point in the near future as well.

Sometimes careers aren't defined by every game - they can come down to one specific play. That's McFadden's legacy, and it's one of the most important in franchise history.

McFadden, a second-round draft pick out of Florida State in 2005, left the team in free agency after starting in Super Bowl XLIII - one of his two Super Bowl championships with the team, and one of the 13 players to have played in the last three Steelers' Super Bowl appearances.

The Steelers fell off dramatically in 2009, losing several games in the fourth quarter due to shaky pass defense.

The Steelers used the 5th round pick they acquired in the Santonio Holmes trade to re-acquire McFadden from Arizona, one season after injuries led to a poor season for the veteran cornerback.

He was re-inserted into the team's starting lineup, replacing William Gay, and Pittsburgh returned to the top scoring defense in the NFL.

Was it all McFadden? Perhaps not, but it was one piece of a Steelers team that dipped back into the past to rebound from a tough year. McFadden was a Steeler. He came back to the team, along with Larry Foote, Antwaan Randle El and Byron Leftwich, in something of a reunion of players who contributed to the Steelers' high level of success from 2004 to today.

That's the easy story about McFadden. That's the one you'll hear about all over Steeler Nation the next day or two.

The one I prefer is from his rookie year.

Playing behind Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend, McFadden showed potential; more than anything, in the playoffs, he showed no fear.

The Steelers faced a 2nd-and-2 on the 28-yard hash mark on the carpet of the RCA Dome. The fans inside had come back to life after The Fumble. The Steelers looked half-dead.

QB Peyton Manning doesn't need even a crack in a door to push his way through, and RB Jerome Bettis's fumble left the door wide open. The play after the fumble, a 22-yard completion to Reggie Wayne on the rookie McFadden. Then an 8-yard gain to Marvin Harrison (on Taylor).

The Colts spread three wide, and a national television audience could see the saliva pouring out of Manning's mouth as he saw McFadden locked on Wayne without inside help. Seeing a rookie on Wayne with only 28 yards separating one of the most surprising comebacks in NFL history, thinking of snatching victory away after being the lesser team in a game for the first time that season, taking one more step toward getting that big game monkey off his back - Manning had to have seen these things in his mind's eye. His physical eyes stared McFadden down much like a shark stares down chum in open waters.

It makes no difference if the defense knows that is where he's going. It's pure competition now: may the best man win.

Manning fans his left hand in Wayne's direction before he receives the shotgun snap. He catches it, and pumps immediately in Wayne's direction, indicating a double move. Manning was going for it all.

He released, complete with that insanely perfect form he has. He put it right where Wayne could make a play on the ball.

Freeze that moment.

That season was defined ultimately by a Super Bowl. That quest for the Super Bowl, though, was defined by a fumble, a tackle, a pass break-up and a missed field goal. We often talk about The Fumble, The Tackle and "He Missed It."

We do not talk about how enormous that pass break-up was. McFadden, the rookie, beat the league's MVP and one of the league's best receivers on a hitch-and-go into the end zone during a season in which the Colts could have scored from Wisconsin.

If that play isn't made, the only possible missed field goal would have been Jeff Reed's from 70 yards out, assuming the Steelers could have moved the ball at the end of regulation.

Colts fans probably wonder this all the time. Even this fan posted on the game summary on NFL.com five years after it was played: "This was the best team the colts ever had... shame big ben had to take the super bowl out of our grasp".

Roethlisberger didn't take anything out of their grasp. McFadden took the ball out of Wayne's grasp. Literally.

Manning puts it high enough where the uber-athletic Wayne could come back a bit, leap and grab it at it's high point. He's got four inches at least on McFadden. He's got a perfect pass. He's even got a slight step on McFadden.

McFadden doesn't buy the pump fake, rotates his hips and busts his tail getting between Wayne and the ball. He throws both his arms up, gets a piece of the ball (even with that, Wayne still had a chance to make one of the most incredible catches in league history) and eventually, sees it hit the carpet.

We didn't grasp fully the impact of that play until later, for obvious reasons, but if McFadden plays like a rookie, the Colts score a touchdown, and Super Bowl XL doesn't happen. Bettis retires without a ring, and becomes the biggest goat since Earnest Byner. The team never gets that championship swagger. Roethlisberger does not become the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.

The Butterfly/McFadden Effect could have blown this franchise in a completely different direction - for the worse.

But it didn't, since McFadden made the play. Colts coach Tony Dungy was shown on camera screaming, "That was pass interference!" It wasn't. What it was is the best play in arguably the most dramatic game in playoff history.

He was the only Steeler to make a positive and impacting play after Bettis's fumble. Vanderjagt may have missed the kick, but that game is over if McFadden doesn't make that play. And we are still sick over the thought of it.

When I think of Bryant McFadden, I don't think of Aaron Rodgers picking on him in playoff games in consecutive years (against Arizona in 2009 and in Super Bowl XLV). I don't think of a guy often criticized by Steeler Nation or of his skills declining through this past season, let alone possibly his career as a whole.

I think of the young kid covering one of the game's best on a play that turned out to have historic implications - and winning the matchup. A Hall of Fame quarterback stared him down, and McFadden didn't blink. With it, he allowed Vanderjagt to let Bettis off the hook. He allowed Roethlisberger the chance to shred Denver the following week. He allowed WR Hines Ward to win the award that will likely be the deciding factor in his eventual induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

If given the situation in 2005, with the choice of which defender I'd rather have on Wayne, I probably would not have selected McFadden. I'm glad it was him, though. A rookie then, a battered veteran now, he takes with him a legacy few could even ask for.

Good luck, BMac. Thanks.

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