But on a Sunday evening for the football ages, Pittsburgh defeated the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 to claim a record sixth Super Bowl victory and elevate Tomlin to the coaching mountaintop at the tender age of 36.
"I'm not concerned about my personal milestones," Tomlin said. "I just want to add to the Pittsburgh Steelers' legacy."
He and his team almost went down in infamy.
Ahead 20-7 entering the fourth quarter, the Steelers fell behind 23-20. No Super Bowl team has lost after leading by more than 10 points.
But after the Cardinals went ahead on Kurt Warner's 64-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald with 2:37 remaining, Ben Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 78 yards for the winning score - his spectacular, 6-yard pitch-and-catch with game MVP Santonio Holmes.
"It's never going to be pretty," Tomlin said of his team. "Throw style points out the window."
Indeed, during the fourth quarter Pittsburgh squandered its 13-point advantage.
Cornerback Ike Taylor's personal foul fueled an Arizona touchdown drive, and center Jeff Hartwig's end-zone hold gave the Cardinals a safety. Most important, Warner and Fitzgerald were making like Montana and Rice, hooking up on two scoring passes.
And suddenly, a Tomlin decision from hours earlier loomed large.
Tomlin promised during the pregame hype that he wouldn't coach any differently in the Super Bowl than during the regular season.
On the Steelers' opening possession, after a Cardinals' challenge overturned a 1-yard Roethlisberger touchdown run, Tomlin chose to attempt an 18-yard field goal rather than a fourth-and-a-fingernail.
Jeff Reed's chip-shot gave Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead, but the call contrasted markedly with Tomlin's regular-season aggression.
The Steelers extended their edge to 10-0, but when the Cardinals countered with an 83-yard touchdown drive, Tomlin's blink seemed destined to become an issue.
When Arizona seized command late, Tomlin's decision figured to be rehashed in Pittsburgh longer than the Immaculate Reception.
"If I could win any way, it would be like that," Tomlin said of the late theatrics. "I believe we're built for moments like that."
Most hearts weren't built for fourth quarters like that: Two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks dueling; three touchdowns, a safety and a flag-happy officiating crew.