At the risk of having this column turn into a Cardinals only zone, I have to scream from the top of my lungs that THE ARIZONA CARDINALS ARE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL! As a journalist and committed to fair reporting, I also have to mention that the Pittsburgh Steelers will happen to be there too.
Sunday's NFC and AFC Championship games led to a day full of Super-Bowl-like drinking and debauchery. As a native Arizonan, my fiancé and I took a short -- and by short I mean a single day -- trip to Gilbert to root for the home team with friends and family. I dressed accordingly, wearing the one red shirt that I own, and we made the six hour drive home (Make that seven hours with where-did-this-come-from Saturday evening traffic).
Driving into town we couldn't help but notice the Cardinal's banners hanging from rooftops and billboards. Who would have known there were so many Card's fans in Arizona? Where did they all come from? It's funny how those fair weather fans seem to sneak out from under their rocks when the home team has made some progress. But there is nothing better than watching the game with hometown fans; Dad yelling at the television, mom looking startled every two seconds, gleaming from the kitchen with merlot in hand, brother-in-law just waiting for the Steelers game to begin, my fiancé trying to understand the game in her cute way, and then there's me, standing, sitting, yelling, cursing, and doing everything in my power to tell the Cards how to win the game.
The Arizona Cardinals took on McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles at home, hoping to make it to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. In reality, for the first time in over 60 years! They continued to "shock the world" in their 32-25 victory in the desert. Perhaps my break-up theory held some water, for McNabb couldn't lead his team or drive them to the end zone. By the numbers, McNabb threw for more yards and completed more passes, but his one interception and lack of leadership proved to be fatal. Or perhaps McNabb was intimidated by the pranks that the locals put him through before the game. McNabb's Chandler (AZ) home was vandalized not once, not twice, but three times. Burnt into the front lawn was "Go Cards" and "Beat Philly."
In a game that exceeded expectations, the Cards managed to hold it together after stumbling in the third and most of the fourth quarter. Some fancy play-calling and football antics led them to an early lead, which they maintained through the first half and propelled at the end of the fourth. Half-of-famer Kurt Warner and better-than-Jerry-Rice Fitzgerald combined for three touchdowns and nine receptions, most of them in remarkable Fitzgerald style.
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On Thanksgiving Day the Eagles embarrassed the Cards with a crushing victory, deflating the Card's pride for a few games. But a different Arizona team has taken the field during the post-season, a team that has inspired their community to be proud, to be distracted from the trials of the economy, and to stand together as fans. It's amazing what a winning team can bring to a town, a city. When the underdog comes out on top, we all win. Are the Cardinals America's team? In a time of economic recession, lay-offs, home foreclosures, and overwhelming stress, can the underdog bring about a sense of hope? It seems fitting that in a time of renewal, with a positive president and hopeful air about us, that an underdog would rise above and reassure us once again that anyone can succeed. Perhaps I'm getting a little too sentimental about my team.
Quarterback Joe Flacco just couldn't hold it together against Polamalu and the Steelers defense, which intercepted Flacco a crushing three times and kept him off his game for four quarters. Roethlisberger, however, didn't fare much better. Left in the kicker's hands, Reed acquired a total of 11 points and single handedly assured victory for Pittsburgh. As the Baltimore Ravens attempted a comeback late in the fourth quarter, a disastrous helmet-to-helmet collision sent one man to the hospital and the Raven's hopes for a Super Bowl berth down the drain. With just over three minutes left to play, Willis McGaHee was unintentionally speared by Ryan Clark. In moments of silence and uncertainty, players from both teams hung their heads and bent upon the field. He was carted off the field and to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, where he was released on Thursday and expected to fully recover. The Steelers are headed to the big game for the eighth time in franchise history.
Football wasn't the only sporting event that drew crowds around the world this week, although it may have seemed like it. On a smaller scale, Lance Armstrong has returned to the cycling scene in Australia's Tour Down Under. Rumors are racing around that Armstrong is getting a cool $1 million for simply appearing in the race. He is currently in 32nd place, and moving up the pack slowly.