As I'm sure everyone's aware of, the Arizona Cardinals are headed to Tampa to partake in Super Bowl XLIII.
Yes, the Arizona Cardinals are in the Super Bowl.
For years, everyone lumped this franchise in with other bottom-feeders such as Detroit, Oakland, and Cincinnati. But in just his second year at the helm in Phoenix, Ken Whisenhunt has done the unthinkable as he has taken his team to the biggest game of all.
And Arizona's going to be facing something eerily similar in the Super Bowl that they have in the last three playoff games. Once again, the Cardinals will be the underdog, this time to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not only have the Cardinals embraced the role of the underdog, they also have some very recent history to feel good about.
Just last year, the New York Giants entered the playoffs as the fifth seed in the NFC. Their road to the championship has been described as the toughest road that any team has ever taken en route to a title. They began by going on the road against Tampa Bay and defeating the Buccaners. Then the following week, they stunned the #1 seed Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. They then managed to overcome sub-zero conditions and Lawrence Tynes' chokejob at the end of regulation to beat the Packers at Lambeau Field to advance to the Super Bowl. One of the biggest upsets in sports history happened two weeks later at the University of Phoenix Stadium (where the Cardinals call home) by defeating the 18-0 New England Patriots.
The blueprint is there for the Cardinals. And an even bigger blueprint is that coach Ken Whisenhunt and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm were assistants on the Steelers' Super Bowl winning team just three short years ago under Bill Cowher. A lot has changed then as Cowher retired and Mike Tomlin has stepped in. But in a regular season game at Arizona last year, the Cardinals were able to defeat the Steelers in Week 3 to give Whisenhunt his first career victory as an NFL head coach.
The Cardinals may have been a 9-7 team to reach the playoffs, but they are a much different team than they were in the regular season. The offensive line grew more confident in their run-blocking abilities as Edgerrin James has had a career revival of sorts after wanting to be released by the Cardinals just a few weeks before the beginning of the playoffs. Tim Hightower has been a huge addition for the Cardinals as a goal line back, including catching the game-winning touchdown throw from Kurt Warner in today's NFC Championship Game.
While the Cardinals are running the ball much better than at any point of the season, they still have their explosive downfield game as Larry Fitzgerald is having one of the best postseasons of any player in league history. Anquan Boldin might be playing in his final game as a Cardinal at Tampa in two weeks, but he is still a top five receiver in the league. Even though Steve Breaston is the Cardinals third wideout, there's no question that he could be a number one receiver on several teams in the league, especially teams like the Bears and Raiders. Oh, and that Kurt Warner guy is still kind of good as well.
The Steelers are going to pose a very tough challenge to the Cardinals assault with the number one defense in all of football. I believe that they'll more than likely be able to handle the Cardinals ground game. But all throughout the postseason, the Cardinals have been able to feed off of the opponents' ability just to respect that ground game. When the Cardinals spread the field and go to their four wide receiver package, will the Steelers be able to match up with the speed of Steve Breaston and Jeremy Urban? Plus Larry Fitzgerald has proven that as long as you throw the ball up to him in his general direction, he'll come down with the ball even if he's in the middle of two defenders.
It's an exciting time to be one of the few legitimate Arizona Cardinal fans down here in Carbondale. The Packers will always hold a much higher standing in my heart. More than likely, I would've broken down after a game like this if the Packers were in it and won (sort of like last year except with a better outcome). And all of this is possible thanks to the likes of Josh McCown and Nate Poole. Without them, I'd just be like everyone else down here and probably wouldn't care all that much that the Cardinals are in the Super Bowl (for people that don't know what I'm talking about: check out the YouTube video below.)
The unthinkable is about to take place in Tampa Bay on February 1st. The Arizona Cardinals will raise the Vince Lombardi trophy as kings of the football world.