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Rooting for my squares & not a team on Sunday

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POSTED January 30, 2009 1:16 a.m.
Who in their right mind would have thought the Arizona Cardinals would be in Super Bowl XLIII?

We’re talking here about one of the most dysfunctional franchises in all of professional sports finally making it to the big dance.

Up until now, the Cardinals were one of the few National Football League / American Football League teams not to reach the Super Bowl since the 1967 merger. During that span, the Houston Oilers and the original Cleveland Browns made it to the championship game, but only after relocating cities and thus becoming the Tennessee Titans and the Baltimore Ravens, respectively.

So here’s to the Lions, who finished the recent campaign by setting a record in futility with a winless 0-16 mark. Arizona, by already accomplishing the unthinkable, gives Detroit fans hope for the future.

I can’t say I’ve been aboard the Cardinal bandwagon since the start of the playoffs. However, I’ve enjoyed some success accurately predicting Arizona’s recent rise based solely on the betting line.

My buddy Frank just happened to be in Las Vegas on New Years. Rather than play slots, video poker or hit the tables, I suggested he try placing a modest wager on the first-round of the NFL playoffs.”As a non-partisan football fan, this will at least bolster some excitement when watching these games,” I said.

Frank wasn’t sure about going with Arizona and the spread over the Atlanta Falcons. After all, the Cardinals had been dreadful towards the end of the regular season, losing three of their last four games. Finally, he relented, using a line of reasoning as referenced by the Seinfeld character, George Constanza. “I’m going against my impulses and doing the opposite,” Frank said in his text message.

I also favored the Cardinals and the points in the NFC championship against the Philadelphia Eagles. But only this time I had no one to live vicariously through on this wager.

Now comes the Super Bowl, with Arizona facing the Pittsburgh Steelers for all of the marbles. The Steelers, by contrast, could be considered the opposite of the Cardinals in the area of stability, having only three head coaches in nearly four decades.

In that same span, Arizona used to be the St. Louis Cardinals, relocating to the Valley of the Sun after the 1987 season.

All I know of those old Cards were the likes of quarterback Neil Lomax and his run-and-shoot teams featuring wide receiver Roy Green. Terry Metcalf played there, and was one of the finest all-around players in the mid-1970s.

Ottis Anderson was a premiere running back during the St. Louis days. But his finest moment occurred in the twilight of his career as a member of the SB champion New York Giants during the 1990 season.

The Cardinals used to share the same facility with the Arizona State Sun Devils. They had more success on the big screen, with Cuba Gooding Jr. winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in his role as the fictional wide receiver Rod Tidwell in the 1996 film, “Jerry Maguire.”

In 1999, Arizona essentially ended a dynasty in San Francisco. On Monday Night Football, Aeneas Williams sent 49ers’ Hall-of-Fame quarterback Steve Young into retirement with a crushing tackle off a cornerback blitz.

For years, the quarterback position had been a problem area for the Cardinals until coach Ken Whisenhunt turned to veteran Kurt Warner. Gone were the memories of Jake Plummer, Jeff Blake, Josh McNown, and Matt Leinart, who just might be young enough to still find some success in the desert.

And until these past week, Arizona’s hero was an actual one in Pat Tillman. He left team in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, and was killed in a friendly fire incident in 2004 while on patrol in Afghanistan.

I’ll be watching Sunday’s game with friends and family.  I can’t say I’ll have a rooting interest in either team. Instead, I’ll likely be cheering on my “squares” to come up in the Super Bowl party pool.

I’m even keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll draw some good numbers.

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