PHOENIX – Longtime Arizona Cardinals football fans learned years ago to have low expectations; they’ve been let down so many times.
But now that their team has made it to the NFC championship game (yes, the Cardinals), Arizona fans are tingling with an unfamiliar sensation – enthusiasm. Team jerseys are selling out, sports bars have been packed for the playoffs and tickets to Sunday’s game in Glendale against the Philadelphia Eagles sold out in six minutes.
“It’s kind of pathetic to say it, but the truth is, I’m having trouble sleeping I’m so excited,” said Jack Corson, a Cardinals season-ticket holder since 1993.
Corson, known as “MadJack” to his friends and even the Cardinals’ management, is the only fan allowed to hang a banner in University of Phoenix Stadium, because of his longtime loyalty.
His giant banner depicts a cardinal’s head in place of the star on the Arizona state flag, and each game displays a different message in yellow and gold letters.
During Sunday’s game, it will read “Shock the World” as the Cardinals try to soar past the Eagles into the Super Bowl.
“It feels surreal,” said Corson, a 50-year-old project manager for a Chandler software company. “It’s totally like living a dream. Somebody pinch me.”
Until the Cardinals (11-7) beat Carolina 33-13 on Saturday, they were the only NFC franchise not to make it to the conference title game since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.
The win against Carolina and Atlanta a week earlier followed some awful late-season results, including a 47-7 loss in New England on Dec. 21 and a 48-20 Thanksgiving night defeat in Philadelphia against the team the Cards will face Sunday. The Eagles are 11-6-1.
The Cardinals’ last title of any kind was in 1947 – as the Chicago Cardinals.
Keith Prescott, a native of Liverpool, England who has been in Phoenix the past 17 years and owns 16th Street Sports Bar in central Phoenix, said his customers used to view the Cardinals as a joke.
“That was the way the conversations were going two or three years ago — ‘Oh the Cardinals, oh yeah right,”‘ Prescott said. “They were never taken seriously. A loss was expected. It became a surprise if they did win.”
This season was different. As it progressed, more and more fans came in, until it reached “fever pitch” on Saturday, when Arizona pummeled the Panthers in North Carolina.
“It was just screaming, screaming, screaming,” Prescott said. “One client was complaining – could we turn the sound up – and we were on full volume with the surround sound there was that much noise. It was hilarious.”
Corson, the fan who brings the giant banner to games, said like the last two playoff games, he just has a good feeling about Sunday and the home-field advantage. The Cards are 7-2 at home this season.
“When you come to Arizona, you’re playing in the house of pain because that crowd is loud,” he said. “When they close the roof, it’s going to be so raucous. This town’s got Cardinals fever.”
Earlier this week, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said the home-field advantage is “huge.”
“I know it is going to be a great atmosphere and it is going to be electric,” he said.