"I want to say Arizona Cardinals and Super Bowl in the same sentence," said Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, who threw for 279 yards and four touchdowns Sunday. "The Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl. How about it?"
GLENDALE – They are neither punch line nor punching bag now.
The Arizona Cardinals continued their stunning run through the playoffs Sunday, beating the Eagles 32-25 to win their first NFC title and advance to the first Super Bowl in franchise history.
The Cardinals will meet the Pittsburgh Steelers in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 1. Pittsburgh beat Baltimore 23-14 later Sunday in the AFC title game.
“It’s just surreal,” Arizona guard Reggie Wells said. “We’ve been doing a good job of not buying into the moment, taking it for what it is and really believing in the ultimate goal, and that’s winning the whole thing. We’re one step closer.”
The moments after the game were hard to believe for anyone who’s paid even cursory attention to the franchise.
Owner Bill Bidwill held the George Halas Trophy aloft, and most of the 70,650 waved white towels with one hand and probably pinched themselves with the other.
Arizona hasn’t won a title since the NFL championship in 1947 and has had only 10 postseason games since meandering from Chicago to St. Louis and finally to the desert 21 seasons ago.
Still, it is impossible to write them off, mainly because of their 37-year-old quarterback, Kurt Warner, who owns two MVP awards and was the Super Bowl MVP with the Rams in 2000.
“I want to say Arizona Cardinals and Super Bowl in the same sentence,” a jubilant Warner said. “The Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl. How about it?”
Then there is Larry Fitzgerald, who used to practice in the same facility as the Steelers when he played at Pitt.
In just three games, he has emerged as the best receiver ever in the postseason – with 419 yards, he broke the great Jerry Rice’s record with the final game still to come.
“He’s been here before,” Fitzgerald said, referring to Warner. “He’s been where we’re all trying to go. He’s held that trophy up and we’ve leaned on him this whole postseason.”
Many of Pittsburgh’s stars have been through this before, including Hines Ward, the MVP of the 2006 Super Bowl win over Seattle.
The Steelers’ defense carried them past Baltimore in the AFC title game. That’s what it’s been doing all season. The latest version of the storied Steel Curtain was the best statistically in the NFL and the most consistent.
Led by James Harrison, the defensive player of the year and another all-Pro, safety Troy Polamalu, it puts constant pressure on the quarterback. And that is where Warner is sometimes vulnerable. Injuries and turnovers cost him his job in St. Louis in 2002 and 2003 before he was shuffled off to the New York Giants and then to Arizona.
The Steelers have four title victories in six years during the 1970s and their fifth three years ago. No team has ever won six.
In an odd little twist, Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt has his roots with the Steelers, serving as offensive coordinator from 2004-2006, including the Super Bowl-winning team.
He was expected to get the Pittsburgh job when Bill Cowher stepped down two seasons ago. So was another Steelers coach, Russ Grimm, now Whisenhunt’s right-hand in Arizona.
Instead, the job went to Mike Tomlin, who returns to Tampa, the city where he began his coaching career.
One other bit of cross-pollination.
In 1944, the Steelers and Cardinals were the same team – Card-Pit, combined into one because of World War II, when there weren’t enough able-bodied men to fill out both rosters.
They finished 0-10.
They will finish a lot better this season, no matter what happens in Tampa.
SUPER BOWL XLIII
Arizona (12-7) vs. Pittsburgh (14-4)
When: 4 p.m. Feb. 1
Where: Tampa, Fla.
HOW THEY MATCH UP
ARIZ Category PITT
12-7 Record 14-4
0 Super Bowl wins 5
Never Last SB appearance 2006
26.7 Off. points per game 21.7
26.6 Def. points per game 13.9
365.8 Off. yards per game 311.9
331.5 Def. yards per game 237.2
Teams that have gone the longest in their sport without a championship:
Arizona Cardinals 1947
Chicago Cubs 1908
Chicago Blackhawks 1961
Sacramento Kings 1951