Where in the heck did these birds come from?
That’s what bird watchers from all over the world were asking in disbelief this week, after the Arizona Cardinals were sighted in Texas earlier this week, high above the home of Jerry Jones.
After finding relief over the sign-em-at-all-costs Jones home, the rarely seen birds circled Texas Stadium once before flying away to the east. Bird watchers in-the-know estimate these strange birds may be arriving in Tampa on or before Feb. 1 for Super Bowl XLIII.
One thing is for certain. These birds aren’t your "same old" Cardinals. But they are in unfamiliar territory. The Cards hadn’t won a title since 1947 when they were flying out of the windy city of Chicago. They’ve never been near a Super Bowl. Good for you Arizona. That’s what I call one long dry spell.
Things will be in a slightly different perspective on the other side of the field. Pittsburgh has been there before, in fact, now seven times. Steelers fans are running out of fingers to display their five Super Bowl rings. Big Ben alone will be seeking his second Super Bowl title. And so will Kurt Warner, whose journey to this opportunity is unlikely to say the least.
Nine years ago, Warner led the St. Louis Rams and the "Greatest Show on Turf" to the Super Bowl and beat Tennessee, 23-16. Warner was back in the Super Bowl the following season, but the Rams were upset by New England. Long before those two Super Bowls, Warner had to battle through the Arena Football League, NFL Europe and stacking grocery store shelves to earn a chance to even play in the NFL.
After the great years with St. Louis, he again survived being shipped out to New York and failing miserably in the Big Apple. After the Giants, he signed with Arizona and had to witness the handing of the offensive car keys to Matt Leinert. But when that plan didn’t work out, the offense has been all Warner’s show once again.
The Cards were 7-3 after 10 games. The highlight was a dramatic upset of Dallas at Arizona with a blocked punt for a touchdown in overtime – the first win of its type in NFL history. The team was thrilled and so were the fans. But the rest of the country wasn’t sold because of the weak division.
The concerns seemed well founded as the Cards went 2-4 down the stretch and were drubbed by the G-Men, Philly, Vikes and Patriots. The Cards’ future in the playoffs was deemed bleak at best. Yet, NFL experts agreed they had never seen so much parity heading into the playoffs.
Except, the only team they couldn’t see winning the Super Bowl would be those strange birds from Arizona.
But the Arizona coaches decided on the plane ride back from the New England thrashing that they were going to turn their ugly play around. The Cards were going to run the football at all costs. The defense was going to stop being predictable and start being aggressive.
So far the plan has worked. The Cards stopped Atlanta’s running game and Matt Ryan’s aerial show. They shut down Carolina’s powerful rushing attack and forced Jake Delhomme into six turnovers.
The Philadelphia game ended up being a microcosm of Arizona’s season. They started well, dominated and held a 24-6 lead at halftime looking like The 7-3 team of the first 10 games. Then the Cards were dominated in the third quarter and half of the fourth as the Eagles took a 25-24 lead (just the 2-4 run).
But the Cards pulled it together in the final seven minutes of the game with a clutch touchdown drive to win the game. So like it or not, the team nobody could see in the big finale is preparing to play in Tampa for the Lombardi Trophy.
Warner’s gang of receivers can light it up, and nobody is hotter than Larry Fitzgerald. If Warner gets protected, he’s extremely dangerous.
Protection is the key word, as Joe Flacco found out in Pittsburgh. If the Cards don’t protect Warner, they won’t be flying out of Florida. They’ll be wingless and grounded with no Super bowl trophy.
The Steelers have the No. 1 defense and proved it to everyone who witnessed the shutdown of Baltimore’s runners and confusing harassment of Flacco. It was a much different story coming out of Pittsburgh. All the experts could see the Steelers in the grand finale. Willie Parker is apparently healthier than he’s been in several months.
The big question for me will be if the Cards’ defense can hold up under the pressure of a Super Bowl? For now, it’s time to study up for the big pick, The Dog has a documented, seven-game Super Bowl winning streak to protect.
I’ll check back with you next week.