Cardinals hope to be team of destiny

Published 12:46 am Sunday, February 1, 2009

It’s not easy being red.

Ask any Arizona Cardinals fan here for the Super Bowl, if you can find one. Rumor is some are supposed to be here, but if so, they’re apparently masquerading as Terrible Towels.

Hard to blame them if they don’t show up. The economy is terrible, and for the last 61 years the Cardinals have been, too.

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Their pitiful history is by now well documented. So is the improbable story of the past few weeks that put them in this game.

They entered the playoffs as the worst surviving team and, though they may not be the worst to make the Super Bowl, they’re certainly in the top five.

Las Vegas bookies seemed to take pity on the Cardinals by making them only a touchdown underdog to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The new president of the United States is openly rooting against them.

Who in their right mind thinks they’re going to be Super Bowl champions?

None of the hundreds of writers and television types who interviewed Arizona defensive end Bertrand Berry this week, apparently. They quizzed him on everything from what he ate in the morning to whether he prayed at night, but until Thursday they had not popped the most obvious question of all.

“No one has asked me if we can win this game,” Berry said.

Tell ‘em, Bertrand. Tell ‘em.

“If we execute our game plan a little bit better than they do, then I feel we have just as good a shot as anybody of winning this.”

Execution, of course, is what all football coaches preach from the moment they wake up until they turn off game film for the last time at night. Follow the game plan, do the things you’re supposed to do, and you’ll walk off the field with a win most of the time.

But Kurt Warner isn’t going to complete every pass to Larry Fitzgerald, and Edgerrin James may find nowhere to go running up the middle against the Steelers. And while the Arizona defense has played well lately, it may get worn out in the second half pursing Ben Roethlisberger and Willie Parker.

Meanwhile, there are a hundred reasons why the Steelers should win their sixth Super Bowl, most of them revolving around a defensive line that makes quarterbacks tremble and two safeties who seem to get a little extra kick from knocking guys silly. Pittsburgh is allowing less than two touchdowns a game, and only two of its last seven opponents have scored more than 10.

Not only that, they’ve got 20 players who won Super Bowl rings three years ago, so it’s not like they’re going to freeze on the big stage.

What the Steelers don’t have is destiny on their side. That belongs squarely to the long-downtrodden Cardinals, who stumbled into the playoffs after losing four of their last six regular season games — three of them in blowouts.

Somehow, a franchise with no real pedigree to draw on managed to beat Atlanta at home, crush Carolina on the road, and edge Philadelphia after blowing a big lead. They were the underdog each time, and by now they’re used to the idea of playing as if they have nothing to lose.

No one expected them to get this far, and not many expect them to win now. It’s the perfect way to go into a Super Bowl, as the New York Giants certainly proved.

Give Warner just a few seconds of protection and he’s got an uncanny way of finding an open receiver. Get Fitzgerald isolated one-on-one enough and he’ll not only find a way to catch any ball within 20 yards of him, but will end up in the end zone once or twice, too.

You want physical? Sure Ryan Clark can knock people out and Troy Polamalu likes to launch himself like a missile at a ball carrier. But Anquan Boldin could flatten either one if they try to meet him head-first flying down the field. Boldin is so tough he missed only two games after having seven plates and 40 screws installed on his fractured face this year, and he likes nothing better than running over safeties trying to tackle him.

The Cardinals can hold their own in a slugfest, and can strike quick with finesse. They’ve already scored two touchdowns in the playoffs on trick plays so if all else fails they might even dust off the old Statue-of-Liberty play.

No, the Cardinals aren’t supposed to win this game. But they weren’t supposed to be here to begin with.

They’re a team of destiny. And right now destiny awaits.