It seems my beloved teams are making a habit out of this Ridiculous Postseason Run business. In retrospect, it was the only way it could have gone down.
On the "SportsCenter" the night of the Buzzsaw That Is The Arizona Cardinals' NFC Championship victory — and that's a phrase that will never look right, ever — ESPN ran a list of "unlikely playoff winners." The group of Buzzsaw fans I was with, a group that, as tends to happen, is now pretty much full of lifelong friends, groaned as we saw footage of the 2006 George Mason Patriots, some hockey team I knew nothing about and, amusingly, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals.
Anyone who was around here back then will remember how that went down, my 6 a.m. drunken posts and dancing idiocy. (That World Series was also the start of DUAN.) But what most won't remember is how cynical I was about that team going into the playoffs. That is to say: I was pretty sick of watching them by the time National League Divisional Series began. I groused that this team didn't deserve to call themselves Cardinals, and my NLDS Game 1 live blog reads today like someone wanting his team wanting to hurry up and lose and get the pain overwith already. That was not a good team. They did not deserve to win the World Series. They got lucky. I am not complaining about this. It is simply fact.
I don't feel that way about this Arizona Cardinals run. This team is not getting lucky, or catching bad teams at the best possible time. This team has had the talent to do this all season, but they just never got it together. This playoff run — this NFC Championship run — involves a team finally tapping into the talent it had all along. The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals required Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver to turn into Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling overnight, and, somehow, insanely, they did. All this NFC Title run required was Larry Fitzgerald to remain Larry Fitzgerald, and the defensive unit to stay away from the snow. This is still shocking; it's the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl, after all. But this is not the impossible. This is a much better team than everyone thought. Those 2006 St. Louis Cardinals weren't.
Of course, this will seem more shocking to the rest of the sports world because, well, these are the Arizona Cardinals, and the notion of the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl is beyond normal human capacity for comprehension. And it's certainly shocking to me, who has spent more Sundays pleading with the bartender to switch the tiny black-and-white television in the back to the Cardinals than I care to count. (Everyone just assumes I'm watching the game for gambling purposes.) All I've ever wanted from this team was for someone to notice them. The NFL is the signature sporting conglomerate in the country, the massive monopoly that crushes all other sports in its path, and yet no one ever seemed aware that the 32nd team existed. I'd like to say that I was outraged by the slack-jawed, gaping "The Arizona Cardinals" coverage everyone has given this team for the last three weeks, but I can't. Why wouldn't they be dismissed? I always dismiss them too, and I never miss a game.
I feel like I've earned the right to wallow in this unprecedented achievement, but not as much as many of the people I met in Glendale this weekend. I can't claim to have sat in 110-degree heat at Sun Devil Stadium, for some reason tolerating the pain and sweat while the Cardinals lost by 30 points to the Giants and most of the upper level devolved into fisticuffs. That's the best kind of devotion: Devotion that has zero guarantee of ever paying off. This is not to say that I was 100 percent impressed with everyone at the Pink Taco. The general vibe at halftime — outside of my group of nervous, terrified diehards — was a little too gloating for my tastes, and, midway through the third quarter, when the momentum had clearly changed hands, a selection of idiots attempted to start The Wave. I began to worry that we didn't deserve this. That perhaps we were not ready.
And then that final drive, the huge plays by Tim Hightower (who, oddly, few people are talking about, even though he was a monster on that last drive), the two-point conversion, which was calming, which was "OK, so, if the worst case happens now, there's still overtime, and we'll be the only ones who know we have to score." When the Eagles made their last dash to tie it, University of Phoenix Stadium was, no doubt, louder than I have ever heard any building, at any sporting event, at any time. I was screaming too. This is different than baseball. Baseball is all buildup, and release. Football is one constant release.
It is worth noting that until Darnell Dockett fell to the ground after his "interception" on the final play, I didn't believe this would happen. (I screamed "FALL DOWN" louder than anything I'd screamed all day.) And then it happened, then it was over, then the Arizona Cardinals — the Arizona freaking Cardinals — were going to the Super Bowl. Everyone hugged, a few people teared up, mostly people looked like they'd just seen their grandmother do a triple somersault. It didn't make any sense. It came out of nowhere. Decades of pain, of pointlessness, erased in one ridiculous, preposterous two-week span. That was the only way it could have happened.
What's going to happen at the Super Bowl? Forgive me, but I really don't care. Obviously, I want the Buzzsaw to win, but mostly, I just want people to have to say "Pittsburgh Steelers vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS in the Super Bowl." I want those blank stares, those confused vocal inflections, those scoffing "what a crazy YEAR" sneers. No matter what happens on February 1, even if the Buzzsaw loses by 40 points, it'll never be the same to be an Arizona Cardinals fan again. It turns out: It really was worth all of it. Who knew? I sure didn't.
Five hours after the game, at a bar in Phoenix, our exhausted, piss-drunk gaggle of fans drank and watched Chris Berman, with a bewildered shake of his head, say the same thing Kurt Warner had said, and we had said to ourselves all day. "The Arizona Cardinals ... are in the Super Bowl." It'll never sound right. That's OK. It shouldn't sound right. It should sound amazing and new and absurd and wonderful and all of it. It should sound as startling as it was to watch it happen. And, somehow, it's true. I will not question it. I will not worry about it. I'll just drink it in, and marvel that the world is a strange place. And I will dodge the meteor. The Arizona Cardinals ... are in the Super Bowl.
(This picture contains every diehard Arizona Cardinals fan known to man. OK, actually, there's a Cowboys fan in there.)