An hour before the tailgating area in Glendale opened Saturday, I met more Arizona Cardinals fans than I'd met in my life. There were three. We were packing the car.
You can imagine, then, how overwhelmed I was when we actually arrived and saw thousands of them. Sure, most of them probably didn't care about the team until sometime about a month ago, or they got tickets because they got a good deal on a whirlpool last week or something. One family I talked to seemed unaware the Cardinals had ever even been in St. Louis. It was fine. I was just happy they existed.
Walking into the official team store was quite the experience. I've never been able to find official Buzzsaw merchandise anywhere, and, predictably, the team's Web site has never been able to figure out e-commerce. (An attempt to buy an Anquan Boldin jersey two years ago ended with three extra charges, countless phone calls to bored receptionists and, ultimately, no jersey.) But here! Here they have Neil Rackers bobbleheads!
Seeing all this in one giant gulp — only my second trip to the state of Arizona ever — was a bit overwhelming. I tried to come up with the best analogy for going from never knowing any Buzzsaw fans to being surrounded by 50,000 surprisingly loud ones for the first playoff game in 61 years. It was a struggle. Here are the best three:
1. A kid grows up in Bible Belt Arkansas afraid to tell the world he's gay, then stumbles across the Market Street parade in San Francisco.
2. A boy raised by vegans is pumped with Scotch and given a table at Peter Luger's.
3. A.C. Green's wedding night.
Yep, sex and food. Sounds about right.
Anyway, there's not much more I can tell you about the game except that I flew all the way out there, paid for the tickets and flight, took a red eye back, put off my work and personal life, all for this one game ... and I was outside smoking during the turning point, Antrel Rolle's fumble recovery to start the second half. I walked back in the stadium, looked at the scoreboard and, suddenly, it was 21-17. Hey, cool ... thanks, NICOTINE.
But yes. I saw the Buzzsaw win a playoff game, I screamed like a moron for four hours, I've barely slept for three days and this is all just getting started. That's probably the best way to describe life as a Buzzsaw fan. The Cardinals have to win a World Series to send me into apoplexy; all Arizona has to do is win a wild-card playoff game that, had Keith Brooking remembered how to defend a third-and-16 play, they would have lost in the most crushing way possible. They're surely going to get hammered Saturday night. That's all right. Baby steps.
Plus, now I have this bobblehead of Neil Rackers.
12. Miami Dolphins (11-6). Well, that didn't really work out. You know what else is starting to look evident? That this will be the one season the Patriots didn't dominate, an anomaly. The Dolphins were nice this year, but Chad Pennington won't pull that off again, and, you know, the Wildcat isn't all that shocking of a formation, after all. The Jets are going to have to start over, and the Bills are still the Bills. The Patriots are going to go 13-3 next year no matter who's quarterback — I still think they're signing a big dog running back to dominate ESPN when they're not updating us on Favre — and we're going to go through all this, again. Great.
11. Minnesota Vikings (10-7). Hey, it's not so bad, Minnesota! This guy is your Senator now! (For the record, I think Al Franken will be a fine Senator. But I'll say I'm glad Dick Durbin doesn't have a video like that in his past.)
10. Atlanta Falcons (11-6). Allow me to take this opportunity to congratulate Jay Mariotti on his new column on AOL Fanhouse. (I'm doing my part to make him more famous.) I mostly feel bad for Lisa Olson, another AOL hire, who's awesome and no one will notice now, and Michael David Smith, my old college pal and excellent reporter who now has to deal with the stigma of having being called a great journalist by Jay Mariotti. Like always, it's time to just accept the wisdom of Roger Ebert: "On your way out, don't let the door bang you on the ass." Right now, there's a Mottram brother doing backflips that he gets to deal with MJD and Skeets rather than that guy. And half of "Around The Horn" is now employed by AOL Fanhouse. Hmmm.
9. Indianapolis Colts (12-5). I spent a few hours in Indianapolis over holiday break; I might dislike that city intensely, but I must confess, the new airport is rather outstanding. I appreciate Indianapolis recognizing that it's important to make people feel comfortable doing the one thing everyone wants to do when they're in Indianapolis: Leave. My mind keeps floating back to my new obsession: Fat cars! God, if these only existed.
8. The Buzzsaw That Is The Arizona Cardinals (10-7). I really don't think the Buzzsaw has much of a chance Saturday night, if just because it's probably a sign of your level of satisfaction when you dump Gatorade on your coach after beating the Falcons. One thing I'd like to warn my fellow Buzzsaw fan brethren about: Please do not talk all week about how we are being "disrespected." It's bad enough that players do this. Yes, no one will be picking the Buzzsaw this week. This does not mean that "no one believes in us." Of course no one believes in you. You're a fan. I don't believe you can beat the Panthers either. If we somehow do pull off the upset, it would not be a result of your status as a True Believer. Fans don't get to play the respect card. Players use a lack of respect as motivation, as a rallying cry. Fans don't need to do that; all we have to do is watch the game. That requires, by definition, no motivation at all.
And, now that that's over, more on Kurt Warner's drawings of God. (Or Jesus. Even he's not quite sure. Have to love that someone had the intestinal fortitude, though, to go to Kurt Warner and say, "OK, draw God. Go.")
7. San Diego Chargers (9-8). We probably shouldn't be too surprised that Costas is such a fan of Darren Sproles. (Cheap. Sorry. I'm tired.) Meanwhile, Marmalard is starting to look like the NFL's Next Great Quarterback, and man, that's a depressing world to live in, isn't it? By the way, count me as one of those people absolutely obsessed with The MLB Network. They're showing the Molina-Mets game later this week, they have Harold Reynolds and their hot stove experts are Tom Verducci and Jon Heyman. And they're a whole channel about baseball, 24 hours a day. Yeah, you know, that's something I might have some interest in.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6-1). Are we really ready for Philadelphia to be the new Boston? All told, I think Phillies fans handled the whole World Series thing with considerably more restraint than Boston fans did, but if the Eagles pull this out, all bets are off. When the Eagles win the Super Bowl, expect Deadspin to be nothing but posts of Daulerio posing like this. (NSFW) So go Giants.
5. Baltimore Ravens (12-5). When I got back to New York yesterday, I watched parts of the Buzzsaw game and the analysis afterward. I kind of love that Matt Millen refers to Jerome Bettis as "Bussy." It's a nickname of a nickname. Some guesses on other nicknames on the NBC set:
Dan Patrick: Patty Man!
Keith Olbermann: Che.
Jerome Bettis: Bussy.
Tiki Barber: Katie.
Matt Millen: Stephen Hawking.
Peter King: Wingman.
Bob Costas: Manute.
4. Carolina Panthers (12-4). One advantage for the Buzzsaw this week: Bank of America Field. I did an article for Sporting News earlier this year about attending a game there. That place is like watching a game in a fish tank. Don't move too much, or make too much noise, or the players might swim away in a huff. I know they're undefeated there this year, but, as with the Falcons, the Cardinals couldn't have a better next opponent and venue.
Don't get me wrong. They're still losing. I know. Just ... dreaming ...
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4). Whatever your thoughts about The Dirty, you have to give them credit for bringing Mike Tice back in the public consciousness. If I had the opportunity to drunkenly sing "God Bless America" with Mike Tice, I'd leap at it. I would certainly hope you would too.
2. Tennessee Titans (13-3). Talking to some Buzzsaw fans this weekend, they were debating which city they'd go to for their annual Cardinals-on-the-road trip next year. (This year it was Washington. They said no one is ever mean to them; they just look surprised to learn there are actual Cardinals fans.) The discussion was between Tennessee or Chicago. I will say this: Only someone who lives in Arizona year round would be so afraid of cold that this would even be a discussion. It's Chicago! Go to Chicago! Maybe you'll accidentally get elected as a public official while you're there!
1. New York Giants (12-4). You know all that time I spent in the Giants locker room? It was for a magazine feature that ended up scheduled for a week we had a double issue, so ... so it's on the Web now! It's running in five parts throughout the week. I need you to read it, because, with the Eagles-Giants game coming up, Daulerio has informed me he will not read it unless "it has something that will cause the Giants harm." Makes sense.