TAMPA — The Cardinals know what you think of them.
They've been called losers more times than they can count. But it's okay. They're quite used to it, actually.
This is why the opportunity before them is so precious.
A team with a long and wretched history, the Arizona Cardinals know they can change the perception of their franchise with a victory Sunday. The significance of the opportunity isn't lost on them.
"For me, I wanted to be a part of something memorable," defensive end Bertrand Berry said of joining the Cardinals. "You can always go somewhere they're already established and just plug in and be a winner. But when you go somewhere they haven't had success and you start to win, they'll remember you forever. I wanted to be remembered."
There hasn't been much to recall before this season. The Cardinals won a league championship in 1947, but for most of the time between then and now, they've been consistently dreadful. Before finishing 9-7 in 2008, the Cardinals were better than .500 twice in 31 previous seasons.
And before ripping off three postseason wins in this unlikely run to the Super Bowl, the Cardinals had one playoff win (a '98 wild-card game in Dallas) since that '47 title. Outside of that, the playoffs have been pretty much a foreign concept.
It is a rare chance to be part of something historic, but Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner knows the feeling well.
He was under center for the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV, taking St. Louis to a point no one expected. The Rams went on to defeat the Tennessee Titans, and the memories stick with Warner.
"There's no question that it's really special," he said. "In this business, so much of who you are is based on stats or wins and losses. One of the things that is going to be most special about my career when it's all said and done — whatever happens this week — is the fact that I was able to be a part of two organizations that nobody expected anything from, and I helped them get to the Super Bowl in whatever capacity that was.
"As small or as big as (my role) was, that's something I will hang onto for a lifetime. … Stats, they are what they are. The bottom line is you want to impact the places you (play) and the people you're around, and I hope that I've done that."
The Cardinals seem to see themselves differently these days. They brought in a coaching staff led by former Steelers assistant Ken Whisenhunt that has known mostly success. A championship mentality has spread throughout the club.
Maybe changing other people's opinions of you begins within.
"I think it's something that takes time and you have to believe strongly in what you're doing," Whisenhunt said. "It takes getting your team on the same page and I think that's what we've done. It's really come to fruition for us in the playoffs. If you do it this way, it gives you a chance to be successful."
Perceptions can be difficult to change. But the Cardinals seem well on their way.
"People are so used to seeing certain teams in the Super Bowl," Berry said. "Everybody wants to see New England, the Cowboys, the Steelers — those are teams people can identify with because they've seen them before.
"Change usually comes with a lot of resistance. That's all fine and good. We're worried about what we do as a football team. As long as those guys in that locker room believe in each other, we're going to continue to go to work and see if we can make people change their opinions.
"If we're champions, they can't say much else."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.