TEMPE, Ariz. — The signs are posted strategically around the Cardinals locker room on simple 8-by-11 sheets of paper. At first glance, they appear to be just one of several bulletin-board postings. But a closer look reveals a powerful message:
"Prove It! Anything is possible."
One look at the teams in today's NFC Championship Game makes that clear. The Cardinals have long been one of the NFL's most downtrodden franchises. And the Eagles barely qualified for the playoffs, yet sit one win shy of the Super Bowl.
These teams, neither of which won 10 games in the regular season, overcame doubts and, in the Cardinals' case, ridicule.
"It's all about trying to do something special," Cardinals defensive tackle and former FSU star Darnell Dockett said. "I don't think anybody in the world, not even my own grandma, my own son, would have ever picked us to be in this situation. We're one of the most talented teams in the NFL, and we're tired of talking about potential."
The Eagles feel they, too, have been underestimated, largely because of a tie with the lowly Bengals and a blowout loss to Baltimore in November.
That common thread will make today's action even more intense.
"That's why this is going to be one of the biggest games in all the playoffs, because nobody picked them to be here, nobody picked us to be here," Dockett said. "It's just two underdogs that have been playing well and making plays, and now the two underdogs meet head to head. It's going to be a bloodbath."
Until the past two weeks, the Cardinals were a tough sell. Their division (the NFC West) was arguably the worst in football. Arizona lost four of its final six regular-season games, including a 47-7 throttling at New England and a 28-point loss at Philadelphia. Some pundits wondered whether Arizona was perhaps the worst playoff team in history.
The questions made the Cardinals tougher. Now, playoff wins over Atlanta and Carolina might galvanize them for a long time.
"I've been on teams that have had that mentality in the playoffs, and those have been some of the closest teams I've been on," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "I really believe we can use this to continue to have success in years to come because of it."
The Eagles didn't seal a playoff spot until late on the final day of the regular season. Once there, they weren't taken seriously.
"I think just because of how we got into the playoffs and us being a sixth seed, a lot of people didn't expect much from us, and we've kind of surprised some people," running back Brian Westbrook said. It's a far cry from the Eagles' other recent trips to the NFC title game.
"Those other seasons we've been, of course, the No. 1 seed getting the bye and everybody expected us to win the Super Bowl and not just get there," Westbrook added. "But now we are kind of opening people's eyes a little bit."
And these teams are enjoying every minute. Upon leaving the field after beating the Giants last week, Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson sprinted to the locker room pumping his fists and telling the world, "They didn't believe in us, baby!"
The Cardinals and Eagles have turned their unshakable belief into unbelievable success.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]