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The Arizona Cardinals are the team you'd never thought they'd be: headed to the Super Bowl

The Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald exults after Tim Hightower caught a pass from quarterback Kurt Warner for Arizona’s last touchdown with 2:53 left. Fitzgerald had three touchdowns in the first half.  STORY, 4C

Associated Press

The Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald exults after Tim Hightower caught a pass from quarterback Kurt Warner for Arizona’s last touchdown with 2:53 left. Fitzgerald had three touchdowns in the first half. STORY, 4C

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The sound was like a century of frustration being uncorked all at once. You have never heard anything quite like it.

The last thrust of the Philadelphia Eagles had been turned away, and the fans were on their feet, celebrating the way they had seen all those other fans celebrate for all these years. The noise rose, bouncing off the walls, soaring into the roof.

The sight was the surreal dance of the most likeable bunch of unlikelies you could imagine. You have never seen anything like it, either.

The players cavorted on the field, grinning and embracing the way underdogs do. Bertrand Berry jogged around the stadium as he lifted a trophy toward the heavens. Kurt Warner rushed into the stands toward his wife. And Bill Bidwill, of all people, put a championship hat on his head.

The Cardinals, of all teams, are going to the Super Bowl.

And you have never imagined anything like it.

You are used to rags-to-riches stories. Over the years you have seen once-downtrodden teams like the Bucs and Rams win Super Bowls, and you have seen the Falcons and Bengals get there. You have seen the Lightning win a Stanley Cup and the Rays play in a World Series. You are used to the meek inheriting the earth.

But the Cardinals? Can't you count on anyone to lose anymore?

"This is the greatest sports story ever," linebacker Karlos Dansby yelled. "Ever EVER! Look at the history, man. Who else has been losing for 60 or 70 years? Some people don't even live for 60 or 70 years."

For the Cardinals, something finally blossomed in the desert Sunday. Arizona won the NFC championship, its first in 61 years, by beating the Eagles 32-25. The Cardinals came from behind, but not before falling from ahead, which in a way was typical. With this franchise, nothing has ever come easy.

This has been the doomed franchise of the NFL, dragging its disappointment from one city to another. It has been a team of wasted draft choices and pinched pennies, one where every glimmer of talent got away and every ounce of home died a slow death.

It has been the team of Bidwill's wallet, Conrad Dobler's teeth and Clyde Duncan's hands. Of Buddy Ryan's bombast, Bud Wilkinson's last stand and Dennis Green's meltdown, when he screamed that the opponent "was who we thought they were."

Amazingly, that team is in the Super Bowl.

"We've been resurrected," said defensive end Berry. "Anybody can step in and be a part of a championship team that's already built. But to go from where we were to where we are now, it's unbelievable."

Talk about your unbelievable sights. How about the 77-year-old man standing just short of the goal?

There was confetti underneath Bidwill's feet. There was a hat proclaiming a championship on his head. His fingerprints were on an NFC championship trophy.

After all these years, after all the scorn that has suggested he has been the worst of all NFL owners, perhaps you would have expected a bit of a smile. Perhaps you would have expected arms raised in triumph. Perhaps you would have expected a victory dance. You got none of it.

Bidwill talked evenly, quietly. Yes, he said, he thought there would be a day such as this, but he wasn't sure when. Yes, he said, he slept fine the night before. Yes, he said, winning was important.

Down deep, he was asked, what does this mean to you?

"It means we get to go to Tampa and get a shot at the big trophy," he said. And that was it. Bidwill was as understated as if his team had just finished another mediocre year. Perhaps deep inside, Bidwill was having a party. If so, no one else was invited.

Bidwill ought to be having a blast. His team is terrific to watch. It tosses the ball all over the lot, and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald might be the most fun to watch of any player in the league. The Cardinals did the Eagles a favor every time they didn't throw to him. And speaking of the Eagles, they would have been better off to quadruple-cover Fitzgerald on every play and take their chances with the rest of the Cardinals.

(An aside to Bucs general manager Mark Dominik: Can the Bucs get one of these very soon?)

For the record, the Cardinals certainly expect to be the underdog in the Super Bowl. They are braced to hear everyone talk about Pittsburgh's defense. They know the talking heads will pick against them. It takes awhile to rewrite history, after all.

Still, signs are pointing up. Like the one a woman held up late in the fourth quarter.

"We are who nobody thinks we are," it said.

The Arizona Cardinals are the team you'd never thought they'd be: headed to the Super Bowl 01/18/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 6:22am]
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