Monday, February 2, 2009


“You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.”
~ Roger Kahn

There is no sight sadder than that of a bowl of brown guacamole in your living room the morning after your team has lost the Super Bowl. Had the Arizona Cardinals won Super Bowl XLIII last night, I’m sure I would have cleaned up the living room after the game, but when you lose a nail-biter like that, somehow you just can’t bring yourself to straighten up the mess right away. (Did you know that more avocados are sold in the United States on Super Bowl weekend than at any other time in the year? It’s a chips and guacamole thang.)

The final score of Super Bowl XLIII was Pittsburgh Steelers 27 – Arizona Cardinals 23. But that hardly tells the story; that doesn’t paint you a picture of the E Ticket ride this game turned out to be. Forget about anyone saying after the game “I’m going to Disneyland” as I’m not so sure this game wasn’t PLAYED at Disneyland. If I told you that one quarterback completed 31 of 43 passes for 377 yards, with 3 touchdown passes to 1 interception, you would say, “Wow!” If I then added, “But he was the quarterback for the losing team” you would say, “No way!” Yes, way! Those were Kurt Warner’s numbers. That’s what sort of game this was. It was arguably the most exciting Super Bowl ever played. (Remember when the games used to be Super Blowouts? Well, we’ve had some instant classics in recent times.)

Despite the fact that the Cardinals lost Super Bowl XLIII in the final minutes, the red birds should hold their beaks high because they were "overwhelming underdogs” (to borrow a phrase from Yogi Berra) and they did indeed “Shock The World.” In fact, I’ve never been prouder of them. I went out this morning and bought a Cardinals Super Bowl XLIII T-shirt and, with God as my judge, I would NOT have made this purchase if the team had won the game. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but it may have something to do with what Roger Kahn wrote in his book "The Boys Of Summer":

“You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat. Losing after great striving is the story of man, who was born to sorrow, whose sweetest songs tell of saddest thought…”

I think the best thing I’ve ever written was a review of the baseball book "Diamonds Are Forever", and it was in that publication where I encountered the Roger Kahn quote. I always thought it was a great line, but to be honest, I never fully understood it because - up until last night - whenever it has been most important to me, the teams that I rooted for have won: The 1972/’73 Miami Dolphins; the Los Angeles Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII; the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers; the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks; the Anaheim Angels in the 2002 World Series; the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII (on behalf of the Miami Dolphins, ya understand). So, until last night, I never mentally grasped Roger Kahn’s observation. But I get it now. And I’m almost as surprised the Arizona Cardinals lost Super Bowl XLIII as I was surprised they got in it.

Before the game yesterday, I played a Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers song for good luck: "Even the losers get lucky sometimes." Ah, yes, Tom. Sometimes.

Shortly after moving to Arizona from Los Angeles in 1992, I became a Cardinals fan. I caught on right at the end of the Joe Bugel era when Steve Beuerlein was quarterbacking and my favorite player, Larry Centers, was making wonderful catches coming out of the backfield and displaying some of the greatest body control and balance I’ve ever seen. Somewhere I still have the Larry Centers autographed photo that my Pa picked up for me one special promotion day at the Turf Paradise horse racing track in Phoenix. I even packed the Cardinals in my heart and carried them to Los Angeles when I moved back there in 1994. Those Cardinals could score on any team, but they just couldn’t stop the other teams from also scoring. I felt they were just one or two defensive players and an attitude adjustment away from being a real powerhouse. When the Cardinals organization replaced Bugel with defensive mastermind Buddy Ryan, I thought that the last piece was now in place. Little did I know that, in actuality, it was the last straw. Uhp! I’m an idiot.

Over the next couple of years I saw the pattern. I saw how the Cardinals’ players who were becoming premier performers and expected to be paid what they were worth, were let go or traded away. I unmistakenly came to believe that winning was not all that important to Bill Bidwill and I came to understand why this was, and always had been, a losing organization. I felt that the prestige of owning a football team was enough for Bill Bidwill, and that owning a WINNING NFL franchise was not the goal. So, I got rid of my bloody red Cardinals shirt and moved on.

When Michael Bidwill took over the day-to-day operations of the team, I sensed a more competitive spirit in the organization, but nevertheless, I believed this was still the “Same Old Cardinals.” That is until I saw what they did to the Carolina Panthers. That’s when I knew it was true, that somehow - from the start of postseason play - this team had transformed itself, reinvented itself and developed determination, desire and grit. True grit. And I’ve always loved Kurt Warner. Did you see him interviewed after the game? A sharp-dressed man, patient and gracious, still smiling in defeat. Not a Cardinal – a saint.

I’ve never seen so much enthusiasm in Phoenix as I did during the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. It was the first time in 14 years that I felt a true sense of “community” in Phoenix – a city that I hate in a state that I hate.

Minutes after the Cardinals defeated the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game to win a spot in Super Bowl XLIII, my Brother, Napoleon, and I walked to some secondhand store in our neighborhood (Nappy wanted to buy a football to throw around). Coming home, we saw three little girls, one little boy and their mom, all wearing Cardinals shirts and standing on a street corner, holding up pro-Cardinals signs and shouting with joy. I yelled across the avenue, “Super Bowl, Babee!” and they went nuts. It was one of the sweetest sights my eyes have ever embraced and it is one of the few nice memories I’ll pack and take with me when I leave this town someday.

Last night, shortly after the Super Bowl loss, I took a plastic Super Bowl logo ring off one of the cupcakes that my Sister had brought over to the house and I put it on the ring finger of my left hand (I can do that ‘cause I’m unmarried) and I walked a few blocks south to that same spot where Mom and Her Kids were celebrating exactly two Sundays earlier. I just wanted to stand there for a minute under the street light, alone, and feel the Ghost of Joys past.

At one point during my little postgame walk last night, I saw a tall, grey-headed man coming toward me. Even in the darkness I could make out the large Arizona Cardinals symbol on the front of his shirt. I’m something of a loner by nature and not generally inclined to speak first to strangers, but just as we were passing each other, I said to the fellow, “It was a hell of a game though.” He upped a first-class laugh and answered, “Oh, I KNOW!” Those were the only words exchanged as we passed like sad ships in the night.

Super Bowl XLVIII contained a few disappointments beyond just the Cardinals coming up a shade short on the field of play. I felt that it was an egregious mistake on the part of the officials that they didn’t immediately eject Steeler James Harrison from the game after flagging him for unsportsmanlike conduct against a Cardinal. I mean, Harrison looked like a Central Park mugger beating up on a bespectacled tourist named Wally! That was beyond “unnecessary roughness”; that was "battery.” I was also disappointed (but not surprised) that Deion Sanders attended the Super Bowl after having said earlier in the postseason that he wouldn’t attend the game if the Arizona Cardinals somehow made it that far. But then Deion always has been 94% mouth.

Although (as Nappy has been known to point out) the most commonly heard complaint from the losers on a little league baseball diamond is “The Ump cheated”, I am not one to groan ‘n’ moan about the officiating. My philosophy has always been: You’d better play well enough to overcome one or two bad calls from the officials or else you really don’t deserve to win the game. And therefore, other than a few very rare occasions when referees blew calls so badly that I wondered if perhaps the fix was in, I don’t grouse about errors in judgment from the zebras. However, I felt that the final call of the game was highly questionable. If it was a matter of whether or not quarterback Kurt Warner’s arm was moving forward (as if to pass) at the moment the football was knocked loose from his hand, then I believe that even the Pinball Wizard (a deaf, dumb and blind kid) knows that this was an incomplete pass and not a fumble. If the officials had made the call correctly, the Cardinals would have been left with about 5 seconds on the clock and a chance to attempt one last Hail Mary. And with the “miraculous” season they'd had, who knows?...

But regardless, no excuses; no shouts of “foul” from me. Game over, both on the field and in my mind. And today the sun does not shine as brightly as usual in Phoenix because last night I fell in love with a team that broke my heart.

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

Link: My review of the baseball book “Diamonds Are Forever.”


Anonymous said...

Good stuff STM. I knew you'd be writing on this, but I'm a bit surprised you got to it so soon. I thought you'd wallow for a day or two.

One of the many great things about sports is...

"There's always next year."


Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Thanks, OL' WP.
Yeah, I like to get to it quickly before the wound stops bleeding. Who wants ink when they can write with their own blood?

>>[One of the many great things about sports is..."There's always next year."]<<

It used to be that the Arizona Cardinals were saying that at about the 5th or 6th week into the football season. Ha!

<"As a dog returns to his own vomit,
so a fool repeats his folly."
~ Proverbs 26:11>

Anonymous said...

"It used to be that the Arizona Cardinals were saying that at about the 5th or 6th week into the football season. Ha!"


mousiemarc said...

There were a few bad calls in this game for sure. However, surprisingly I was pleased with the officiating for the most part.

I too was a root toot tooting for the cardinals. After the horribly officiated game a few super bowls back (Steelers V. Seahawks) I figured the refs would fix the game. That super bowl was especially bad in the officiating department. I honestly feel the officials ruined that game for both teams.

I do however believe the steelers beat the cardinals in this one. However, the cardinals in my opinion are the best team to not win the super bowl I've ever seen. They played like champs and this game is A CLASSIC now. Honestly, best super bowl I've ever seen. All the drama and fire of two heavy weights going at it... I don't think we'll see another game like this one for a long long time. Wear your cardinals gear proudly...

P.S. I'm still pissed about the horrible officiating in the steelers vs. seahawks game.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

>>[However, the cardinals in my opinion are the best team to not win the super bowl I've ever seen.]<<

Not bad considering that they were supposedly "THE WORST TEAM TO EVER MAKE THE NFL PLAYOFFS." (And I'll confess that I thought that too... until the postseason games began and the Superbirds showed up.)


Hmmm... Why do I feel so out of sync? Someone put 6 months back on that time clock; this game ain't over yet!

<"As a dog returns to his own vomit,
so a fool repeats his folly."
~ Proverbs 26:11>