Cardinals Rule the NFC Roost, Migrate to Tampa

(Editor’s note: Yes, the Arizona Cardinals are your 2008 NFC Champions. Is this really true? Did this really happen? SbB correspondent Tuffy was there in Glendale to bear witness to the implausible. Here’s his story:)

As we left the site of the most unlikely outcome of this NFL season thus far (except perhaps “Cowboys Gel as Team, Go Miniature Golfing Together Often”), thousands of Arizona Cardinals fans chanted, “Su-per Bowl! Su-per Bowl!”  It was less of a declaration than an opportunity to hear the words aloud for the first time matched with the Cardinals team that just won 32-25 to take its first trip to the Big Game as a sand-based entity.

Arizona Cardinals rally

Last year’s Super Bowl took place in Glendale but applied to this franchise in 2008 as much as your roommate’s birthday party.  Sure, it’s at your place, but you’ll probably be down the road seeing a movie or getting drunk.  This year, we suspect Arizona would have invited the Eagles if they had been in charge of invitations.  They proved to be gracious partygoers, bringing their own gift: Andy Reid.

Philadelphia Eagles fan works the wedgie

(Not literally pictured: Andy Reid)

Our report from University of Phoenix Stadium (& more pics) after the jump.
Tailgating began at 9 am; breakfast for the kids included cheeseburgers and strip steaks.

Philadelphia Eagles fans enjoy a healthy breakfast

After we put in some time on the radio and scouted the area, we came to a few conclusions.  First, there were plenty more Eagles fans than expected.  Also, they seemed to embody the Phoenix spirit: like Atlanta and Orlando, no one’s actually from Arizona.  Most of the Eagles fans’ parked pickups with Arizona plates. Unless there’s an epidemic of rented pickups we’re unaware of, they’re locals of a kind.

The ratio of Cardinals fans to Eagles fans changed dramatically once we left the cheap parking and moved to the lawn where the most professional tailgating takes place.

Arizona Cardinals fans tailgating

As you can imagine, Cardinals fans treated the Eagles fans with their due respect.

Arizona Cardinals fans tastefully poo-poohing the competition

Truth be told, both sets of fans treated each other fairly well before game time.  Besides, the Cardinals’ fans were lost in their own reverie.  How could they help but be inspired by Michael Bidwell and Rod Graves?

Michael Bidwell

We’ve seen Bidwell twice since we got to town six months ago and he’s worn that blood red realtor’s coat both times.  Either he has a great patch of land in Sparta, he has a lot of motivation to move, or he’s diving into the PR role in the family business with great relish now that good times are upon the Valley.

After the rally (punctuated by an actual skilled speaker: Aeneas Williams), we wandered back to our car, found a group of people playing flip cup, and lost the next hour.  We can speak to the hospitality of the locals, but we can’t rightly remember much else.

We slid into our seat just before the national anthem (deeply impressed by Miss Sparks; what else has she done?), and got a taste of the crowd.  If the first-round contest provided energy based on playing with house money, the jitters had settled in on this NFC Championship crowd. This might actually be real; hell!

NFC Championship game

The first half, dominated by the Cardinals on the field, produced nervous elation from the Cards fans. The woman to our right kept saying, “I’m going to cry if they win. I’m going to cry.” We tried to calm her by reminding her that a whole half remained, to which she responded, “I’ll cry either way!” Fair enough.

In the second half, the tension ratcheted severely as the Eagles rallied back…

NFC Championship game

… and then fell short.

NFC Championship game

There was never a sense of victory until triple zeroes.  In fact, this might be the first time in our lives that we saw people leave early and knew it was because they just couldn’t take the pressure any more.  The woman to our right (not pictured, by the way) left with three minutes in the game. Others left at the two-minute warning.  We don’t blame them, but they missed out on this:

NFC Championship game

NFC Championship game

It’s hard to appreciate much of the nuance of a television sport from the upper deck, but it’s not that difficult to tell when a head coach abandons the run a quarter too early and manages the clock like he can report the clock to its parole officer any time he wants so don’t complain when he roughs you up a bit and makes you work overtime for no pay.

We know there were a few missed connections from Donovanslist, but this was another odd coaching adventure for the Flippered One.

Also, it’s easy to tell that Eagles fans were one stopped drive from becoming the new Boston.  Eagles fans slumped sullenly in their seats for the first half but turned truly obnoxious in the third quarter, singing and taunting and pretending they had never doubted.  After the last score, the worst offenders slid down the stairs and out the door post haste.

Of course, those that stayed took some rather unnecessary abuse from Cardinals fans, so there’s blame to go around.  Another note of amateurism: never wear the conference championship gear.  It’s an acknowledgment of second place.  When you see this person after the game, walk in the other direction.

NFC Championship game

(And we’re not sure what motivates people to get their picture taken with the gang force unit)

Follow the lead of your twice-baptized quarterback, Kurt Warner. As the confetti fell, Warner was shown on the big screen hugging an exuberant teammate back and looking more weary than thrilled. His words to his comrade? “We got one more.”

NFC Championship game

For all that, though… it’s your party this time, Arizona, and you can cry if you want to. We recommend crying out “Su-per Bowl!  Su-per Bowl!” Sounds good to us.