It is the ultimate prize in the NFL: The Lombardi Trophy.
In order to achieve this prize, you must fight through 17 long weeks (not counting the preseason) of hard work, pain, triumph, and failure, and hope to put yourself into a playoff with 12 other teams who have separated themselves from the pack.
Then you must endure up to another four weeks of struggle before finally earning a chance to play for all the marbles.
The journey is arduous, the challenges many. At every turn, injury or illness could take you out of the running. You are a member on one of 32 teams vying for the same lofty goal, and near the end of the journey some of these teams have no other goal in mind but to keep you from attaining your objective.
Once there, you are matched up against an opponent that has been deemed your equal, and only one can emerge victorious.
But winning and placing your hand on the trophy is a culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice, and in that moment, everything you gave up, everything you endured, everything you overcame are all worth it.
Two teams have reached this pinnacle in their respective divisions: The ever-contending Pittsburgh Steelers from the East, and the surprising upstart Arizona Cardinals from the West. In less than two weeks' time, one of these two teams will hold aloft the "holy grail" of the NFL, and lay claim to the title of World Champion.
This puts me in mind of the search for a grail of a different type, the "Holy Grail" of Christian legend, which was brilliantly parodied by the Monty Python comedy troupe way back in 1975.
**author's side note: I was also prodded to write this article after commenting on another author's well-written work on a Super Bowl prediction set to the theme of The Princess Bride, and I couldn't resist the challenge**
As I am sure we all know, the Holy Grail of legend was purported to be the cup which Christ last drank from at the Last Supper; possession of this cup was said to give the bearer great power, and drinking from it—if you believe the movies—would give that person long life and prosperity.
Of course, King Arthur was said to lead the Knights (pronounced ke-nig-hits) of the Round Table on an arduous quest to the Holy Land in search of this prize. They never were said to have found it, despite having the wizard Merlin on their side.
In true Python fashion, Arthur and his band of merry men—oops, sorry, wrong movie—Arthur and his knights never reached the grail, but they did experience hardship and challenge on their arduous journey (fun word, arduous), and triumphed over almost all of them despite themselves.
In the spirit of fun, I thought I would place the Cardinals and Steelers in a couple of "key" scenes from the masterfully written Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
This first installment is a remake of the NFC Championship Game, pitting Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals as King Arthur, accompanied by his sidekick Larry Fitzgerald, against Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles as the Black Knight.
There is absolutely no pun or ulterior motive here: I simply picked the two quarterbacks to play the roles. Chill, okay?
Warner: Come, Larry.
McNabb: None Shall Pass.
McNabb: None Shall Pass.
Warner: I have no quarrel with you, good sir Donovan, but I must cross this bridge.
McNabb: Then you shall die.
Warner: I command you as King of the NFC West to stand aside!
McNabb: I move for no man.
Warner: So be it!
(suddenly 10 more black knights pop up behind McNabb and form into what suspiciously resembles a cover-two defensive set. Warner turns and whistles, and nine more travellers form up to face the black knight team.
Warner reaches into his bag, pulls out a funny-shaped pig bladder, hollers "Charge!", and flings it over the heads of the opposing knights, where his sidekick Larry catches it and runs across the bridge. While Sir Donovan is watching this transpire, King Warner sneaks over and cuts off his left arm.)
Warner: Now stand aside, worthy adversary.
McNabb: 'Tis but a scratch.
Warner: A scratch? your left arm's off!
McNabb: No it isn't.
Warner, pointing at McNabb's obviously missing arm: What's that, then?
McNabb: I've had worse.
Arthur: You liar!
McNabb: Come on, you pansy!
(Warner turns and whistles again, and over the hill trots a short little man who looks suspiciously like sidekick Larry, but that's not possible because Larry is already across the bridge. Warner pulls another pig bladder out of his pouch, hollers, "Huzzah!" and pitches the bladder to the Larry look-a-like, who we will call "Tim".
As Tim streaks by Sir McNabb, he pulls out his sword and lops off his right arm, then continues across the bridge.)
Warner: Victory is mine! (he kneels and begins to pray, "We thank thee, Lord, for allow-")
McNabb: Come on, then!
McNabb: Have at you!
Warner: You are indeed brave, Sir Knight, but the fight is mine.
McNabb: Oh, had enough, then?
Warner: You idiot, you've got no arms left!
McNabb: Yes, I have!
Warner, pointing again at the obviously wounded knight: Look!
McNabb: Just a flesh wound (and he walks over and kicks Warner).
Warner: Look, stop that.
McNabb: Cardinal! Cardinal! Squawk Squawk!
(A third time Warner turns and whistles, and yet another traveller comes over the hilltop. This man is larger than Tim, but has a bad attitude. King Warner stops him for a moment, they argue about something insignificant, then the fellow known as Lord Boldin streaks past the Black Knight's cronies, and as he passes McNabb, who is standing there in disbelief, his sword swings out from his hip and chops off McNabb's left leg.
Lord Boldin turns and catches the pig bladder that King Warner has just thrown—where in the world is he getting those things, anyways?—and streaks across the bridge to join his friends, sidekick Larry and Little Tim.)
McNabb, turning on King Warner: Right, I'll do you for that!
Warner: You'll what?
McNabb: Come 'ere!
Warner: What are you gonna do, bleed on me?!
McNabb: I'm INVINCIBLE!
Warner: You're a loony!
McNabb: The Black Knight always triumphs! Have at you! (and he hops towards King Warner)
(King Warner, obviously tired of this charade, pulls his own sword and lops off Sir McNabb's other leg; then, to drive the point home, he slaughters a passing pig, pulls out its' bladder, inflates it right in front of Sir McNabb, and tosses it nonchalantly to sidekick Larry, who leaps up and catches it with one hand.)
McNabb: Alright, then. We'll call it a draw. Wait, can we have a draw? I didn't know that battles to the death could end in a draw. Can they? I've never experienced that before in my Knighting career.
Warner shaking his head and sighing loudly: Come, fellow travellers.
(King Warner leads his remaining travellers across the bridge and on towards the grail. The Black Knight's cronies, seeing their leader dismembered so easily, put up no opposition in the end. Instead they gather him up and take him back to town, where the townsfolk lambast him for giving up and therefore failing to protect their bridge, them behead him and throw his body in the nearest river.
None of the other knights on the team receive much criticism at all, because it is obvious that if the Black Knight had led them better, they would have surely prevailed.)
And thus is the story of how the Arizona Cardinals prevailed against the formidable Philadelphia Eagles.
In our next episode, we will discover how the Pittsburgh Steelers achieved victory over their bitter foes, the Baltimore Ravens.
Until then, enjoy.