It is here. The highlight of national television, the battle between the unexpected, the Superbowl.
Arizona didn't play well in the final month of the regular season, posting a 1-4 record. But they didn't have to play great because they had already won the NFC West title midway through the season, securing a playoff spot.
What had the looks of being a tough road turned out to be a mission statement: The Arizona Cardinals were for real. After having a regular season record of 9-7 they set out to become the second team with nine wins to reach the Superbowl, persevering throughout the season to reach the ultimate goal.
The Cardinals hosted the young Atlanta Falcons for their first playoff game, and notched their first postseason win since 1947. Arizona then set out on the road to face off against the NFC's No. 2 seed, the Carolina Panthers. The Cardinals beat the Panthers in a shocking victory, disrupting quarterback Jake Delhomme's passing game and intercepting him five times.
The Cardinals captured a spot in the NFC championship game, earning a chance to go to the Superbowl, something that their franchise had never accomplished. They were up against another unlikely opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles, who were the sixth seed in the playoffs with a 9-6-1 record.
In week 13, the Cardinals were blown out by the Eagles 48-20, but the the outcome of this matchup proved to be much different as the Cardinals pulled out a win and a trip to the Superbowl.
The Pittsburgh Steelers story is a bit different than the Cardinals. The Steelers started off the 2008 season with the league's toughest schedule, playing seven playoff teams from the previous year. Throughout media talks, many doubted Pittsburgh and they had much adversity to overcome. By season's end, the Steelers proved their critics wrong by posting a 12-4 record and a No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
They had a bye week in the first round of the playoffs as they rested their team's key players such as the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, James Harrison and quarterback "BIG BEN" Roethlisberger, who suffered a severe concussion in the final game of the regular season.
In week 2 of the postseason the Steelers faced a San Diego Chargers team whose postseason started before everyone else's, when they had to beat the Denver Broncos in the final week of the regular season in order to make the playoffs. The Chargers were on a roll, beating a streaking Indianapolis Colts team in the previous week. The Steelers came prepared to play the Chargers, whom they beat 11-10 in their regular season matchup.
The Steelers played the last playoff game of the weekend and were the last remaining top-seeded team who had a bye week. This time, the score wouldn't be so close as the Steelers pulled away from the Chargers in the third quarter and won the game 35-24.
The AFC Championship showcased a team that had been beaten by Pittsburgh twice already, the Baltimore Ravens, who were coming off of a surprising win over the top seeded Tennessee Titans. As the Steelers prepared for the AFC Championship against the Ravens, history was riding on their backs for both good and bad reasons alike.
If the Steelers defeated their next opponent, they would have a chance to win the franchise's sixth Superbowl and have the most Superbowl wins in the league's history. If they were to lose, history would be repeating itself because of the fact that prior to this game, Pittsburgh was 0-2 in AFC Championship games at Heinz Field. This was the third time that the Steelers and Ravens would face off all season, and only one team would emerge as the leader of the AFC.
Pittsburgh's No. 1 ranked defense led the way and helped beat the Ravens 23-14 at home to earn their spot in Superbowl XLIII. Both the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers have overcome much adversity to reach this year's Superbowl, but "losers are not remembered" as go the infamous words of former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, which is why only one team can emerge from this match up to become Superbowl champions and be remembered for their accomplishments forever.
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