Pittsburgh Or Arizona?

Tyler McCourtContributor IFebruary 1, 2009

The naked model at the slamming Moves Magazine Super Bowl party Wednesday night sauntered past the sushi bar, creating a small stir with only red and white body paint covering her R-rated regions. Bearing the Arizona Cardinals logo and the familiar No. 13 jersey number of the team’s evangelical Christian quarterback, the design scheme was drenched in irrefutable irony.

So take heart, Jackie Smith and Rich Gannon: When people refer to the “Biggest Busts in Super Bowl History,” they are no longer talking about you.

As for everybody else? Take a chill pill. We’re going through some challenging times in the U.S. and across the football-watching world, but nothing about Sunday’s game between the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers should be causing us to get our panties (sprayed-on or otherwise) in a bunch.

Look, I know the wretched excess of the two-week buildup for Super Bowl XLIII—and of the NFL in general—tends to get us worked up about everything from Ben Roethlisberger's ribs to the real Kurt Warner's glove-covered hands. I understand that money, bragging rights, and legacies are on the line, that football is not a subtle game, and that the passion of the paying and viewing customers is what drives the process in the first place.

That’s all good, and I’m proud to play my part. It’s just that the anger, negativity, and over-the-top intensity swirling about as we prepare to end another highly entertaining football season has me pleading for a dose of perspective.

We’re getting ready to watch a football game, and a potentially thrilling one at that, in many cases with beers, chips, homemade chili, and family and friends at our disposal. It’s a de-facto national holiday, and it’s the only time this year that this many people around the world will be paying attention to the same thing at the same time.

As far as I can tell, that’s the closest thing to a Kumbaya moment we can expect to experience in the near future.

Yet everywhere I turn, bitterness abounds. Talk to the typical Eagles fan and, rather than celebrating a highly successful season, he or she is down on quarterback Donovan McNabb and angry about the team’s inability to complete an epic NFC championship game comeback in Arizona.

The day after the Eagles’ divisional-round playoff upset of the defending champion Giants, my buddy Bob shared an email from a Philly fan which stated, “If we don’t win it all, the only thing this will have done is screwed up our draft position.” Nice.

The other day on Radio Row, I went on the air with Nestor Aparicio of WNST-AM in Baltimore, and we started discussing the Ravens. I figured he’d be thrilled about the team’s surprising appearance in the AFC championship game after its 5-11 finish in ’07, and psyched about its exceptionally promising future, with a young franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco, a successful first-time coach in John Harbaugh, and a revitalized future Hall of Famer in middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

“Life sucks,” Nasty Nestor said, living up to his nickname. “This season was a disaster. I hate the Steelers.”

Patriots loyalists are enraged that their 11-5 team, which destroyed the Cardinals by 40 points in December, didn’t make the playoffs and that Spygate has come up in pre- Super Bowl conversations.

Fans of the other 27 teams not in Tampa, many of which already have new head coaches, harbor similar misgivings. Even Cardinals fans (“No one respects our team”) and Steelers fans (here we go again with the Terrible towel desecration), have their moments of grumpiness.

And, of course, one of these fan bases will be collectively crushed come Super Bowl Sunday night, while the other will merrily engage in car-burning and other acts of raucous celebration.

Obviously, each team’s annual goal is to win a championship (except for the Lions, who simply strive to win a game). Yet the collective goal of the NFL is to engross and amuse, and in that sense the 2008 season has delivered.

I’m picturing Russell Crowe’s Maximus in “Gladiator” screaming at the riveted Romans, “Are you not entertained?” while thinking of all the cool things that have happened since last summer:

Brett Favre and the Packers endured the end of a 17-year marriage, as the future Hall of Famer tried to spur the Jets to greatness while replacement Aaron Rodgers hung tough amid a messy unraveling in Titletown. In the end, at least for this season, everybody suffered.

Tom Brady tore up his knee in New England’s opening game, but Bill Belichick’s shrewd coaching and career backup Matt Cassel’s steady improvement kept the defending AFC champs in contention.

• A new wave of young quarterbacks, including Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Rodgers and Trent Edwards, pushed toward potential stardom, while four forgotten members of the old guard (Warner, Kerry Collins, Gus Frerotte and Chad Pennington), resurfaced as viable team leaders.

• The Falcons’ Matt Ryan had one of the most impressive seasons by a rookie quarterback in league history, helping Atlanta and fellow rookie Mike Smith (the NFL’s coach of the year) escape the stench of the Michael Vick scandal.

• The Dolphins went from 1-15 in ’07 to AFC East champions, one of the great single-season turnarounds in sports history.

• The Steelers, Ravens, and Titans featured three of the most relentless, punishing defenses in recent memory.

• Warner, seven years removed from his glory days with the Rams, completed a stunning personal comeback that likely clinched his eventual Hall of Fame induction with a breathtaking game-winning drive in the NFC championship game.

I could go on and on (talk about wretched excess), but I need to get to another party, where I’m sure I’ll experience scenes like the one I saw Wednesday night. McNabb, smiling as he passed through an admiring crowd of NFL peers and other party goers, trailed by the equally gregarious Lewis, mingling with members of the Giants and Chiefs and Browns and other teams, everyone enjoying themselves to the fullest.

Those guys get it. Some of the rest of you don’t. And while we’re on the subject of taking things too seriously, it’s time to make my long-awaited prediction on who will win Sunday’s game.

As some of you recall, I picked the Steelers in the immediate aftermath of their title game triumph over the Ravens, and I still perceive Pittsburgh to be the better team. Yet I’ve also been more bullish on the Cardinals than virtually anyone in my business, both at the start of the season and throughout the postseason, and I have a very high degree of faith in Warner’s abilities.

Before officially deciding to stick with the Steelers, I called up someone whose opinion I respect immensely and asked who he thought I should pick.

“You’ve got to go with the Cardinals,” he said. “You can’t give up on them now.”

He elaborated: “Look, Kurt Warner is really hot right now, and Anquan Boldin is healthy again, which can make a big difference. Pittsburgh has a great defense, but Arizona’s offense is really hard to stop. And I think Arizona’s defense can handle Pittsburgh’s offense. Besides, the Cardinals deserve this. They’ve waited so long.”

I was pretty much sold.

“Oh, one more thing,” he said. “The Cardinals rock.”

I thanked my 9-year-old son for his assistance, gave silent thanks that the Warner jersey he’ll be wearing on Sunday will not be of the body-paint variety, and arrived at my final decision.

I’m picking the Cardinals. And whatever the outcome, I’m certain this Sunday will be Super.