I figured this would happen.
The only thing worse than the Cardinals losing so narrowly to the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday in Super Bowl XLIII would be if they would have gotten blown out like many expected, and even wanted, to see. At least they showed up for the game, fought back, and kept it close.
But moral victories don't work for me.
This is why it was so important for the Cardinals to win this game as I previewed last week. Five years from now, who will remember that they even held the lead, albeit for 1:58, in the game? Who will remember who the quarterback was? Does anyone remember that it was Chris Chandler who led the 1998 Falcons to a similar defeat against John Elway and the heavily-favored Denver Broncos?
For the casual fan, it was just another game. For the Cardinals, it was an opportunity, and a failed one at that.
It was, however, a welcome breath of fresh air from seeing the same tired Patriots and Eagles deep in the playoffs each year. ESPN's Marcellus Wiley already has predicted the Steelers to be the contenders for Super Bowl XLIV, along with these same boring Patriots and Colts. Talk about being bold.
So the question is, what have we learned? Do the Cardinals have staying power? If I was a neutral observer, I'd say no.
They are about to lose the best offensive mind in franchise history in Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley, who is rumored to be a candidate for the Kansas City Chiefs' head coaching vacancy. What luck. The Cards finally get good, and now someone actually wants to hire away one of their coaches?
Next, there is the uncertain futures of Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, and Edgerrin James. James is the easiest to address, as he is the most expendable. Free agents should be willing to team up with RB Tim Hightower to form the coveted 1-2 punch so often seen as a recipe for success.
However, Warner and Boldin aren't that easy.
There are reports today that Warner may actually retire. Why go out as a loser (using the term literally to mean Super Bowl non-winner)? Why walk away from something so good? There has to be some concern that Warner, who started out 1-0 in his Super Bowl career, is now 0-2 since, although his performances have been stellar, as he seems to throw for 300-plus yards with ease.
I don't have a hero, and I don't believe in cheering for individuals, but Warner is simply fun to watch because of his big-play ability and perceived winning flare, which I am starting to doubt. It's not because of anything he has done, but because what his teams have recently failed to do when compared to earlier in his career. Here's hoping he comes back to the league and the team where he belongs.
Do the Cards really expect to get equal value for Boldin? He had a great game yesterday, and if last year is any indication, they must do better than Lito Sheppard from the perennial-underachieving Eagles.
The fact is they simply cannot split up the trio and not expect to lose a step. Furthermore, should they lose Warner, backup Matt Leinart is going to need all the help he can get, and you still aren't going to get equal value.
Even the most optimistic Cardinal fan has to believe that this season was really special— This was their chance to win the big one.
I am not convinced that next year they will even be in the playoffs, given their past mediocrity, which is yet another reason why it was imperative that they be able to win the game.
One thing they do have going for them is the easiest path to the playoffs, given their division, via the division title. From there, as we have seen, anything is possible.
The Rams will be better, but even if they go 9-7, that's still asking a lot from a two-win team. The Seahwawks, I think, are lost and in rebuilding mode, but the 49ers pose the biggest threat given one full year under Mike Singletary, who led them to a 5-4 finish.
After the Super Bowl, Chris Berman asked his panel of experts if the Cardinals had staying power and every one of them, Cris Carter, Mike Holmgren, and Trent Dilfer said "Yes."
But really, what do you expect them to say?
"Yeah Chris, I know the Cardinals just made the Super Bowl, but come on, they are still the Cardinals. This was simply a down year and they will fall back to earth once the season starts again. Let's see who's around after free agency, the draft, trades, and retirements, and don't forget the Todd Haley factor."
If any one of them were to actually say this on air, not only could they expect to get 5,000 emails from angry Cardinals fans—and deservedly so—but their credibility would be called into question for not only blatantly holding some sort of a grudge, but also for not giving the Cardinals credit for actually making the Super Bowl.
The fact is, this question really is pointless since it could be asked (and often is) about any team that seemingly comes out of nowhere to make the Super Bowl, only to lose. If you have asked anyone after the Seahawks' 2006 trip to the big game if they had the ability to repeat their success and maybe next time actually win the game, do you really think anyone would say no?
No, of course not. Because even though these teams all lost, until we actually play the games, they are still the defending Conference Champions until proven otherwise and that counts for something and any analyst respects that.
Did I mention that this is precisely why it's sad that the Cardinals weren't able to cash in on what is likely their most golden opportunity, given their historical ineptitude?
All I ask the fans is to please not give up on them. You absolutely must continue to fill the home stadium and support Coach Whisenhunt as you did during this magical run. If you don't, those same naysayers will simply revert back to their old anti-Cardinal ways by saying that its obvious their base consists of nothing but converts and band-wagoners.
Sure, people are giving them credit now, but for how long?
How long before this "respectability" turns into the same mindless, giddy chatter by ESPN talking heads about Tom Brady and the "vengeful, resurgent Patriots," or "Eli Manning and the ever-consistent Giants," just to name a few?
This is why, had the Cardinals been able to pocket the ring, it would have been all the more special, since from now on no one could ever take that away from them.
For Pittsburgh, no matter what its fans tell you, it's just another win, and one, quite frankly they expected to get, as they are the Dallas Cowboys of the AFC in historical prominence and success.
For the national media, believe me, they are breathing a sigh of relief that an old stalwart won the Lombardi instead of a new, upstart, scrappy team.
Sports leagues in America are very traditional. Just look at how MLB lusts for the big- market clubs like Boston, Chicago, and New York to win year after year, and in the NBA how quickly ESPN jumped back on the Celtics' bandwagon somehow miraculously forgetting all those abysmal, downright putrid years from 1993 on.
Heaven help us from David Stern should the Knicks ever return to respectability. ESPN might as well officially sign lucrative contracts with Madison Square Garden, since that's the only venue we'd ever be able to see.
The Cards had their chance, but unfortunately it wasn't meant to be, much to the NFL's delight. The best thing the Cards can do is go out there, win, and shut the naysayers up by proving to everyone this wasn't a one year deal similar to the Tampa Bay Rays.