Two years ago, the Arizona Cardinals were in the same familiar position as they had been the previous......well forever. They had never experienced a real victory, a title of any sort.
They had always been the laughing stock of the NFL. Players came and gone, so called potential stars never reached their potential.
Have they experienced success? Possibly.
But it wasn't until two years ago that they started to finally see that little light shining in the darkness. The light at the end of the tunnel.
We must go back before that day though. Way back........
Kenneth Moore Whisenhunt was born on February 28, 1962 in Atlanta, Georgia. He played for Georgia Tech in college as a tight-end. He was an Honorable Mention All-American his senior season, and was First Team All-ACC in his final two seasons.
Whisenhunt was never a star player in the NFL, he was mainly just a blocking back. That never took away his desire for the game or his passion for it.
He got his start with coaching at Vanderbilt in 1995 where he coached special teams, tight ends and H-backs.
After a two year stint, he moved back to the NFL where he was hired as the tight ends coach for the Baltimore Ravens. From there he would resume the same coaching position for the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets in the two seasons after his stint with the Ravens.
It wasn't until 2001 where he would land his first real home, with the Pittsburgh Steelers. If you haven't heard of the Rooneys, the love to keep it a family like atmosphere, coaches included. Whisenhunt started out at the tight ends coach before being promoted to the offensive coordinator in 2004.
This was where he made his name known throughout the NFL world. His mastery and trickery were attractive to almost every team needing a head coach.
Once Whisenhunt helped lead Bill Cowher and the Steelers to their fifth Super Bowl Championship in 2006, he was a hot commodity.
The Beautiful Letdown
After the 2006 campaign failed to see the Steelers repeat, their long and beloved coach Bill Cowher announced his retirement.
Immediately, Steeler fans expected Whisenhunt to be his predecessor. Even Whisenhunt expected this, there was no better candidate, aside from his friend and fellow coach Russ Grimm.
It was a shock when the Rooneys announced that Mike Tomlin, defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, would fill the vacancy left by Cowher.
Resentment didn't take long to set in. How could they hire an outsider when the Steelers always seemed to hire from within?
Whisenhunt strapped on the large chip that the Steelers had left for him to fasten onto his shoulder. The weight of the world. What would he do now?
Always the professional, Whisenhunt refused to make an issue of the subject.
"Why would I have hard feelings?" he asked. "They still had a week or so to go with interviews before they were going to make a decision. I had to make a decision of waiting to see if I could get that job or having the one here. Once I accepted the offer here, I didn't have any thoughts about the Steelers except gratitude for giving me the opportunity."
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/2009/01/19/2009-01-19_ken_whisenhunt_cant_downplay_super_bowl_.html#ixzz0G5h0psMv&B
It was then that Whisenhunt interviewed for the least coveted job: The Arizona Cardinals. He saw plenty of potential though, and when he was hired he brought along a friend: Russ Grimm.
The two began reshaping the face of the franchise without an identity, a franchise that had nothing. They had plenty in the cupboard to work with, but it would take the right people to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
It didn't take long for Whisenhunt to get his point across. He ran the team like a platoon leader would run his troops, shaping them into a team with a face instead of a team with a history of being forgotten.
Whisenhunt coached with a chip on his shoulder. Proving right away that wasn't out to be another number in the long line of unsuccessful coaches in Arizona's brief history.
He slayed the giants, winning against Pittsburgh 21-14. Thus solidifying his ever growing legacy. The fearless leader.
It wasn't just a game.
It was his own way of saying, "You should've hired me. That's my team."
Of course he downplayed the game stating it was just another game. Or was it? Shortly after, stories surfaced of his relationship with Ben Roethlisburger, mainly the fact that Big Ben never respected his old coach.
" I thought his play calling was too conservative."
The feud had begun, once again Whisenhunt downplayed the comment stating his relationship with Ben was a good one and that he felt privileged to have a quarterback like him.
In 2006, the Arizona Cardinals went 5-11, big surprise.
The expectations weren't even there for Whisenhunt. All fans knew was that the guy just won a Super Bowl for Pittsburgh and he was the new head coach of the Cardinals.
Of course there were some expectations, maybe two more wins, possibly fighting for a spot in the division.
Nobody saw 8-8 coming. Nobody.
They finished second behind the Seahawks for the division and barely missing the playoffs. Things were finally falling into place.
Then came last season. Expectations were high. Playoffs were almost demanded.
Whisenhunt benched then starter Matt "Hollywood" Leinart for the veteran Kurt Warner, and the rest is history. Warner led the Cardinals to a 9-7 regular season record while winning the division, but it was under the watchful eye of Ken the Wizard.
Is there any real question that this guy was the right hire?
Then the unthinkable, and the stuff that movies are made out of. The Arizona Cardinals against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Movie writers couldn't come up with a better script.
All the while Whisenhunt kept his composure stating that there was no other way, it had to be Pittsburgh.
The game has been over for months now, and everyone knows the outcome. The Steelers captured their sixth Super Bowl Championship.
But it was the way the fire burned in Whisenhunts eyes after the game. That look of defeat that seemed to boil for eternity. The look of hunger; the look of a return very, very soon.
While the Cardinals have been absolutely horrible in past seasons, a Wizard is never late.
Coach Whisenhunt has this team going in the right direction. He's handled every kind of obstacle that's been thrown at him. Contract disputes, disgruntled players, defeat and victory.
Like I said before, movie writers couldn't write a better script. And this script is far from finished.