Football fans in the Pacific Northwest (however many still admit to it) face a dilemma. They can either ignore football entirely for two weeks, or chose between two disagreeable options for teams to back in Super Bowl XLIII.
Can any follower of the Seattle Seahawks ever root for the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Super Bowl? Probably not while the trauma of Super Bowl XL still causes so many to suffer night-sweats and vivid flashbacks of yellow towels waving in the stands, and yellow flags falling on the turf.
Is it any way less disgusting to cheer on Arizona, an NFC West rival that so surprisingly won the NFC title – with three consecutive upset playoff wins – following an indifferent finish to a 9-7 regular season?
First, if you can risk physical illness at the sight of it, I think this game will be worth watching. And not just because Bruce Springsteen’s playing at halftime and Faith Hill is doing “America the Beautiful” before the game.
Of your two options, I believe that your energy is best spent offering tepid support to Arizona. The fact that the Cardinals are involved at all is statistically a positive for the Seahawks’ chances in 2009.
Of the 20 teams appearing in the past 10 Super Bowls, only six have won their divisions the following season.
Whatever psychological boost the Cardinals gain from this appearance is mitigated by the four extra games they will have played, the month shorter offseason, and the inevitable ego-inflation and roster splintering that takes place after a Super Bowl run.
Everybody wants raises, key players are lost to free agency and top assistants sometimes are lured to jobs with other teams. A sense of invincibility often attends the sort of rapid rise Arizona is enjoying.
But it’s a competitive magic that is hard to sustain or replicate, and sometimes teams take most of the following season to realize it.
Only a few weeks ago, any number of analysts (OK, me) argued that the Cardinals really didn’t belong in the postseason – having won a feeble division – while some better teams from more competitive divisions were sitting home.
It wasn’t just me. Odds were 40-1 against Arizona winning the Super Bowl at the start of the postseason.
They had lost four of their last six regular-season games and been abused by a combined score of 82-21 in December losses to Minnesota and New England.
They had a chance in a first-round home game against Atlanta, but after that?
They had to go on the road to Carolina, and they had been 0-5 during the season in games in the Eastern Time Zone.
They ended up clobbering Carolina, 33-13.
At home in the NFC title game, the Cards rolled to a 24-6 halftime lead and held off a second-half Philadelphia rally to claim the Super Bowl berth.
They were the betting underdogs in all three games, and are now the first seven-loss team to make it to the Super Bowl since the 1979 season.
The week opens with them as roughly a touchdown underdog to the Steelers. Wanna bet against them?
Their late-season swoon might have been a little misleading. A November victory over Seattle put the Cardinals at 7-3, with a five-game cushion over the Seahawks. Having put the division race out of reach early could explain some of the casual approach to the final six games.
Pittsburgh has a better defense than Arizona has seen, and dominating defenses win Super Bowls. But the Cardinals come at them with three strong receivers, including a seemingly unstoppable Larry Fitzgerald, an experienced quarterback (Kurt Warner) who is uncannily accurate and in command of a nice offensive scheme, and an improving offensive line.
If nothing else, possible confrontations between Fitzgerald and Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, and Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson against Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward could be the stuff of classic Super Bowl viewing.
In the end, the sight of a stadium dominated by towel-waving Steelers fans will likely cause even the most ambivalent of fans around here to swing toward the Cardinals’ side.
Besides, there’s always the chance you might be able to watch the Steelers end up on the losing side because of some hinky officiating decision.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440