Draft picks, new stadium helped fuel Super Bowl run

Published On:
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
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As red and white confetti flooded the University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday, with Cardinal fans and players in jubilant, uncontrollable ecstasy, it just didn’t seem real.

As if some director in the background was just waiting to call “cut” on this Cinderella story.

Perhaps this should be printed in red. Nonetheless, if you haven’t heard, the Arizona Cardinals are headed to the Super Bowl.

Pause once more if you still need to let it sink in.

But do not pause for long. While it seems almost comical that the Cardinals made it to a world championship in this decade before the Suns did, Arizona prevailed through a variety of franchise moves that were implemented years ago to move Arizona from comical to competitive.

Maybe we could have seen this coming.

I believe that Cardinals General Manager Rod Graves did. While his name hasn’t yet come up as a man to throw some Gatorade on, know that in the marathon leading up to Super Bowl XLIII, it inevitably will.

After all, he engineered this team.

Of the teams starting 11 on offense, six were drafted by the Cardinals, all within a span of five years (Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wells, Deuce Lutui, Levi Brown, Leonard Pope and Anquan Boldin), and that doesn’t even include rookie phenomenon Tim Hightower, who was drafted by the Cardinals in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL draft.

And it also doesn’t include center Lyle Sendlein, who signed with the Cardinals in 2007 after going undrafted that same year.

If six of 11 is impressive, seven is downright dirty. But that’s what you can say about the Cardinals defense (Antonio Smith, Darnell Dockett, Gerald Hayes, Karlos Dansby, Rodgers-Cromartie, Adrian Wilson and Antrel Rolle.)

Fostering a competitive sprit on the field meant finding it in the stands as well. It’s why William Bidwill, the team’s owner, pushed the city so hard in securing the stadium initiative.

Oddly named, brilliantly constructed, University of Phoenix Stadium did more than take the Cardinals out of the heat and into their own home in Glendale. The move proved that the Cardinals were here to stay, and they were here to play.

Other than this which cane two years after the opening, the only thing new with football in Arizona was the stadium itself.

For a while it seemed as if the Cardinals really were cursed. A new home and a better roster only meant Arizona had to find more creative ways to lose. The mistakes, the abominations and well, the Cardinals, apparently hadn’t left the desert after all.

So much was this stain that even in the playoffs the Cardinals were harassed, condescended and considered by nearly everyone to be the first team out.

Hell, I wouldn’t have bet on them with your money.

I always say the last team you want to play is the one that everyone says has no chance.

Perhaps that’s the greatest celebration of all. Like the Tampa Bay Rays last October, the Cardinals have finally bleached their stain.
And for the record, they used red bleach.

For Phoenicians, it’s undeniably remarkable. Since 1976, Phoenix has seen its major sports teams in only three championship series and has had only one victory (the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001).

Number four could not be any bigger. Now a team that once celebrated Sunday like it was a weekly sacrifice, boasts a title still illegal to type in some states: NFC Champions.

Cinderella, ladies and gentlemen, is going to the ball — or rather, the Bowl. The only question remaining is will she take Mr. Lombardi home with her?

Reach the reporter at joshua.spivack@asu.edu.