Before the 2008 National Football League season kicked off, oddmakers had listed the Arizona Cardinals at 50 to one odds of just reaching the Super Bowl. The Cardinals are looking to beat even higher odds when they face the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Prior to this season, only five of the 32 NFL franchises had never reached the Super Bowl. Very few fans would ever expect to see the current incarnations of the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans or Jacksonville Jaguars vying for a title. The Cardinals have been on that short list of futility for six decades.
But the climate in Arizona has changed over the past two years under head coach Ken Whisenhunt. After spending six seasons helping to guide the offense in Pittsburgh, Whisenhunt has transformed the hapless Cardinals into a team that can win big playoff games.
"Well, I think that we got hot at the right time. I think it was the focus of our team in a situation where nobody really gave us a chance [to win]," he said. "So it was a little bit of the 'us against the world' mentality. And that has helped our focus, which has led us to playing better football."
Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald set a new NFL postseason record with 419 receiving yards in just his first three career playoff games. With five playoff touchdown catches, Fitzgerald trails only Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (six) for the most in a single postseason. Despite his heroics, Fitzgerald says it is the entire team that is winning ballgames.
"I think the strongest part of our team is our team. I think collectively, offensively, defensively, special teams, I think guys have really bought into each other and really support each other. I do not think anybody thinks more of each other. I think the thing that makes us so powerful is that we are a humble team. We do not have any divas on this team. The leaders on this team hold each other accountable," he said.
One of those leaders is veteran quarterback Kurt Warner. He led another struggling team, the St. Louis Rams, to a championship in the 1999 season. And Arizona fans are hoping that he, Fitzgerald and the rest of the Cardinals can recapture that magic on Sunday in Super Bowl 43.