Nothing Special, Really

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Nothing Bittersweet About Today

In my last post, I mentioned how I wouldn't "wuss out" and find solace in victory at the expense of another teams defeat just because my two favorite teams were in the Super Bowl. I chose to root for AZ over Pittsburgh based on the argument I laid out in my last post. What I realized at the end of this game was that the decision I made was not necessarily a conscious one but truthfully one that was made many years ago; I just did not realize it until today.

From an unbiased perspective, this was about as good as Super Bowls get. Amazing individual plays, a close game throughout, a result mostly untarnished by referee's bad calls, and a fourth quarter that kept anyone watching in suspense until there were 5 seconds left.

From a biased perspective, this game really hurts. For the most part, Pittsburgh outplayed AZ, but not in the way most expected. The Steelers' defense was ranked number one, and they showed on several occasions why that was, but they hardly shut down the Cardinals offense. At times, the Steelers' D was in control, but the Cardinals kept this game close not because of a few fluke offensive plays, but instead due to a determined effort to stick with the game plan, and constant effort that resulted in long scoring drives on two of the three touchdowns. Instead, it was the Steelers offense that had its way with the Cardinals defense that I found unexpected.

The fact that Santonio Holmes one MVP is almost as disgusting as the final result. He easily ranks No. 4, behind Big Ben, James Harrison, and Kurt Warner in a losing effort, in my book at least. James Harrison absolutely should have been the MVP of this game, and not just because of the INT. In fact, that ended up being less of a momentum killer than I feared. Aside from that amazing play, he initiated at least two holding penalties on Mike Gandy that absolutely killed the Cardinals' scoring drives, and overall continually interrupted the Cardinals offense. Big Ben was no slouch either; his footwork and poise in the pocket kept alive at least two of the Steelers' scoring drives. He killed the Cardinals with his feet as much as his arm.

Nevertheless, there is no solace in a valiant effort or a hard game played. The Cardinals were within 1 minute of the unbelievable, but in the end, they lost to the better team. The Cardinals were opportunistic and made plays when they had to, but this game ended up coming down to who made the fewest mistakes, and unquestionably, that was the Steelers.

When I said that I wouldn't gloat in a victory by the Steelers, despite them being a team that I've rooted for longer than any other, I thought that was going to be more lip service than anything else. What caught be by surprise more than anything else was how easily and how passionately I was rooting for the Cardinals.

I watched the game at a friend's place, one of those Super Bowl parties where most of the people there were just around because it was party rather than because of an interest in the actual game. In fact, during the last 3 minutes of the 4th quarter, I'm fairly certain I was the only one actually paying attention to the game. But throughout the night, my loyalty to the Cardinals was obvious. Despite the lack of team attire, I dressed up in as much red clothing as possible, and my cheers easily dominated the room whenever I spoke up. I've never considered myself to be an unabashedly raucous fan, but in juxtaposition to the rest of those in attendance, a stranger would have easily considered me a "meathead" based on my enthusiasm compared to the rest. And it was in this enthusiasm that I made a realization.

The Arizona Cardinals are my favorite NFL team.

It's easy to make that statement in victory, so I hope that such a declaration in defeat only adds credence to it. When the Cardinals were up with less than two minutes to spare, it wasn't just that I was cheering for the, it was the passion with which I was. I made a comment to a friend that she shouldn't be surprised if I shed a couple tears if this lead holds up, and that was the truth. In the bathroom after the game, I took a little bit of time to compose myself because I was more distraught than I expected I would be. Caught up in the emotion, I sent a message to a fellow Cardinals fan declaring I renounced my rights as a Steelers fan. Perhaps that is a little bit shortsighted but the essence of the message is true.

I'll continue to cheer on the Steelers when there is no conflict. Next year, if they reach the Super Bowl and wind up facing the Eagles or the Vikings or by some miracle the Lions, there will be no doubt who I am rooting for. They've always been one of my two favorite teams, but tonight, I realized that they're not my number one team.

Even though I purposefully left the Phoenix area almost for years ago, even though every time I go back feels more foreign than the last visit, I still feel a connection to the place. For better or for worse, no matter how much time passes, it is and will always be home. There's a certain feeling of comfort I feel whenever I go back. And as a Phoenix native, I know just how much this loss stings, because I'm feeling it too.

I always declared the Steelers my number one team despite the overwhelming evidence against that. I have no actual ties to the city of Pittsburgh, I don't stay current with Steelers news as often as I do with the Cardinals, and I don't feel the same emotions during there games as much as I do with AZ. My emotions during the Steelers victory over the Seahawks three years ago, a game which my loyalties were never in question despite living in Seattle and being surrounded by Steelers fans, were never intense as they were during those moments in the 4th quarter where victory for the Cardinals was imminent, and certainly not as intense as the let down when the game was finally over.

It is just a game, and even shortly after the game, I was able to move past my sadness, but to say I'm completely over the game is false. I'm still stewing over it, over what could have been, and the reason for that is because, whether I was willing to admit it or not, I was waiting for this moment for 20 years. I declared myself a Steelers fan out of tradition, out of family heritage, but there's no denying that I have a stronger connection with the Cardinals, for that is my hometown, my tradition.

Perhaps, one day, I might be able to find a little bit of satisfaction in the fact that the Steelers won, rather than the Ravens or the Colts or the Chargers, but tonight, make no mistake: I feel the same deflation that everyone back in Phoenix feels because I am an AZ Cardinals fan just like you, I have been all this time. I just didn't fully realize it until today.

(BTW I wrote this after at least 10, maybe 11 beers. I should drink and write more often.)


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