Football. The new ‘National Pastime.’ Nowhere in the world is it loved, appreciated, and worshiped like right here in the United States of America. While the rest of the world is caught up in soccer (football to those in foreign countries), we as Americans count the days off the calendar until the season begins. As the leaves begin their annual change of tint, we know what time it is. It is time for our sport. It is time for some football.
Why do we love this game like we do? Why do we paint our faces? Why do we stand in the freezing cold, shirtless, yelling until we can scream no more? Considering there is but one champion every year, why do we put ourselves through the disappointment? Why do we judge others based on their affiliation and affection for a certain team? Why do we care? Why do you care?
I can not speak for the masses; I can only speak for me. It is in the simple chaos every play produces. Football is a physically cerebral game, for unless there is knowledge, mass means little. Football is mano y mano. Football is the exactness of a pass and the completion due to the precision of the route. Football is the trenches. Football is blood and passion. Football is sport. Football is execution. Football is ‘there is always next year.’
Perhaps next year is this year.
Everything that players of football aspire to be will occur Sunday. Champions. Although a total of 256 regular season games are played annually, we recognize greatness through the test of the post season. Only one game is left to determine who is supreme. For the first time in my personal existence, I truly feel the hype and passion that only a Super Bowl appearance brings. I am an Arizona Cardinals fan.
Super Bowl XLIII. Who will win? Why? It is the game that is most over-analyzed in pro sports. This year I am thouroughly enjoying up all of the media attention. Last year was a spectacle for me personally. I work at the Westin Kierland Resort, the resort where the New England Patriots resided during Super Bowl XLII. Seeing professional football players and coaches parading around in the deepest of concentration was a lifetime experience. This year, the Arizona Cardinals vie for the championship. It was a blast hosting the Super Bowl last year; it is a dream being in the Super Bowl this year.
Many factors will determine the result of this battle (um…duh?) Say what you will, this is my opportunity to say what I will. This is what will sway the game.
Cardinals Offense v. Steelers Defense. We all know how explosive the Cardinals offense is, as well as how dominate the Steelers defense is. With the Steelers 3-4 look and blitz packages staring at Kurt Warner, life will not be easy for the 37 year old quarterback. The simple fact that the Steelers will be dropping an extra linebacker into coverage could spell disaster for the Cards’ O. Warner is smart enough to get the ball to his desired receiver, but if he is pressured into not being quick enough, his intelligence means little.
Cardinals Key: Edgerrin James. Not only is the running game necessary (although not crucial) for the Cardinals’ success, it is Edge’s pass blocking ability that will be his biggest impact on the game. If he can slow the Steelers pass rush and give Warner time, the Cardinals win this aspect of the game.
Steelers Key: Ike Taylor. The containment of Larry Fitzgerald is the obvious key for the Steelers. Do not forget about the other two 1000+ yard receivers, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston. Ike Taylor might have to come down in coverage, especially if Pittsburgh blitzes numerous times, and Taylor could be left on an island to defend these guys. It isn’t so much his coverage that I see as a key, it is his tackling that could be significant.
Steelers Offense v. Cardinals Defense: If the Cardinals achieve success here, they win. Ben Roethlisberger can be described easily with but one word: dangerous. His ability to create while under pressure is what sets him apart from other NFL quarterbacks. Big Ben will be facing a defense that’s strength is athleticism, but is weak pressuring the quarterback on a consistent basis. In the NFC Championship Game, the Cardinals gave Donovan McNabb too much time in the pocket. It was McNabb who defeated himself with errand throws.
Steelers Key: Willie Parker. We all know what Roethlisberger can do. The guy has proven that even if he goes 9-21 with 2 picks (a la Super Bowl XL), he can still win. The running game is vital for Pittsburgh. Keeping Kurt Warner and the Arizona offense off the field with long, sustained drives that result in points is the objective, and Willie Parker must deliver.
Cardinals Key: The Linebacker Core. Why all three? To stop Willie Parker, of course. Pressuring Ben Roethlisberger into mistakes and plugging the gaps is needed if Bill Bidwell wants to sheepishly hoist another trophy. When Arizona was playing poorly at the end of the year, it was the inferior tackling ability of the linebackers that kept opposing drives alive. Tackle like men, Cardinals.
So, in theory, this is what each team needs to do in order to take home the Lombardi Trophy. What will happen? God only knows, and he’ll tell us come Sunday. I can make a prediction, at that is this:
Arizona 27, Pittsburgh 20
No need to talk shit, no need to point fingers. As a Cardinals fan, I have never earned the right do either. All I know is that no matter what happens, I have to thank the Arizona Cardinals for the excitement and anxiety that have accompanied these past two weeks. So this is what it feels like. I hope with every ounce of my fiber that they bring home the most coveted trophy is American sports.