Arizona is a strange place to be from. It’s hard to think of another state that garners more knee jerk reactions, both positive and negative. From our unorthodox politics to our awe inspiring, almost unEarthly landscape, there are any number of reasons why it is the planet Mars of the United States of America. People are afraid of us. People are curious about us. To take my Mars analogy even further, people dream of setting foot on the red sands of Sedona. In short, people do not understand us.
And being an Arizona Cardinals fan is even stranger. Especially if, like me, you travel a lot and are an ambassador of sorts for your team and your state. I can not tell you how many strange looks my Cardinals gear gets wherever I go. Sports fans always have a common ground and with The Cardinals it is no different, but once that subject is breached, those lines have been crossed and they finally come to terms with the fact that I’m not from St. Louis, one question always seems to come up. “Why are you an Arizona Cardinals fan?”
To tell the truth I have never been able to answer that question to my own satisfaction. Why indeed? After all, I am 38 years old and when I was younger my family and I rooted for the San francisco 49ers. Back in the 1980′s, before the state had it’s own professional football team, we had every reason to love the Niners. From Montana to Rice to thrilling Super Bowl win after Super Bowl win, our chosen team was flying high indeed. What wasn’t there to love? But ultimately it was not for us to choose our team, but for our team to choose us.
And here we are 25 years later and that team is on the brink of an 11 win season. Their first since 1975. And if they are able to beat the San Francisco 49ers on their home field they will be that much closer to going to the playoffs for the first time since Kurt Warner took his magic and left the game for good. However, our story will not end on the grass of University of Phoenix Stadium. No, even if we can overcome the firepower of San Francisco our hopes still lie with yet another belied team who will be playing for nothing but pride 1,520 miles away against the New Orleans Saints. If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can somehow put Drew Brees into the dirt enough times to secure a win, then and only then will The Arizona Cardinals find themselves in the post season.
So this game today is not just a game. No, this game is but a piece of a much larger puzzle. A puzzle that depicts the image of a state still searching for it’s national sports identity. We’re fighters here. Always have been. And what better way to show the rest of the nation what beats in our chest then by rooting for a down on it’s luck franchise for yet another long shot chance at making it to the big show?
And if we fall short there will still be reason to hold our heads high. No one thought we’d get this far. No one imagined that a first time head coach, regardless of the experience under his belt, could take a 5-11 team and reverse their fortunes his first season. And even though there is no telling what 2014 may hold for the Cardinals the next few months will be slightly less painful than they’ve been in the recent past. Slightly.
At the end of the day if you don’t get into the playoffs nothing else matters. However, at the end of this particular day, we may be celebrating too hard to remember why we were ever nervous in the first place.