Arizona Cardinals: Reliving the 2008 and 2009 Playoff Run
December 30, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt stands on the sideline against the San Francisco 49ers in the first quarter at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Cardinals 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
The 2008 and 2009 Arizona Cardinals will forever be remembered in the hearts of their long-suffering fans. That season was like a fairy tale for Cardinal fans. It was a season that will forever be etched in memory of the Cardinal faithful. A year that Cardinal fans have been longing for, for decades.
It was a year everything seemed to come together at the right time. A time when suddenly everything clicked and came together during the playoffs. A time when suddenly during the playoffs, the magic of Kurt Warner’s arm, Larry Fitzgerald, the Q (Anquan Boldin) and the rest of the Cardinals offense became an unstoppable force.
Having said that, after the 2008 regular season was over, no one in their right mind would have ever detected there would be a fairy tale playoff run on the horizon.
After another extremely inconsistent 9-7 season, it simply seemed just like another disappointing ending to another season full of inconsistent and horrific play for the Cardinals. For instance, how could Cardinal fans forget that awful day in December against the Patriots in New England, when they were simply humiliated 47-7 in Week 16. It was a horrific day in December in the snow, where the Cardinals were absolutely destroyed.
Furthermore, Cardinal fans will also never forget that evening in Philadelphia (Week 13), just weeks prior to the Patriot game. An evening in which the Eagles completely dismantled the Redbirds 47-20.
Or even that dreadful performance at home against the Minnesota Vikings (Week 15). A performance (or lack thereof) in which the Cardinals simply looked like they were sleepwalking (in their own stadium) and the air seemed to come out of university of Phoenix stadium. The Cardinals lost 35-14.
After the 2008 season’s extremely inconsistent and disappointing end, somehow the Cardinals still managed to win the NFC West and somehow made the playoffs. Or as most people would like to say; “the Cardinals backed into the playoffs.” As a matter of fact, many pundits were saying the Cardinals were perhaps the worst team to have ever made the playoffs.
Having said that, most Cardinal fans will tell you, looking back on the 2008 season, there were also glimpses of brilliance of what was soon to come in that fairy-tale playoff run. Those glimpses actually came early in the 2007 season.
In 2007, when Warner came in for Matt Leinart (early in the season) during the no-huddle packages, Warner seemingly marched the offense for touchdown drives on every drive.
Early in the season (of 2007) after Leinart went down with a broken collarbone (Week 5) against the St Louis Rams, the rest was history. Warner took over the helm (full-time) and from that point on, the Cardinal offense seemed unstoppable at times. The Cardinals finished the year with an 8-8 record, second in the NFC West.
The following year, after a heated battle for the starting job between Leinart and Warner in training camp (2008). Without question, former head coach Ken Whisenhunt had no choice but continue with the hot hand of Warner to start the season. During training camp he was simply leaps and bounds the best quarterback on the roster.
During the first half of the season (2008), Cardinal fans saw some phenomenal play from quarterback Kurt Warner as the Cardinals won seven out of their first ten games. Continuing his magic that Cardinal fans got a taste of in 2007.
Cardinal fans truly saw incredible stretches of play from Warner and the Cardinals offense. The Cardinal offense was truly exciting to watch. Warner was truly masterful, reminding fans of his days in St Louis. Reminding fans of when the Rams were called “the greatest show on turf.” Warner, Fitzgerald and Boldin would later become Pro Bowlers after the (2008) season.
However, after some masterful play in 2007 and the first 10 games of 2008, the hopes for an amazing season seemed to dwindle after an awful stretch to end to the season. It was as if the wheels were starting to come off the tracks one game after another, dashing the hopes for a fairy tale ending.
Never the less, by years end, the Redbirds still made it into the 2008 winter classic (the playoffs). With only a 9-7 record, the Cardinals were still able to win the NFC West, giving them a first round home game during wild card weekend.
The first game in the playoffs for the Redbirds came against the Atlanta Falcons at University of Phoenix stadium. As a season ticket holder and a member of the crowd at the playoff game, I was able to witness first hand the magic in the air that day. It was truly magnificent to see the red sea (the 12th man) firsthand. The electricity in the air before that first playoff game was truly amazing.
However, little did Cardinal fans know, from the very start, the magic was back. From the very start, it was as if someone turned on the switch to Kurt Warner and the Cardinals offense once again. Warner, Fitzgerald and the Cardinal’s offense put on a show for the ages. They once again became that unstoppable force that we had seen glimpses of in 2007 and for the first 10 games in 2008.The Cardinals beat the Falcons 30-24.
After the glorious win at home over the Falcons, the Cardinals took their show on the road to play the Carolina Panthers in the Divisional round of the playoffs. The fabulous play did not end there for the Redbirds as they throttled the Panthers 33-13, to make it surprisingly to the NFC Championship game.
Luckily for the Cardinals, they were awarded the NFC championship game to be played at home. They faced the Philadelphia Eagles, as they defeated the NFC East winner New York Giants.
This set up without question the biggest game in Arizona Cardinal history. I will never forget that magical day at the stadium and the electricity that was in the air. The red sea (twelfth man) was out in full force that afternoon. For Cardinals beloved fans this was truly a special moment. This was the first time the long-suffering fans had the opportunity to be part of the NFC Championship game, and to be able to have it at home was something truly special. There was truly a feeling in which Warner, Fitzgerald and the Cardinals were going to do something special, that the Redbirds could not be denied.
The magic did not end there. From the very start, Warner and Fitzgerald put on an aerial display that truly made the home crowd go wild, jumping all over the Eagles in the first half, with a 24-6 lead.
After a (slow) sluggish start for the Cardinals in the second half, the Eagles made it a game. It was as if the red sea was out of gas from their pregame and first half excitement. You could seemingly hear a pin drop to start the second half. Never the less, the Cardinals managed to somehow hold off the surging Eagles in the closing seconds of the game to defeat the Eagles 32-25. After time expired, there was truly pandemonium for the Cardinals and the red sea. It was the first time in their history that they have finally reached the Super Bowl.
I remember the celebration after the game and in the parking lot. It was as if the fans could not believe what they have just witnessed. To be honest with you, I could not believe what I just witnessed. People were saying; “Are you kidding me, the Cardinals are really going to the Super Bowl, wow.” I also remember driving home from the stadium several hours after the game. There were fans still celebrating in the streets miles away from the stadium. It was truly something to behold.
The fairy tale did not end there, as the Redbirds had one more game to play. There was a Super Bowl to be played against the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers.
After another fabulous game in the Super Bowl, etched in Cardinal fans memory, in perhaps one of the greatest games in Super Bowl history, the Cardinals did not disappoint. However they did come up short in the closing minutes to end their magical run. Losing on an incredible drive by Ben Roethlisberger, completing an incredible and heart-wrenching corner-of-the-end-zone pass that put the Steelers up for good. A throw that will forever give Cardinal fans heartaches. The Steelers ended up defeating the Cardinals 27-23.
In the end, yes the Cardinals did not win the Super Bowl. However, for the Cardinals faithful, the 2008 and 2009 season was truly special, as it truly was a fairy tale.
Perhaps, to many other fans from other franchises, getting to the Super Bowl and losing would not mean as much. Or perhaps to other NFL franchises who have won Super Bowls before, it would not mean as much or not have that special meaning as it was for the Cardinals faithful.
However, for long-suffering Cardinal fans, the 2008 and 2009 season was truly special. It has given them hope for the future. It has given them hope that the Franchise they cherish is not the laughing-stock of the NFL anymore. There is hope that maybe the Cardinals have finally turned the corner, giving the franchise a new beginning. Most importantly, the hope that the fans now have a franchise that they can finally be proud of.
Perhaps the 2013 and 2014 Cardinals can give fans another magical run. Maybe this year’s Redbirds will relive the fairy tale of the 2008 and 2009 season.