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A Cards Fan Checks In

Timeout for a guest blog. This comes from 1st Lt. Matt Freund, an Army Ranger who was born in Arizona and grew up in Potomac, Md. He is serving in Iraq and offered to write about watching the Arizona Cardinals advance to the Super Bowl.

Headed for Tampa in My Mind

Maintaining my allegiance to the Arizona Cardinals in a town full of Redskins fans was not easy. Though I grew up in the D.C. suburbs, I was born in Arizona and became a devout fan as soon as I understood football and discovered that the Cardinals were based in my birthplace. It wasn't until 1992 that I attended my first Cardinals game at RFK Stadium,where I watched the Redskins destroy my Cardinals 41-3. The game served as excellent fodder for taunting by my friends in this all-Redskins town, but I remained loyal to the "Cards."

For years, I watched fans of NFC East teams lick their chops before games against the Cardinals. Division wins came infrequently for the Cards, and losses, like the pummeling by the Skins I witnessed in 1992, were often humiliating. Before re-alignment and the 2008 Lions, no team mastered the ugly art of defeat like the Cardinals.

In the 1990s, Eagles v. Cardinals saw such lopsided matchups as Reggie White against Tootie Williams. If you remember Williams for anything other than his nickname, you might be a Cardinals diehard. Today's competitive matchup pitted Pro Bowl players like Asante Samuel and Larry Fitzgerald against each other.

As the Cardinals tore through their division to earn a playoff berth, I supported them from even farther away. Serving in Iraq this football season, it was a bit more challenging to follow the team's achievements, culminating in today's victory that sends the franchise to the Super Bowl for the first time ever. I stayed current during the season by reading game summaries and commentary, and, on some lucky weekends, I caught a quarter or two on tape-delay.

I watched the NFC Championship game in a chow hall with a group of about 20 football fans, the majority of whom stayed up into Iraq's early morning hours to see their team play. Given the time difference, taped games air on TVs during the daytime hours, but only live viewing was acceptable for Cardinals, Eagles, Steelers, and Ravens fans on this playoff Sunday. As seems to be the case throughout the U.S., the Steelers were well represented hours before their team took the field.

Watching the most significant Cardinals game in over 60 years on a TV in an ordinary cafeteria may seem like an unsatisfactory viewing experience, but it was quite the opposite. While I did miss deafening surround sound, a comfortable couch, and beer (only soda here!), the excitement in the chow hall was something to behold.

In the first half, touchdowns by Larry Fitzgerald elicited fist pumps and loud cheers from this Cardinals enthusiast. As Eagles fans buried their faces in their hands, I involuntarily scanned the room for any airborne objects headed in my direction, a habit resulting from countless games spent as the lone Cardinals supporter in the room. I started wishing the seats on the Cardinals' bandwagon would fill a little faster.

In the second half, the Eagles staged a comeback, and excited Philly fans, who outnumbered me six to one, high-fived after taking the lead on DeSean Jackson's juggling touchdown catch. In a refreshing surprise, their language after Tim Hightower's go-ahead touchdown took on a far less colorful tone than what I remember hearing at an Eagles/Redskins contest in Landover a few years ago.

Weak competition in the NFC West isn't the only reason for the Cardinals' stunning success this season. Since hiring Ken Whisenhunt and appointing Michael Bidwill president, the organization's culture has changed. Whisenhunt and his coaching staff brought to Glendale a leadership style that emphasized a "team first" mentality. He publicly emphasized the team's need for veteran leadership, and he held players accountable for their performance.

Whisenhunt set the tone, slashing playing time for poor performance on the field. He changed the course of the season by allowing Kurt Warner to compete for the starting quarterback job. The Cardinals organization placed leadership over celebrity. This focus, along with the coaching staff's experience and motivational ability, was what the team needed to buy into.

During the years of the "Hogs," I longed for a skilled and fearless offensive lineman like Russ Grimm. Sadly, the Cardinals' management had a talent allergy. Now an assistant coach for the Cardinals - and on several short lists for head coach - Grimm coaches a line that cleared the way for clock-eating runs against the Falcons and Panthers. His group also played a little noticed role in leading the team. Guard Reggie Wells was even elected offensive co-captain at the beginning of the season.

After enduring so many brutal seasons as a Cardinals fan, it is hard to believe the team is headed to the Super Bowl. The Cardinals' achievements this season have surpassed the expectations of even the most optimistic, diehard devotee.

Duty calls, so I won't make the Super Bowl this year, but I imagine many other lifetime Cardinals fans will do whatever it takes to attend. You can be sure I'll be watching from afar with the same excitement they'll bring to Tampa.

By Cindy Boren  |  January 18, 2009; 8:01 PM ET
 
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Comments

Congrats, Matt!

Stay safe.
~

Posted by: ifthethunderdontgetya | January 18, 2009 8:18 PM | Report abuse

McNabb and the fat walrus choked again!!!!!!!!!!!!! YES YES YES eat it eagles fans!!!!

Posted by: drewkinnear | January 18, 2009 8:22 PM | Report abuse

Congratulations Matt, I am happy for you. Unfortunately with our owner, it is looking like the Redskins are becoming the new Cardinals. Since the Redskins didn't make the playoffs, I was rooting for the Cardinals.

Posted by: RedskinJim1 | January 18, 2009 8:23 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if Corey Ivy can spell his name if you spot him the 'vy'?

Posted by: daggar | January 18, 2009 8:39 PM | Report abuse

Congrats Matt and thanks for serving. You're a hero in my eyes buddy. I'm pulling for your Cards to take it all the way.

Posted by: scampbell1975 | January 18, 2009 8:54 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for all you do Matt and nice post. Good win for your squad. Thank you from an ardent Skins fan for keeping the Eagles out of the Super Bowl.

Posted by: Notorious_LMG | January 18, 2009 9:02 PM | Report abuse

Glad the game gave you some memorable moments, Matt.

Now...onto the Eagles ripping.

McNabb and Reid have stamped their ticket as a couple of the game's all-time greatest losers. Seriously, this is almost Buffalo Bills terriroty.

Do we really appreciate the unique blend and delicate combination of skill, talent, and choke-artistry it takes to lose 4 Championship games and 1 Superbowl in a career? Will we ever see a duo combine for more crucial losses than these 2?

Maybe if Wade Phillips stays on at Dallas, he and Romo can rival it over the next several years, but those bums still have not advanced far enough in the post-season (read 0 wins) to put together the kind of get-your-hopes-up-then-miserably-crash-and-burn-true-to-your-character kind of losses that Reid/McNabb have perfected.

Posted by: p1funk | January 18, 2009 9:13 PM | Report abuse

Lt. Freund, great job up there with the guest post.

I may have been rather aggressively reading between the lines, but I think you were giving the Skins props for turning the Cardinals' season around by beating them. Taught them some valuable lessons, did the Skins... and look where it got them! The Super Bowl. Good for them, and good luck to them in the big game.

This Redskins fan offers a full-throated HAIL to YOU and all the men and women serving over there with you. Thanks. Be safe, and get home soon.

Posted by: NateinthePDX | January 18, 2009 9:20 PM | Report abuse

I'll point out that Matt emailed me to tell you guys not to go easy on him for choosing the Cards over the Skins way back when just because he's in Iraq now.

Posted by: CindyBoren | January 18, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

Poor choice of teams back then seems to be paying off for him now. What are we gonna say? He's in the bowl, we're just watchin'.
Hell, I feel for Cards fans, they've sucked for longer than us. I never liked the Cards but they're hard to hate. It just seemed like a waste of energy.

Posted by: scampbell1975 | January 18, 2009 9:57 PM | Report abuse

That was one of the most wicked hits I've ever seen. Hope Willis is OK.

Nice win Steelers but seems pretty anticlimatic

Posted by: Notorious_LMG | January 18, 2009 10:09 PM | Report abuse

That was an unbelievable hit. In addition to the force of the hit, there was quite a twist to it, too.

Posted by: CindyBoren | January 18, 2009 10:15 PM | Report abuse

Right now, as I'm typing this, I'm sitting on my toilet pooping.

Thank goodness for laptop computers and wireless internet.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | January 18, 2009 10:28 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Lt. Freund for all you and your fellow servicemen and women do.

That said, Cardinals vs. Steelers is the perfect excuse for me to take the weekend off from football and sneak in a three day snowboarding weekend in Whistler. What a yawner. And, man, I despise Kurt Warner.

And, yeah, the 'Skins are the new barometer of mediocrity. Sucks.

Posted by: PDiddy | January 18, 2009 10:35 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Lt. Freund for all you and your fellow servicemen and women do.

That said, Cardinals vs. Steelers is the perfect excuse for me to take the weekend off from football and sneak in a three day snowboarding weekend in Whistler. What a yawner. And, man, I despise Kurt Warner.

And, yeah, the 'Skins are the new barometer of mediocrity. Sucks.

Posted by: PDiddy | January 18, 2009 10:35 PM |

You're about to get a lot of weekends off from football. But the snowboarding does sound good.

Posted by: scampbell1975 | January 18, 2009 10:42 PM | Report abuse

Matt,

A big THANK YOU for enduring so many sacrifices on behalf of your country.

I'll be rooting for the Cards in the Super Bowl.

Come home safe.

Posted by: imterpsfan2 | January 18, 2009 10:43 PM | Report abuse

I find it hard to believe it won't be a fun SB party atmosphere at some ski lodge...

Posted by: chrislarry | January 18, 2009 10:44 PM | Report abuse

I forget. Why'd the skins get rid of Ryan? Because he didn't hit hard enough?

After watching Sweed's drop and the punter's near fan, I thought, how did Vinny ever pass on those two....

Posted by: TheCork | January 18, 2009 10:49 PM | Report abuse

I also forget if it was beantown or Flounder I should address this to, but another fine day for a supposed WCO NFC East team.

Onely one more real game and an all star fiasco before we cann all concentrate on all the great movies the 'skins will make to bring the SB to DC next year.


Posted by: TheCork | January 18, 2009 10:53 PM | Report abuse

Pretty cool to see Wisenhunt and Tomlin make it to big show in the same year.

Cork, what's with the bias against the WCO in the NFC East?

Posted by: bangkokben | January 18, 2009 11:31 PM | Report abuse

So, since the Redskins' "race to the bottom" continues, some updates on the relative futility...

There are now five teams that have never appeared in a Super Bowl:

Lions (4 league titles, the last in 1957)
Browns (8 league titles, the last in 1964)
Saints (42-year-old franchise)
Jaguars (14-year-old franchise)
Texans (7-year-old franchise)

And nine more teams that have been to the big dance but never hoisted the Lombardi (this will rise to ten if the Cardinals lose in two weeks):

Vikings, Bills (4 SB losses each)
Eagles, Bengals (2 SB losses each)
Chargers, Falcons, Oilers/Titans, Panthers, Seahawks (1 SB loss each)

Those 14 teams are definitely worse off than we are, taking the long view, because the Skins have been to five Super Bowls and won thrice. (I just like to repeat that every once in a while to remind us that things have not always sucked as much as they have recently.)

*****

Moving on... then you have the five former SB winners whose most recent titles came before the Redskins' most recent title. As you might guess, my argument is that you can at least make the case that the fans of these franchises have been suffering longer if not harder than the fans of the maroon and burgundy:

Jets, Chiefs, Bears (1 SB win apiece)
Dolphins (2 SB wins)
Raiders (3 SB wins)

So the remaining eleven (maybe twelve) teams have won Super Bowls since the Skins' last SB win... these teams' fans are inarguably better off than we are as Skins fans:

Cowboys, 49ers, Packers, Broncos, Rams, Ravens, Patriots, Buccaneers, Steelers, Colts, Giants... and maybe the Cardinals.

*****

In conclusion:

F the Cowboys twice, F the Giants, F Kurt Warner, F the Ravens, F the Patriots, F Norv, F Roger Gooddell, F Duke, F the Penguins, F Georgia AND Georgia Tech, F Mark Cuban, F the NFL for not streaming games live on the internet in the US of America, F Dan Snyder, F Vinny Cerrato twice, F Larry Michael, F having been spoiled by winning three titles in nine years... and F not having won a Super Bowl since January freakin' 1992.

Posted by: NateinthePDX | January 18, 2009 11:40 PM | Report abuse

Nate, well done. I also bring the F bomb down on Larry Michaels. If it wasn't for him and the curse of Leigh Torrence we would be in the super bowl.

Posted by: bangkokben | January 18, 2009 11:51 PM | Report abuse

Nate, that's a long F list, but you've forgotten cHRis Larry. I don't know how that happens.

Posted by: daggar | January 19, 2009 7:10 AM | Report abuse

God Bless You, Matt! Go Cards!

Posted by: matthewrayman | January 19, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Well done, Matt. Hope to see you at the annual Thanksgiving soccer game in the future!

Posted by: CyborgSquirrel1 | January 19, 2009 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Congrats, Matt. Nice post, too. Very well-written. I am rooting for your Cards to win the big one against Pittsburgh.

As a middle aged Redskins fan, I can remember many years of suffering through mediocrity followed by the thrill of unexpected success.

And, to all you Kurt Warner haters -- what gives with that? He's a great team player who leads by example and does his job better than most. I'd rather have 53 of him on my team than one Terrell Owens, or yes even one Clinton Portis!

Posted by: SkinsfaninNebraska | January 20, 2009 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Bah.....Sorry....Cardinals fans are like Santa and the Easter Bunny...they don't exist.

I respect Matt for being a fan...but lets be realistic....The Cardinals organization is nowhere in the same league as the teams of the NFC EAST.

Sure they've progressed to the Super Bowl....but lets be honest.....Its cushy to be in the NFC WEST.

Posted by: goosedude | January 21, 2009 3:15 AM | Report abuse

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