There are five steps to the grieving process.
Last Monday, I entered the first with a vengeance. It was the first morning in recent memory that I did not tune to ESPN2’s FirstTake for sports news, athlete interviews and spirited debate.
I was in denial … denial that the tragic events of the Arizona Cardinals’ first Super Bowl, a 27-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, had indeed come to pass. I couldn’t bear to hear the analysts and sports experts and e-mails. Smirking and beaming their snark-laden comments into the airwaves, they’d say “Well, we told you about that defense, the Cardinals had a good run, but it had to end.” (Of course, now I realize that’s not really what would’ve happened, but at the time those smirks and remarks would have sounded not unlike the shrill laughter of the Wicked Witch of the West.)
I ignored the television, ditched the sports page and boycotted blogs and columns on both national and local levels, went into work at the bar and turned on the extreme sports channel. “The home of snowboarding and motocross cares little for football,” I thought. “Perhaps the soothing waves of a surfing special will make me forget.”
It didn’t work. Niche TV networks might be able to ignore the Super Bowl, but co-workers who know full well you’re a Cardinals fan … forget it.
Forced to face the crushing defeat and without a punching bag handy, I quickly descended into stage two: anger (and lots of it). Anger at the defense, (“…how could [Pittsburgh wide receiver] Santonio Holmes gain more than 70 yards on the last drive of the game, and catch an end zone pass against triple coverage, especially since the Steelers had tried the same play only minutes before; the only reason Holmes didn’t score on that try was because [Pittsburgh QB] Ben Roethlisberger overthrew him?”) Anger at the offense: “Kurt Warner was scared in the pocket in the second quarter, he wasn’t looking off, he was telegraphing his passes and getting rid of them too quickly!”
I was very out of breath after most of these rants. These weren’t the only ones either, but for brevity and propriety’s sake, I’ll leave out the others. Simply put, anger sprayed like paintballs toward refs, players, the dirty and unconscionable play of Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison (watch here as Harrison punches the Cardinals’ Aaron Francisco in the neck – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCrAbErvQ54), and, for a moment, it was enough to make me feel better.
Alas, the anger was not enough, and like a Paris Hilton song, eventually left me unfulfilled. So I turned to step three, bargaining and step four, depression. The bargaining was little more than fevered thoughts of just what it would take to get the Cards to the big dance next season – draft picks, special diets, electric muscle implants for everyone but Larry Fitzgerald (he’s already electric). Then depression set in, basically a numbness to the whole entire mess.
But then, finally, after many days of this roller coaster, the last and final step of my grieving ended in acceptance, which is why I felt comfortable enough to write this column.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have come to terms with what the 2008-09 Arizona Cardinals were, and what they gave to their fans along the way.
In Phoenix on the day of the game, the city looked like the surface of Mars, truly a Red Planet. The guy stocking Cheez-Its at Wal-Mart was sporting Larry Fitz’s jersey. Across the street, eager consumers jockeyed for the best spot in line at a vendor tent selling Cards merchandise. Everywhere, there was red – hats, shirts, flags, even a few bold souls in red pants and wigs. Construction paper banners were hung in front of garages urging the Cards on.
This is what the Cards gave us this season. The ups and downs, hours of endless conversation, the amazing stories of Kurt Warner, Terrelle Smith, Edgerrin James, Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie and many more. Solid proof that if Larry Fitzgerald keeps on pulling in impossible catches and the Velcro stays on his hands, he could be one of the best ever.
On Super Bowl Sunday in Arizona, a state that is one of the hardest hit by the multiple collapses of our current economy, no one was a stranger. Everyone had something to talk about, someone to high-five. The Cards gave us that too-rare commodity — something to cheer. Even though they lost, they won. And I’m no longer angry.
Except at James Harrison.