Arizona Cardinals Prove They are no Fluke

Ken Whisenhunt didn't arrive in Arizona in 2007 with a two-year plan, or a five-year plan to turn around one of professional sports least successful franchises. He was smart enough not to establish a time frame for winning, or proclaim that there was a winner in town (Buddy Ryan) or predicted 10 victories (Dennis Green.)

But Ken Whisenhunt did believe there was talent on the roster, enough that winning didn't seem improbable.

"I'm naive enough to think we could have a chance in the first year," he said. "That's the way you have to approach it. I don't think that you put a time frame on it."

Whisenhunt appears to be the least surprised person in the country that the Cardinals are in their first Super Bowl. "That's the idea, isn't it?" he joked last week.

The Cardinals have reached this point by playing their best football of the season. They've won four straight, the first time they've done that in the same season since 1999. They've upset favored teams in each of the three rounds of the playoffs.

This isn't a fluke. Their offense is difficult to stop because it has as many threats as any other team in the league. Quarterback Kurt Warner has been efficient. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald has 419 receiving yards in the playoffs, a post-season record. Running back Edgerrin James looks fresh and quick. And backups Tim Hightower and J.J. Arrington are dangerous role players.

The defense isn't big or filled with stars, but it's fast and it's playing together.

The Cardinals have an advantage in the Super Bowl, too, because of the coaching staff's ties to the Steelers. Whisenhunt coached there six years and went against coordinator Dick LeBeau's defenses daily. Three other members of his staff worked in Pittsburgh, too.

The Cardinals need the extra week to heal, but they won't need it to game plan.

Whisenhunt admitted after the NFC title victory over the Eagles that he was rooting for the Steelers, but not because of any competitive advantage. He has a fondness for the city, the franchise and the Rooney family.

"I mean I'm glad we're playing in it," he said, "but the reason I'm here is because of my time with Pittsburgh and I am very grateful for that."

The Cardinals, meanwhile, will try to stay grounded, despite the excitement of the community around them. Their success in the playoffs can be attributed to their underdog status, which will continue, and their ability to stay focused on the task at hand.

But, it's hard to ignore that they are in unchartered waters.

"It really set it when I saw the confetti," defensive end Bertrand Berry said of winning the NFC title. "I always dreamed of being in confetti."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it says, 'Arizona Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl.'" -- Quarterback Kurt Warner, on the meaning of the Chinese symbols on the shirt he wore after winning the NFC title.

LINEUP WATCH: The Cardinals are doing a nice job of incorporating all of their offensive threats into the game plan. Fitzgerald is benefiting from the improvement of the play-action game. That has come about because James is finding room to run. He's getting that because of the improved play of the offensive line. And they are benefiting from coordinator Todd Haley's commitment to calling the run. Last week, Haley used a personnel group that included Arrington and Hightower in the same backfield, and he did a nice job of mixing in the screen game.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--OLB/DE Travis LaBoy suffered a left biceps injury against the Eagles and his status for the Super Bowl is in question.

--WR Anquan Boldin still isn't 100 percent recovered from a hamstring strain, and he's not a happy player. He exchanged some heated words with offensive coordinator Todd Haley when Haley took him out at a critical point late in the game.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald has 419 yards receiving in three postseason games, an NFL record. Fitzgerald has had at least 100 yards receiving in five consecutive games.

--DE Antonio Smith suffered a knee injury against the Eagles but returned to action. He will be evaluated in the coming days.

--SS Adrian Wilson had two sacks against the Eagles, causing a fumble with one of them.


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