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mesaSteeler
01-23-2009, 02:49 PM
Not much: What Pittsburgh and Arizona franchises have in common
Don Banks >
INSIDE THE NFL
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/don_banks/01/23/franchises/

It's going on five days now, and the Cardinals-Steelers Super Bowl XLIII matchup still trips a bit on the tongue, doesn't it? Not only are these two teams from opposite corners of the country, but also they are franchises that seem to offer limitless contrasts in terms of their history, their fortunes, their fan bases and their place in our collective football consciousness. I really can't ever recall struggling this much to get a handle on the threads that tie this year's Super teams together.

But if you think that's just a setup for one of those week-before-the-Super Bowl comparisons of the two participating teams and their cities.....well, you'd be right. But I'm thinking maybe it'll help me wrap my head and hands around this game by the time I hit Tampa late Sunday afternoon. If Cardinals-Steelers is all we have, at least we can try to learn to love the pairing for what it is:

When you think of Pittsburgh, you think of the City of Steel. Phoenix and suburbs? More like the City of Sweat. One's a shot and a beer kind of place, the other's a sunscreen kind of place.

Everybody I've ever met from Pittsburgh is fiercely proud of their city and has been there for years. Everybody I've ever met from Arizona came from somewhere else, and seems to really like it.

In Pittsburgh, the Steelers are a way of life. A quasi-religion that goes year-round and peaks on game days. In Arizona, the Cardinals have always seemed a curiosity. Like seeing something slightly out of place but not being able to put your finger on exactly what it is.

There's definitely a Steelers Nation, and it travels, because I see it in airports all over the country every time I'm en route to one of Pittsburgh's games. By contrast, I'm not even sure there's a Cardinal community as best I can tell. Maybe it's just now forming its charter and picking its first officers.

Steelers fans are intensely loyal and into the minutia of their team. They bleed black and gold and wear it on every inch of their bodies. Cardinals fans could be called fair-weather fans, except that fair weather usually predominates in Arizona any way.

What I just can't get out of my head is that the Cardinals earlier this month needed a two-day extension of the NFL's 72-hour TV blackout rule in order to sell out their first home playoff game in 61 years. That was 61 years, and the folks in greater Phoenix still weren't sure it was a game worth attending.

I don't think that would have happened in the 'Burg, where Steelers tickets could substitute for currency.

Heinz Field's history doesn't extend further back than this decade, but it has already hosted three AFC Championship Games and been home to a Super Bowl champion. Naming the Steelers stadium after a company largely known for its ketchup just seems to fit the no-frills, blue-collar image that Pittsburgh has long been known for.

I've only been once to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., for last year's Super Bowl. But having a stadium named after an online university also seems about right for the Cardinals, because like the internet itself, they just haven't been around very long in their present incarnation.

I have to admit that Steelers logo is one of the most classic emblems in all of sports. And the quirky way it's only on one side of their helmets is way cool too (although I can never really remember which side is all black).

But I'm not knocking the Cardinals logo. I've always kind of liked the redbird head, dating back to when the St. Louis Cardinals featured an exciting, high-scoring offense under Don Coryell in the mid-70s. Even the new, updated angrier-looking Cardinal that they unveiled a few years back is OK by me. At least they didn't go all Broncos or Bucs or Patriots and change the look of the team's uniforms and logo entirely. I like some history and continuity for NFL fans to cling to.

Both teams have been owned by the same family forever, but strangely, that's about where the old-school similarity ends on that front. Steelers owner Dan Rooney is one of the most respected and beloved figures in the NFL. When he speaks, people within the league fall silent in order to listen.

On the other hand, by all accounts, Bill Bidwill is one of the more aloof and private figures in the NFL. I've been covering NFL owners meetings for about 16 years now, and I can't ever remember hearing of him getting up in front of his peers and making a case for anything. He's known for his penchant for wearing bolo ties, and pretty much keeping his own counsel.

Both Rooney and Bidwill have sons -- Art and Michael, respectively -- who will run things when their fathers are no longer with us. So in that respect they've done business in a way that is no longer the norm in the NFL.
Posted: Friday January 23, 2009 1:09PM; Updated: Friday January 23, 2009 3:41PM