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Don Banks: Pittsburgh and Arizona franchises have not much in common
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.
• Steelers fans love to recall their team's storied history and pick Pittsburgh's all-time team. Have the Chicago-St. Louis-Phoenix-Arizona Cardinals ever been in one place long enough to try something like that? And who would captain the team, Cuba Gooding Jr., who played Cardinals receiver Rod Tidwell in "Jerry Maguire"?
One more good game and I suppose Larry Fitzgerald Jr. could supplant Gooding Jr.
• People forget, but before 1972, the Steelers were the Cardinals when it came to their futile history of making the playoffs. From their founding in 1933 through 1971, the Steelers made the playoffs only once, losing an Eastern Division tiebreaker game to Philadelphia in 1947. Interestingly enough, the Eagles went on to lose the NFL title game to the Chicago Cardinals the next week.
The Cardinals went from 1947 to 1998 between playoff wins, and made the postseason just six times from 1947 to 2007. They owned just two playoff wins in that span, having earned three the past three weeks. By comparison, the Steelers have been a playoff perennial since 1972, and are going for their record sixth Super Bowl title in Tampa.
• Both teams have a legitimate war hero who is part of their franchise's history. In Arizona, of course, it's Pat Tillman, the former Cardinals and Arizona State safety who volunteered for the Army Rangers after 9/11 and died in Afghanistan in April 2004. He is revered by Cardinals fans, and his story of sacrifice truly is unique in today's professional sports.
But in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Pittsburgh, the Steelers had running back Rocky Bleier, who won a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star after being wounded in Vietnam in August 1969. Bleier needed two years to rehabilitate his right leg after leaving the Army, but eventually through sheer perseverance he earned his way back into the Steelers lineup and wound up winning four Super Bowl rings in Pittsburgh.
He wrote a book about his saga -- "Fighting Back: The Rocky Bleier Story'' -- which later became a made-for-TV movie starring Robert Urich. Fortunately for us all, Tillman's story has yet to reach the small-screen.
• You think of Steelers coaches and you think of continuity. Pittsburgh has had three head coaches in the past 40 years -- Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin. The Cardinals haven't had 40 head coaches in the past 40 years, it only seems that way.
Fourteen men have led the Cardinals since Noll took over in Pittsburgh in 1969, and who could forget the likes of Charley Winner (who wasn't enough of one), Bob Hollway, Gene Stallings, Hank Kuhlmann, Joe Bugel, Buddy Ryan, and Dennis "They are who we thought they were'' Green?
Have you noticed they don't put any Steelers on those Coors Light spoofs of NFL head coaches? Not even Cowher at his sideline spitting best. That's not just coincidence.
• I finally came up with a significant tie that binds the Cardinals and Steelers. They both have a history with good but never great quarterbacks named Neil. The Cardinals had Neil Lomax from 1981 to '88, and he was their starter in their first season in Phoenix, in 1988. Lomax actually made the Pro Bowl twice as a Cardinal, but he could make you slap your forehead just as easily.
And in Pittsburgh, there was Neil O'Donnell, the man who turned Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown into a Super Bowl MVP. O'Donnell was taken by the Steelers in the third round of the 1990 draft, out of Maryland. He played the first six of his 14 NFL seasons in Pittsburgh, and led the Steelers to the Super Bowl after the 1995 season.
But in his final game as a Steeler, he threw two horrible interceptions to Brown in Super Bowl XXX, helping seal Pittsburgh's defeat to Dallas. It's still the only Super Bowl the Steelers have ever lost, and it just occurred to me where the game was played.
Yep. In Tempe, Ariz. On the Arizona Cardinals then-home field of Sun Devil Stadium. That has to mean something for Super Bowl XLIII from a karmic standpoint, doesn't it?
Very cool facts. Simple & short. Here is 2 our 6th 1.
BTW, I don't think this was posted, & if it is I'm sorry.