In one corner is a perennial winner in the Steelers, owners of five world titles and one of the best run franchises in football. In the other corner is the Cardinals: perennial losers and the NFL's oldest franchise, who's only championship came 61 years ago. During that 61 year drought the Cards have become the NFL's biggest laughing stock next to the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns, but it is only now that the Cards have exorcised the demons to get to this game.
Sure,the Cardinals history is a great storyline. The matchup of two Super Bowl winning quarterbacks is another, and the fact that Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, who used to be the Pittsburgh offensive coordinator and was a favorite to get the Steelers head coaching job two years ago before Mike Tomlin took the job, is another. But, while looking back at this 2008 NFL season, it is hard not to think about what could have been a bigger postseason and a quite possibly a more attractive Super Bowl.
On Monday November 24, just three days before Thanksgiving, the New York Giants were 11-1 and the New York Jets were 8-3. Fans across the tri-state area were going ga ga about the possibility that both New York franchises would make a run at the Super Bowl in the same season. Giants/Jets may not have seemed attractive to people in Denver, or Phoenix, or Dallas, but it would have garnered a lot more hype than the matchup we have before us now.
Giants/Jets would have easily have been the biggest sports week and game in New York/New Jersey history. It would have been the defending champions against Brett Favre, who would have resurrected the Jets into a winner again.
Those dreams are gone with the wind now. The Jets suffered a collapse that would make the New York Mets blush, losing four of their final five games to finish at 9-7, missing the postseason. The meltdown cost coach Eric Mangini his job and led fans and players to criticize Favre as washed up and careless with the football.
The Giants played equally lousy down the stretch, losing three of four and were lucky to beat Carolina on a windy Sunday night if it were not for Carolina's kicker missing a game winning field goal. The Giants entered January as cold as the 16 degree weather that has ravaged New Jersey for the past month. The Eagles came into Giants Stadium and did away with Big Blue as if they were some pesky fly. Eli Manning got reintroduced to the boo birds that marred his career before "The Helmet Catch Game" a year ago, and highly touted defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo left to coach the St. Louis Rams.
Now both franchises are left to wonder what if: If only the Jets had shown up in Oakland, San Francisco and Seattle, then, maybe, today would be a different story. If only Plaxico Burress decided not to stuff a pistol down his pants one infamous Saturday night, this week could have been different. If only Brett Favre didn't look like a 50-year-old man, things may have been different. If only Eric Mangini showed a little more interest, the Jets may have played a game in January. If only the Giants hadn't laid down down in the stretch, it could have been better than this. If only the Giants had run Brandon Jacobs all day against the Eagles, the Giants would have been in Tampa Bay today.
Hypotheticals. That is all Giant and Jet fans have to contemplate. Super Bowl XLIII will be played to joyous fans in Pittsburgh and Arizona, but to fans in New York and in New Jersey, the game will feel more like a boring mid-season matchup between the Steelers and the Cardinals. The excitment just won't be there for Cardinals/Steelers unless the game is close. Yes, Super Bowl XLIII would have been, could have been, and should have been something so much more, something really ... super.