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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Super Bowl XLIII: Where Buzzsaws Meet Steel Curtains

On February 1, a Cinderella squad will look to shock a heavy favorite to crown the champion of one of the craziest NFL seasons in recent memory.

The Arizona Cardinals, who limped into the playoffs at 9-7, have gotten hot at the right moment and will bring their vaunted pass attack into Raymond James Stadium in Tampa for Super Bowl XLI. The only problem: the league’s number one pass and overall defense awaits them in the form of the fearsome Pittsburgh Steelers.

The old saying may be that defense wins championships, and Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner is ancient enough to remember when that phrase may have first been uttered. But the 37-year old hopes to prove that adage wrong, and has experience as a Super Bowl champion with the St. Louis Rams. Of course, having All-World wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. at his beck and call will help once the Steelers come blitzing. Fitzgerald has already set a single-season playoff record for receiving yards, and is one touchdown catch away from tying Jerry Rice’s playoff record.

Hoping to slow Fitzgerald and the Cardinals will be the 3-4 blitz schemes of the Steelers defense. Highlighted by outstanding linebackers like LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s creations have wreaked havoc on offenses all season. Harrison wound up named NFL Defensive Player of the Year, while safety Troy Polamalu, cornerback Ike Taylor and inside linebacker James Farrior will be joining Harrison in the Pro Bowl in Hawaii next month.

Much has been made about the Cardinals perhaps not even belonging in the playoffs, as they barely compiled a winning record en route to winning the putrid NFC West. While teams with stronger records like the New England Patriots (11-5, albeit in the AFC) had to watch at home, Arizona advanced to the playoffs despite not winning a game on the East Coast this season. However, they stormed into Carolina and walloped the Panthers, proving they could play with anyone the NFL had to offer in the postseason. Will they continue their winning ways in the Eastern Time Zone in Tampa, or revert back to the team that looked lost outside of Arizona?

There is a coaching subplot to this game as well. While it may lack the historical element featured in Super Bowl XLI, when black coaches reached the Championship for the first time (Lovie Smith of the Bears and Tony Dungy of the Colts), Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt knows all about the Steelers system. In fact, had an interview process gone differently, perhaps he would be leading the Steelers into Tampa.

Following beloved coach Bill Cowher’s retirement in 2007, the Steelers interviewed multiple candidates for the job that eventually went to Mike Tomlin. Before Pittsburgh chose Minnesota’s former defensive coordinator, however, they interviewed position coaches Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm. Both are now in Arizona, as Grimm followed his colleague to the desert as an assistant head coach and the architect of the Cardinals’ offensive line. While all parties involved say the split was amicable, one would assume that a victory would validate Whisenhunt, and leave Steelers fans wondering what could have been had he been offered the job instead of Tomlin.

The final running storyline in this game is the history of both franchises. The Arizona Cardinals had one playoff win coming into this season and no Super Bowl rings. The Steelers are tied with the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys for the most Super Bowl titles of all time, with five. Either way, the winner of this game will end up being historic.