PITTSBURGH – The franchises remain the same, as do the star players, and given that neither team has played a game since they last met Feb. 1 in Tampa, the echoes of Super Bowl XLIII were going to follow the Cardinals and Steelers into their preseason opener Thursday night.
But a Super rematch? Uh, not so much.
"I know they do that in the preseason, they kind of build the hype," Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner said, after rolling his eyes at the concept. "But it is a preseason game and the guys who played a lot in that game probably won't play much in this game. It's more for league hype than anything else. It'll be fun. I am sure there will be a lot of talk about the Super Bowl and there will be a lot of highlights throughout the telecast, but for us, it doesn't hold a lot of significance."
Separating the two will be more difficult outside of the teams. Fans from the Arizona side talk aof revenge. ESPN, which is televising the game nationally with its "Monday Night Football" crew, exclusively used Super Bowl clips during its promo for the game on SportsCenter Wednesday.
Yet Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said it was more important for him to watch tape from the Steelers' first two preseason games from a year ago – to get a sense of how Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin likes to operate in the exhibition season – than break down the Super Bowl.
There are some Pittsburgh-related storylines too. Whisenhunt will be at Heinz Field for the first time as an opposing coach after spending six years on the Steelers' staff. Cornerback Bryant McFadden will face his old teammates for the first time after helping them beat the Cards in February. The Cards also have a bunch of players with Pennsylvania ties, either as a hometown, a college area, or having played for the Steelers.
Whisenhunt said his starters will likely only play a couple of series. Unlike the game in Florida, the quarterback story for the Cards won't be Warner but the play of the men battling for the No. 2 job – Matt Leinart and Brian St. Pierre. The emphasis will be on the passes caught not by Larry Fitzgerald or Anquan Boldin but by Lance Long or the tight end group.
"Any time you step on the field you want to be serious," tackle Mike Gandy said. "But it is a preseason game. You need to get into a game mode. There is a little something there obviously, but that was the past and we need to look forward, because I guarantee you they are looking forward."
The Cardinals did do a little bit of looking back with this game approaching, an inevitable result. Warner said one of his most lasting memories came right after Fitzgerald broke his 64-yard touchdown reception to give the Cards the Super lead with a little more than two minutes to go.
For Warner, he remembered that his previous two Super Bowls had come down to the last play.
"I remember coming to the sideline after the touchdown and a number of people (said) 'We just won the Super Bowl' and (offensive coordinator) Todd (Haley) was like, 'Give me a hug.' I was like, 'Nope, I will give you one in two and a half minutes.' I wasn't in a position to celebrate. That was the first moment where I really thought, 'We could win the Super Bowl.' To their credit, (the Steelers) did what they did."
The Cardinals have spent training camp talking about turning the page and having closure from last season. The preseason opener doesn't mean much in terms of results, but knowing it was looming, getting through this game will also help in turning the page.
"I can't take nothing away from Pittsburgh," defensive end Darnell Dockett said. "Everyone was talking about the excessive celebration from Santonio Holmes, but none of that really matters. We had the opportunity to win the Super Bowl and we came up short. We had a great season and that would have been the icing on the cake. But we know what it feels like to get there and now we have to get back there.
"(People) always want to talk about one play away. I'm just ready to get the season started and get it out of the way."