Antonio Smith and the Cardinals have a rare chance to advance to the Super Bowl Sunday when they play the Eagles in Glendale.
Finding himself in the Super Bowl as a rookie with the Philadelphia Eagles as a rookie in 2005, Matt Ware figured it was his first trip of many.
"I was spoiled," the Cardinals' safety admitted.
His second year in Philadelphia was one of the Eagles' lone down years in recent
times, when quarterback Donovan McNabb missed a good portion of the year with a knee injury. Then Ware came to Arizona. Not only didn't Ware sniff the Super Bowl, he hadn't even returned to the postseason before this year.
The Cardinals have done their best to make the past week like any of the other 18 before it. Head down, plowing ahead. No time to smell the roses, as defensive end Bertrand Berry put it, because there was still work left.
No one wants to enjoy much when the enjoyment level can be so much greater.
But the Cards will hopefully still grasp what Sunday's NFC Championship game
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium
TV: Fox (Ch. 10)
Radio: News/Talk 92.3 FM and Sports 620 KTAR (pregame at 10 a.m.)
means. To play in a game that propels the winner to the Super Bowl is rare enough; to host that game – given the crazy scenarios it took to make it happen – probably couldn't have gotten realistic odds in Vegas.
"We have to cherish every moment," fullback and free-agent-to-be Terrelle Smith said. "At the end of the week, we only have a few hours to keep this locker room together. When you look at it that way, it's a different ballgame. It's life. I look at Matt (Leinart), 'Hey, end of the week, you may not see me no more, not every day.' It takes a toll. Younger guys have to really take a look at that and realize this is serious."
Indeed, that's the bigger picture view of this point in the season, even beyond Super Bowl-or-not. The Cardinals face one of the more interesting (and potentially dicey) offseasons coming up. Kurt Warner and Karlos Dansby, among others, are free agents. Anquan Boldin wants a new contract. Adrian Wilson, and probably Darnell Dockett, will want one too.
It's difficult to keep a team together – defensive end Antonio Smith is a free agent too, as are many of the key pieces making up the underbelly of the roster – which is why every team must capitalize on the now.
Of course, believing coach Ken Whisenhunt has helped usher in a new era of Cardinal football helps stall some of the worries. Get a good staff in place, and the idea is to reload rather than rebuild.
It's also easier to live in the now when everyone assumes you've had a heck of a season regardless of the outcome.
"Nobody expects us to win," Whisenhunt said, "so I don't think there is a great deal of pressure on us."
Really, nobody expected any of this. The Cardinals in the NFC title game. The game being played in Glendale. More people believed the No. 6-seeded Eagles, who needed a miracle to even make the playoffs (the Buccaneers and Bears losing the finale, while Philly won), would be playing this weekend, including the Eagles themselves.
"We've never felt we were playing with house money, because we've always felt we should have been in this position all along," Eagles running back Brian Westbrook said.
Still, you see how this played out and you wonder. The Cardinals hosted perhaps the only NFC playoff team ill-equipped to handle what has become one of the stronger home-field advantages and beat the Falcons. They got to Carolina and got 50 degrees and little rain, instead of the near-freezing temperatures and downpour that was once feared. Then they get to come home.
For all that concern about weather derailing the Cardinals in the postseason, it's never going to be a factor.
It's just another reason to cherish the situation. Getting close is difficult. Rosters change. Circumstances change. Rookies Tim Hightower and Calais Campbell may see this season like Ware once did – hoping they don't see subsequent seasons also like Ware did.
The moment doesn't come along often.
"It's funny because even though we've exceeded expectations, now that we're here, I'm not satisfied," Warner said. "We want to do more.
"We don't want it to end here." * * * Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 1/17/09.