Kurt Warner (left), Anquan Boldin (center), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and the Cardinals take part in Saturday's autograph session.
When Ken Whisenhunt was first hired by the Cardinals, he attended a Phoenix Suns playoff game while the Suns were still at their running-and-gunning heights.
The new Cardinals? head coach felt the energy in the building from the fans, hoping he could duplicate such a thing with the Cards with a little success.
Two years later, the Cardinals are coming off their first Super Bowl appearance. The stands were full at the team?s Tempe complex Saturday for the annual Fan Fest, and for Whisenhunt, that energy and passion once delivered to the local NBA team has now migrated to Arizona?s NFL side.
?Our fans are excited, but even national people ? look at the draft and we are getting the benefit of the doubt because we did have success,? Whisenhunt said. ?I do think there has been a perception change. The thing we have to do is sustain the success to establish the credibility.?
The Cardinals, despite significant change on the coaching staff and even within the roster, should be the favorite to win the NFC West division again. For a team that had never won a division title since moving to Arizona, that notion alone is significant.
Nothing impacts a franchise like a Super Bowl appearance, however. Once, wide receiver Anquan Boldin said, the Cards ?were a laughingstock. I think a lot more people are paying attention to the Cardinals now.?
The star factor helps. Because of the playoffs, there was arguably no bigger star in the NFL by the end of the season than wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Quarterback Kurt Warner re-established himself on the national map.
Winning, however, is the lynchpin of the resurgence.
?There are a lot more people and a lot more support (now),? Fitzgerald said, looking over the Fan Fest crowd. ?It?s different around the city, and that?s just a product of winning. The more we get that done, the more fans will jump on the bandwagon.?
Warner, entering his fifth season with the Cards, always saw a ?vague optimism? from fans every year. Then those feelings would be squashed early in the season.
?The great thing now is we are building this thing and the city and community are excited,? Warner said. ?Seeing all the fans out here and screaming and hollering and getting excited about football early, it will help us going forward.?
Growing up in the Valley and rooting for the Cardinals, guard Deuce Lutui acknowledges he can see both sides of the relationship. Crowds at University of Phoenix Stadium ?fuel our momentum,? Lutui said, a far cry from the tiny crowds when the team played at Sun Devil Stadium.
But Lutui, a rookie in 2006 when the Cards were in the new stadium but still stumbled to a 1-8 start, admits he was part of the difficult time to believe in the franchise. That?s why he embraces this shift in how the Cardinals are seen.
?It was a long time coming,? Lutui said.
As the team prepared to come out for the morning autograph session Saturday morning, one of the players asked Whisenhunt if the Cards had had the same extensive security for Fan Fest last year. Whisenhunt told him no.
?He said, ?Why do we have it this year?? ? Whisenhunt said. ?I said, ?That?s what happens when you go to the Super Bowl.? It?s definitely a little bit different.?
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 5/2/09.