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Fans Come Back To Football

Those who follow the Cards thrilled for start of season


Cardinals fans head into the stadium Sunday before the team opened against the Panthers.

Joe Kovalesky would be on the golf course. Kelly Marshall would be at home doing laundry. Shirley Fernandez would be watching the news on her couch. Jafar Zuhri would mowing his lawn.

And Steve Sumwalt? He'd be brooding.

Instead these frenzied football fans were scattered around the great lawn at University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday before the Cards opened the regular season against Carolina.

Tailgating is back in business for Arizona Cardinals fans after a lockout threatened the 2011 season. Sumwalt never doubted the season would be lost. 

"It's a cash cow, they can't lock out," said the 'chef' of his noisy tailgate party. So instead of sitting at home pouting, he is out cooking stuffed burger with chilies and cheese for dozens of friends. 

Tents and tables were set up and red, white and blue was a dominate theme outside. The new season began on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Fans were humbled with patriotism for their country and passion for their team as kick off approached. 

"It's camaraderie," said Marshall, a first-time tailgater. She was thankful she wasn't at home sorting the whites from the colors. "People are here to celebrate and remember 9/11 and the ceremonies that are taking place," she said. "It's like a community out here.''

Flags flew in the bright sunshine and fans flaunted t-shirts with "Property of US Navy" emblazoned across the front. 

"I'm loyal to my Cardinals and my country," said Fernandez, decked out in a Cardinals jersey and American flag flats. "Football is America and we've been to every game since 1988." 

Kovalesky, another long-time fan, has been coming to games for more than 20 years.

"We would've been very depressed," Kovalesky said about the lockout.

This is the Kovalesky's favorite time of year. "It's like a big family for us," he said, surrounded with tents and televisions at the tailgate. A round of golf wouldn't compare to cranking tunes and having a few beers and franks.

Zuhri is happy to have a souvenir cup of coke in one hand and a prime rib sandwich in the other. "Anything beats yard work."

Zuhri also never thought twice about the season starting on time. "The players want to play, the owners want to draw in revenue and the fans want to watch games," he said. 

They are all excited about the Cardinals, who underwent an overhaul after last season's 5-11 disappointment. One-third of the team is new, including 10 starters. "We're ready to go, hopefully we'll have a good season," said Sumwalt. 

Zuhri felt the same.

"Can't wait, let's go Cardinals," Zuhri said.

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