Kevin Butler looked up as thousands of Cardinals fans waited to cascade down.
After seven years of pent-up frustration, an impromptu party was ready to break out, and all the veteran kicker had to do was connect on a 20-yard field goal.
The snap was good, the hold perfect, but from the moment the ball was hit, it started slicing left, and Butler braced for the worst.
"I just remember holding my head and going, 'Oh, gosh,'" Butler said. "If I didn't make that, they might have carried me out of the stadium instead of the goalposts."
The ball doinked off the left upright and barely fluttered through -- but by a whisker or by a mile, it did not matter.
The Cardinals, after 13 consecutive losses to the vaunted Dallas Cowboys, had slayed the dragon with a 25-22 overtime victory in the 1997 regular-season home opener.
"It was a long time coming," said wide receiver Rob Moore, who played for the Cardinals from 1995 to 2001. "It was a team that in the past had done some really disrespectful things – little things like walking through our stretch lines before a game instead of walking around. All the little things like that kind of add up over the years, and we knew at that particular time that we were good enough to beat them. It was just a matter of us believing that and getting it done."
Unbeknownst to many, the last-second victory was only the start of the fun, as thousands of Cardinals fans streamed onto the field for a spontaneous celebration.
Some congratulated the players, while a more daring group of revelers climbed the goalposts, dislodged them from the ground and began an epic march to Mill Avenue.
"My brothers had bruises on their shoulders," said Jake Plummer, then a rookie quarterback for the Cardinals. "They were riding on the goalposts at one point. They were having a wild time."
In 1997, the Cardinals were wrapping up a decade in the desert, and it had mostly been futile. There were no winning seasons in that span, and the battle to change the allegiance of the locals was still being waged.
"A lot of people come to the Valley from other places, and they were still loyal to their home teams," said Larry Centers, the Cardinals' star fullback from 1990 to 1998. "And we, quite frankly, hadn't really given them a whole lot to root for."
The tepid support was never more obvious than the annual home game against the division rival Cowboys.
"Before the Cardinals came, they were the only game in town," said Vince Tobin, the Cardinals' head coach from 1996 through 2000. "When you played them, you had probably 80 percent Cowboy fans in the stands and 20 percent Cardinal fans. I used to always say that the fans had to fight as hard in the stands as we did on the field to get a victory."
The Cardinals lost their opener in 1997, and the Cowboys won theirs by 30. Dallas had won five NFC East titles and three championships that decade, and the team still had Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith and Deion Sanders on its roster.
Needless to say, hopes weren't particularly high that the Cardinals' home opener was going to have a much different outcome than any of the previous clashes.
"They were the big brothers, and we were the little brothers," said Frank Sanders, a standout Cardinals wide receiver from 1995 through 2002. "They had all the names and all the swag."