A cleaned-out Cardinals locker room at their Tempe practice facility just before the Patriots moved in for the week.
Up until the bitter end, the refrain from the Cardinals never changed. In late January, they wanted to be the team in their Tempe training facility, priming to become the first host city to win a Super Bowl.
That goal fell short, of course. After a 9-1 start, injuries took their toll and the Cards bowed out to the Panthers in the NFC wild card round.
Many of the players are busy this week with media and community appearances, helping shine the Valley in a positive light, but it's still not
easy to know there's another team using their fields and equipment. The Patriots had their second of three practices at the facility on Thursday as they ready for Sunday's matchup against the Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium. They will have their final tune-up on Friday. "I wish I was dressing in there," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "I try not to think about it too much. Thanks for bringing it up, man."
Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch played for the Cardinals from 2007-10. He then moved on to the Seahawks, so it's been an interesting week as all his worlds collided.
"Everything's tying together," Branch said. "Playing an old team in (another) old team's stadium, it's kind of crazy."
When he first arrived in the locker room on Wednesday, Branch found his nameplate, which was in a new place compared to his stint in Arizona. It brought back a quick moment of nostalgia, but the rest of the time has been spent looking forward to the game.
Branch said he's been a key figure in the Patriots' Super Bowl preparation.
"Everybody asks me (where to go) if they're lost in the facility, or where the bathroom is," Branch said. "That's basically the only advantage I have. I showed them where the bathroom was a couple times."
New England left tackle Nate Solder raved about the condition of the practice field and the ideal weather, and the Cardinals' equipment and video employees have been on hand the past few days to assist the Patriots.
Solder said the setup has made it an easy transition for the Patriots as they prepare for Sunday's big game.
"Luckily the place had everything we needed," Solder said. "You're orienting yourself, but that happened in the first five or ten minutes. Once we got situated (the preparation was similar), besides there being windows in the meeting rooms -- that's a little bit different than we're used to."
The Cards have been gracious hosts, albeit reluctant ones who wished they were still playing.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson said it would have been worse if the practice locations of the conference champions were flipped. While the Cardinals would have stayed in their building, any other NFC champion was always slated to practice at Arizona State. Since the rival Seahawks are aiming for a repeat title, having them in the facility would have been salt in the wound.
"I'm better with that (Patriots) team coming in there versus the other one," Peterson said. "I'm cool with it. These are the two best teams right now in the NFL. It's going to be an awesome game. It's just unfortunate they've got to use our facilities."
Images from the Cardinals-Steelers Super Bowl 2009 Super Bowl matchup