Cardinals (from left to right) Karlos Dansby, Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and Gerald Hayes embrace the NFC Championship trophy.
The players were beginning to celebrate on the sideline, or at the very least, staring out on the field watching the final few plays.
And there Adrian Wilson sat on the bench by himself, baseball cap on, head down. He looked like he was in his own world.
"I didn't know what to do," Wilson said. "It was big. It was a great moment."
Trying to put Sunday's NFC Championship for the Cardinals – won by virtue of a
32-25 victory over Philadelphia – wasn't all that simple. The whoops and hollering on the field afterward doesn't always translate to print.
Fullback Terrelle Smith was teary, remembering his mom's proclamation that the Cards would indeed make it this far. Kicker Neil Rackers was too, thinking about how this is just the second winning season he has experienced in his 18 years of playing football.
Guard Reggie Wells climbed up on the podium during the NFC Championship trophy presentation and couldn't help but feel the moment.
"You think about the game throughout the week and you try not to get overhyped, but sometimes when you stop to think about it, it can make you well up, thinking everything it's taken to get here, all the bumps along the road you've been through," Wells said.
The best thing that could happen to the Cardinals is the two weeks before playing the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. There is time to regroup and let this all sink in before getting back to work.
(Quick aside: The Steelers? Really? The team that let coach Ken Whisenhunt and assistant head coach Russ Grimm go and flee to the desert for this stunning two-year turnaround? Let the storylines begin.)
The ride was going to be a fun one when it was 24-6 at halftime and the Cards looked like they would run over the Eagles. The fun had dissipated by the time Philly had taken a 25-24 lead early in the fourth quarter and the 70,650 in attendance – almost all of them, at least, since there was a sprinkling of Eagles' fans – were stunned at the comeback.
Perhaps, though, the setup was too perfect for the Cardinals, a summary of the season.
Start fast and look good doing it, hit a disappointing bump, and then rally at the end.
"We've had ups and downs, we've been up and let people back in, not played our best, but at the end, this team has a lot of heart and character," tackle Mike Gandy said. "If you can't turn it on to go to the Super Bowl, we don't deserve to be there."
Fourteen plays later, a touchdown. And a trip to Tampa.
"You know what, this team, dude, this team is different," safety Matt Ware said. "What just happened, when we were down 25-24 … a year ago, two years ago, as many years you want to go back, it might have been ugly. It's a different team. I think everyone understands for real."
There will be so much written and said about the Cardinals over the next two weeks. The team won't leave until early next week to face the international cornucopia of media, but even before that the stories of Wilson and Karlos Dansby and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will begin to be told.
For now, though, words don't necessarily describe what the Cardinals were feeling Sunday night.
How would they even begin to explain a Super Bowl win?
"We just have to do it," Wells said, "for one more game."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 1/18/09.
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