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Despite Super Bowl loss, Cardinals greeted by fans on return home

PHOENIX -- Fans erupted into cries of "Let's go, Cardinals" as the team returned home one day after a tough loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.

Head coach Ken Whisenhunt and some of the team's star players briefly addressed the 4,000-plus crowd that met the Arizona Cardinals on Monday at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Whisenhunt thanked the fans for showing up despite the Cardinals' defeat. Sunday's 27-23 loss to Pittsburgh in Tampa, Fla., came in Arizona's first Super Bowl appearance.

"You guys make it so special," Whisenhunt said. "Thank you for coming out and giving us this little lift as we go forward to next season and get us back to the Super Bowl again."

Dressed in red and white, fans waited in the sun behind barricades to glimpse the players and coaches as they exited the plane. Many fans had drinks to stay hydrated while holding Cardinals flags and signs. Some carried messages such as "Super Bowl champs in our hearts" and "thanks 4 the ride."

Quarterback Kurt Warner, who was 31-for-43 passing for 377 yards and three touchdowns, was dressed in jeans and a long-sleeve black shirt. He said that despite his obvious disappointment, he was happy with how the team played.

"I could not have been more proud of being a part of a football team, a football organization or a football community as I was this year in Arizona," Warner said.

Now a free agent, Warner didn't rule out returning to the Cardinals.

"I hope we made you proud this year, and we will keep on going," Warner said. "Go, Cardinals!"

Only after shouts of "Larry," did wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald get on stage. Wearing sunglasses, a gray suit and red tie, Fitzgerald promised another Super Bowl trip.

"We love you, and we want to see you guys next year. We're going to do it again," said Fitzgerald, who caught seven passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns in the Super Bowl.

He and the rest of the team then filed into a waiting caravan of buses.

Many parents took their children out of school early or for the entire day to attend the rally.

"When they grow up, they can say, 'Hey, we watched the Super Bowl. We were there -- we saw the team get off the plane.' (It's) a tradition we want to pass onto our kids," said Veronica Moreno, 32, who brought her three daughters.

For others, it was crucial to show there was no shortage of Cardinals support.

Dean Tomlinson of Surprise, Ariz., showed up early to hold a banner hailing the team as the "big red band of brothers."

"I'm afforded the chance to come out and do my little piece of the puzzle to help support them when they come home and show them they're an awesome team and we appreciate them," he said.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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