The meeting of two historic NFL franchises with contrasting identities made for compelling drama in Super Bowl XLIII.
The Arizona Cardinals, who hadn't won a title since 1947, made an improbable and suspenseful playoff run. These long-time losers, suddenly resilient and resourceful, were looking to become pro football's Slumdog Millionaires. The Pittsburgh Steelers, hoping to win an unprecedented sixth Super Bowl championship, were on a quest to become the league's Lords of the Rings.
The backstories of these two teams couldn't be more different -- except for the one season when they were similar.
In 1944, the Cardinals and Steelers were financially strapped franchises struggling to survive during World War II. So, as a wartime emergency measure, they combined football operations, splitting their home games between Chicago (where the Cardinals were located then) and Pittsburgh. The merged Cardinals and Steelers were referred to simply as "Card-Pitt," but they were so awful that people started calling them the "Car-Pitts" because, well, opponents walked all over them. Together, the Steelers and Cardinals posted a pitiful 0-12 record and were shut out in five games.
Although they had teamed up for one of the most dreadful campaigns in league annals, the Card-Pitt combo reunited Sunday night in Tampa, Fla., to produce what many are calling the greatest Super Bowl ever. As you'll hear in NFL Films' "Game of the Week," Super Bowl XLIII was so suspenseful that the Cardinals' radio analyst, Jesse Ventura sound-alike Ron Wolfley, observed before the winning touchdown: "It's 'strap on the extra large Huggies and pop the Imodium' time." That's the sort of line someone might say after finishing up a plate of extra-spicy chicken wings at a Super Bowl party.
For the second year in a row, the Super Bowl was decided by a touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone with 35 seconds remaining, and over the past decade, the game certainly has been more exciting. Still, Super Bowl XLIII deserves consideration as one of the best. This game had big plays, unexpected twists and turns and a nail-biting finale. NFL Films captured the heroics of Santonio Holmes, James Harrison, Ben Roethlisberger, Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner with 18 cameras and six sound crews. The results of their typically fine work can be seen in "Game of the Week."
In that 1944 season, the Steelers and Cardinals -- the frayed and soiled "Car-Pitts" of NFL lore -- shared laundry and losses during a bargain-basement campaign. When they reunited for Super Bowl XLIII, things had dramatically changed. This time, they had penthouse aspirations and shared a fierce desire to be the best. Being participants in an unforgettable championship fight to the finish should guarantee both teams red-carpet treatment wherever they go from here.