Sun, Nov. 17

Column: Why Cardinals matter to a Pittsburgh fan

It's Super Bowl Sunday, and a lifelong Pittsburgh fan is in a quandary.

Man, it's the Steelers! It's the franchise that taught me about the pro game. Whatever I learned about the college game, I learned from Dad, diehard ASU addict that he is. But my first taste of profession football came in the '70s with the Steelers.

This is the franchise that is the reason that I still prefer the smash-'em-up, blue-collar style of football. This is the team that taught a baseball fanatic that football could be pretty amazing.

I grew up traveling back and forth between my native state (Arizona) and my post-parental-divorce home (Missouri). Arizona had no pro team. I could never warm to the Kansas City Chiefs, though everyone else in the Ozarks seemed to own a Chiefs jacket, and St. Louis had, well, the Cardinals.

We had a full comedy repertoire fed yearly by the football Cardinals we scorned. In Missouri, the "real" Cardinals will always be the storied baseball team.

As a child, I mysteriously latched onto hardy Pittsburgh. I learned its legacy and history. I discovered the Steelers and the Cardinals had an interesting connection when the Cards resided in Chicago. During World War II they combined as one team, known as Card-Pitt, sharing coaches and trading home fields. Who knew 65 years later Card-Pitt would be the Super Bowl?

For years, after Missouri finally unloaded the Cardinals on Arizona, I've poked fun at my brother-in-law, who showed great state loyalty by climbing on board the Cardinal bandwagon as soon as they arrived here. It's guys like Frank that built the passionate if foolhardy Cardinal fanbase that has at long last been rewarded.

While most football folks have been baffled by the Arizona Cardinals' playoff run, it's not such a mystery in Frank's home. At the start of the improbable run, Frank's daughter died tragically at age 25. When he would have been in his favorite chair glued to each playoff game, Frank was having to make funeral arrangements.

For Frank, his daughter has since been using her charming wiles on some Higher Power, helping the Cardinals along through the playoffs to help ease his pain in the worst situation a father can know. The Arizona Cardinals, of all unlikely teams, have been a lift in the middle of all this, a bright spot in dark days for their biggest fan.

Other Arizonans are facing financial crises and frightening futures, but they have had one thing to cheer about. No matter what happens in tonight's game, the Cardinals have done the best a sports team can do - surprise and uplift their fans.

So this is one Steelers fan who can honestly say, "Go Cards!"

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