One Step From Super Bowl, Cardinals Are Taking Desert by Storm

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ken Harvey remembers posing for a picture at the Pro Bowl in the mid-1990s with Tim McDonald and Jay Novacek.

Harvey, a linebacker, was with the Washington Redskins. McDonald, a safety, was a member of the San Francisco 49ers, and Novacek, a tight end, was with the Dallas Cowboys. Their bond was that they'd all made it to Hawaii as escapees from the Phoenix Cardinals, as the franchise was named when the three were teammates in a pro football wasteland in the desert.

"We were all there," Harvey said this week of the trio's Hawaiian reunion, "because we'd left the Cardinals."

The Arizona Cardinals will take the field tomorrow with a Pro Bowl quarterback and two Pro Bowl wide receivers. They'll host the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game before a packed house at their still-glistening, three-year-old jewel of a retractable-roof stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

"For a long time, I didn't think I'd ever see it happen," Harvey said in a phone interview. "Then when they got the new stadium and got out of the NFC East, I thought it could happen someday. But I didn't expect this, not now."

Few did. The fourth-seeded Cardinals began these playoffs as a mildly compelling success story: One of the league's woebegone franchises was making a rare postseason appearance. But they seemed to be in the playoff field mostly because of their participation in the weak NFC West, having posted a 9-7 record during the regular season while losing all five of their East Coast road games by an average margin of 20 points.

Now they're coming off a home win over the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the playoffs and a stunningly lopsided triumph at Carolina last weekend over the second-seeded Panthers in an NFC semifinal. They have two victories in the same postseason for the first time in franchise history. They're in their first NFC title game and they're on the franchise's best run of playoff success since the Chicago Cardinals won the NFL championship game in 1947, back in the days when the postseason consisted of a single game.

If they beat the sixth-seeded Eagles tomorrow, Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill will be hoisting the George Halas Trophy given to the NFC champions and his team will be headed to the Super Bowl.

"It's great," Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson said during a midweek news conference.

How great?

"Super great," Wilson said.

The Cardinals are not totally without tradition. They're a charter member of the NFL. They have 16 enshrinees in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They returned to the NFL championship game in 1948, a year after winning the title, but lost. The franchise moved from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960 and had some good seasons there. Don Coryell coached the club to NFC East titles in 1974 and '75. Jim Hanifan coached the team to the playoffs in '82.

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