Back in 2003, I went on quite a rant on one of the most disappointing culminations of the baseball postseason. Two teams, both with a history of curses and woe, stood on the threshold of reaching the World Series and making it the most interesting and watchable series to casual viewers. But thanks to the blunders of Steve Bartman and Grady Little, both teams got eliminated in seven games of their conference series, leaving the championship to be decided by a team with a history of monopolizing the free agent market and a team notorious for dismantling its last championship team for the sole purpose of minimizing payroll.
The Marlins-Yankees scuffle in ’03 would forever go down in Loogaroo parlance as the Worst Case Series, the baseball equivalent of bait-and-switch.
We have a new matchup to place along side the WCS as one of the worst to ever decide a sports championship. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Stinker Bowl.
The difference between the two is the level of familiarity I have between the teams in each match. As has been recounted probably more times than is necessary, baseball simply Isn’t My Thing, so the only way you’ll see me give a rat’s posterior about its championship is by involving teams with a storyline that transcends the sport they play in – not the Baseball Borg and the Fire Sale Fish. The NFL, however, is a different story. I follow that league more closely than any other major sport, and so I have varying sentiments about each of the teams. The Seahawks, obviously, get my unconditional (albeit tough) love. The Patriots, I respect. The Packers, I revere their history. The Lions, I pity.
This matchup between the Cardinals and the Steelers, without a doubt, is possibly the single worst Super Bowl pairing they could’ve possibly put together for a Seahawk fan. The only way it might be any worse is if the Raiders were prominently involved.
Let’s start with the Cardinals. The only reason they even got a sniff of the postseason this year was because so many members of the normally dominant Seahawks came down with leprosy at the exact same time. When you’re forced to start wide receivers with last names like Bumpus and McMullen, there’s no way you can win more than six games as a team. The Cards were the beneficiaries of Seattle’s swoon, and despite having two of the five worst teams in the league in its conference, could still only manage a 9-7 record. The playoff scheduling gods were then extremely friendly to Arizona, serving them up a home game against a rookie quarterback, a fecal performance by a consistently inconsistent Jake Delhomme, and another home game against an emotionally exhausted Philly team that had been playing elimination games since Week 17.
Handing the Vince Lombardi trophy to the Cardinals would be like awarding the NBA championship to the Clippers. Cameroon hoisting the World Cup. Sanjaya landing the million-dollar Idol contract. Cute story, perhaps, but It Just Isn’t Supposed to Happen. The fact that they’re a division rival turns what would be a Cinderella story into a gross injustice if Arizona indeed ends up victorious.
So, what’s the big deal? you may be asking. So the Cardinals are in your division, and don’t want them to win out of rivalistic envy. Just root for the other team, then.
That wouldn’t be a problem, if the other team weren’t the Pittsburgh Freaking Stealers.
Three years ago, the Seahawks had risen above their characteristic mediocrity for one shining moment. They went on a regular-season tear that saw them winning eleven games in a row, and two solid postseason wins had them going to Detroit for the first Super Bowl in the team’s 30-year history.
Then the referees had to rig the game.
Super Bowl XL was fixed, and nobody will convince me otherwise. With the crowd so overwhelmingly pro-Steeler and the storyline of Jerome Bettis’ impeding retirement rammed down everyone’s throats, there was no way they were going to let some rinky-dink team from the Northwest lay a finger on the beloved black and gold. Seattle outgained Pittsburgh by over 60 yards and had the ball for six minutes longer. Roethlisberger was 9 for 21 with two picks and was sacked three times. How the hell does a team get dominated that badly and still win? Hey, I know – by the refs making every single call in their favor. They took 14 points off the board from Seattle with retarded interference calls, and handed Pittsburgh 14 points of their own with Big Ben’s rendition of the Phantom Touchdown and a cheap block-in-the-back call that set up the back-breaking option pass to Willie Parker. A team that ranked second in the league in fewest penalties during the regular season was flagged twice as often as their opponent, for three times as many yards.
No Steeler fan can look me in the eyes and tell me that that game was won fairly.
So that leads me to the dilemma I have today: who to root for tomorrow, or at least, who to call as the winner.
You know, it’s unfortunate that I’m so disgusted by who’s playing in this year’s big game, because this really is an interesting match-up between a high-flying offense and a hard-nosed defense. And as they always say, offense wins championships.
Oh, wait – it doesn’t.
Pittsburgh Steelers – 24
Arizona Cardinals – 13
MVP: Troy Polamalu (2 INTs, 1 TD return)
Over/under for penalty yards against ARI: 55 (I’m not saying. I’m just saying.)