For a brief moment, it seemed all hope was lost. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was about to single-handedly crush every single Arizona Cardinals fan’s dream with a spectacular hail mary throw, a play that just screamed Santonio Holmes 2.0.
Green Bay Packers receiver Jeff Janis managed to out jump two Cardinals secondary players and catch a 41-yard touchdown pass as time expired, but then Larry Fitzgerald happened.
Fitzgerald recorded 176 yards receiving on eight catches, none bigger than a 75-yard catch on the first play of overtime, a play on which Carson Palmer probably should have been sacked.
A few seconds later, Fitzgerald made the play of the season on a shovel pass from Palmer and forced his way into the end zone to end the game.
These Arizona Cardinals have the chance to make it far.
It’s been a while since one of the major four Arizona teams have won a national championship—14 years to be exact. The Arizona Diamondbacks were the last team in the Grand Canyon state to hoist a championship trophy.
“I’m blown away by what this run has meant to the community,” said Paola Boivin, sports columnist for The Arizona Republic. “Especially in a year when the Suns are really struggling, this playoff run has been a unifying event, and for those long-time fans who have suffered through the decades of failure, it means much more than those accustomed to winning.”
The last team to come close was Ken Whisenhunt’s 2009 Cardinals, before they ran straight into the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. Fans are suddenly starting to react, even with how tough it may be to support a team that hasn’t won a championship since 1947.
However, now the Cardinals are playing with that fire and Fitzgerald is at the forefront of it.
“He’s the face of it,” ESPN’s NFL Nation reporter Josh Weinfuss said. “When people around Arizona—and most likely around the country—think about the Cardinals, they instantly think Larry Fitzgerald. You can tell his impact on the franchise when people who aren’t football fans know who he is.”
The Carolina Panthers, who finished the regular season 15-1, now stand in Arizona’s way on Sunday. The NFL’s best team, headed by Cam Newton, will look to take down another NFC West team like they did last week against the Seattle Seahawks.
“Locally, there has been a sense of nervous excitement, because people know what this team is capable of,” said Adam Green of 98.7 FM radio. “But of course, with that comes a level of expectation never seen with this football team.”
So what are this team’s chances?
Weinfuss has covered the Cardinals for the last four seasons, three of which have been with ESPN.
“I think their chances are just as good as anyone’s,” Weinfuss said. “But the question Sunday will be which Cardinals’ offense shows up? Will it be the one that played in the first half against Green Bay, or the one that dropped 40 against Philadelphia? This is by far the best Cardinals team ever, that’s not up for debate. They’re well rounded and have the weapons to win Super Bowl 50.”
Green has covered the Cardinals for the past two and a half years and currently has a radio show on 98.7 FM on Saturday mornings.
“While they are the underdogs going into Carolina, it is not at all unreasonable to think the Cardinals will win this game and then Super Bowl 50,” Green said.
Boivin has covered sports as a columnist in Arizona for 20 years.
“I’ve stopped picking against the Cardinals,” Boivin said. “I sound cheesy, but it feels like there’s some weird mojo going on with the team. Passes get tipped and go into the hands of the Cardinals receivers. Coins are flipped twice and both times the Cardinals win the toss. Plus, I truly believe, top to bottom, they’re the best team in the NFL.”
The face of the franchise seems to agree.
“There’s still work to be done—but we’re getting there,” Fitzgerald said on The Player’s Tribune. “In fact, I think there’s only one, large, final box left for us to check off: Win a Super Bowl. Nothing less. We have the ownership to do it. We have the coaching staff to do it. We have the players to do it, and I know we have the state to do it. So let’s do it.”
That my friends, is Fitzgerald calling: Game. Set. Match.