The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Yes We Can

Last week I wrote about how happy I was that the Cardinals had earned a berth in the Super Bowl. I said that was more than enough for me and that the outcome didn't matter.

In some sense, that's true. But as we draw closer to game day, my take on the game has changed. Here's what I really want:

Yes, I want to experience the game and the entire Super Bowl experience for the reasons I outlined last week. But I want more than that too...

I want the Cardinals to win Super Bowl XLIII. I want them to win big. I want Kurt Warner to play a game so great that he can enter retirement if he wishes with no regrets. I want Larry Fitzgerald to further cement his status as the best receiver in the NFL currently. I want Anquan Boldin to play so well and to contribute so much that no one talks about his shouting match on the sideline during the NFC championship game anymore. I want Edgerrin James to score a touchdown or two and to earn the first ring that he won on the field. I want to see Terrelle Smith play in the Super Bowl in honor of his deceased parents and watch him deliver crushing blocks to break open long runs for Edgerrin James. I want Steve Breaston to emerge on the national stage, leaving fear in the hearts of everyone who think the Cardinals will take a step back if the team has to trade Boldin in the offseason.

I want Adrian Wilson and Bertrand Berry to become household names for their starring roles in a dominant performance by the Cardinals defense. I want to see Calais Campbell see the field enough to make a meaningful contribution. I want to see Antrel Rolle remind everyone of why he was such a high draft pick with a long return of an interception. I want Rod Hood to remind the Eagles why they shouldn't have let him go. I want Travis LaBoy to get healthy enough to make a contribution to the game. I want to see Darnell Dockett, Karlos Dansby, and Chike Okeafor excel.

While it would be cool to see Ben Graham become the first Australian play in the Super Bowl, I hope he never sees the field because the Cardinals never need his punting services.

As you can tell, I hope the Cardinals win in a blowout. They're invited to the biggest party there is in football. They might as well have a good time. I hope the Cardinals game plan is aggressive from the beginning and that they never let up. I hope the Cardinals win going away.

The Steelers and the media have talked about how none of that will happen. The Steelers -- led by Troy Polamalu -- have talked about how this Steelers defense may be not only the greatest Steelers defense ever, but the best defense in the NFL in more than a generation. It's a little early for the coronation ceremony. As Denny Green might say, "If you want to crown them... go ahead." But I don't think the current version of the Cardinals is going to let the Steelers off the hook if they have the chance.

I feel like I've been on the Steelers side of this in the past. When I cheered for the Miami Hurricanes in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl (National Championship game against Penn State) and the 2003 Fiesta Bowl (National Championship game against Ohio State) all of the pre-game talk was about how great the Canes were, how undermanned the opponent was, and where the Canes would rank in history once the game was officially decided.

Well, the Canes lost both games. It was devestating. In both cases Miami under-estimated their opponent (as did the media). It sure feels like that's what's happening with this Super Bowl.

If you solely consider statistics and history, the Cardinals shouldn't take the field. That's true. But football games aren't played inside your television. They're not played in computer simulations. And they're not played by emotionless robots that execute their skills perfectly in all situations.

Football is played by men with emotions and injuries. Given that, I'll take the Cardinals this Sunday. And if they win, I think they'll win big: Cardinals 34, Steelers 20.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kurt Warner and the Hall of Fame

The Cardinals recent success has increased the talk of Kurt Warner's chances to make the Hall of Fame. It's an interesting discussion. Kurt's NFL career has been only two things: 1) great or 2) underwhelming.

The latter is what folks use to make the case against Kurt's enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, regardless of the outcome of Sunday's game or Kurt's performance in it.

One key fact is often overlooked in the discussion: Kurt's sucess in the Arena Football League.

How is that relevant? Well, we're talking about the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There is no NFL Hall of Fame. The voting is just tied into the NFL and the Super Bowl because traditionally the best pro football players have been in the NFL (at least for the past 50 years).

It's also quite convenient that the entry criteria for the Pro Football Hall of Fame is very vague. If you've ever heard Peter King talk or write about the subject, you probably walked away more confused than you were at the beginning of the conversation. I suppose that's how the voters maintain their job security: confusion.

But that's not fair to Kurt Warner. Not only is he a two time NFL Most Valuable Player, Super Bowl champion, and Super Bowl MVP, but he has also been named one of the top 20 Arena League Players of all time.

Sure, Kurt's Hall of Fame credentials are not helped by NFL longevity. But his periods of greatness are virtually unmatched. His Arena League accomplishments are noteworthy. And his off the field story (obstacles he overcame to make it to the league) at least equal the story of anyone else in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Regardless of the outcome of Sunday's game, Kurt Warner deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Monday, January 26, 2009

It's Super Bowl Week!

After more than three years since there's been any levity on this blog (or cause for it), here's some light-hearted fun... Yes, it's only Monday, but I can hardly contain myself. Hopefully I make it through the week.

The Cardinals will be en route to Tampa soon. Here are some tidbits to tide you over until the insanity of media day starts tomorrow and the rest of the Super Bowl Week insanity starts:

  • Adrian Wilson will be the star of media day. Of all the elite safeties in the NFL, Adrian Wilson receives the least media atttention. Troy Polumalu and Ed Reed receive most of the headlines. But Adrian Wilson should at least be in the discussion of great safeties in the league. In addition to that, Wilson typically provides an entertaining interview and he's recently intimated that he's been saving his best for the Super Bowl stage.
  • The Cardinals last World Championship came in 1947, which was also the year that Jackie Robinson broke the color line in Major League Baseball. In 2008, Barack Obama became the first black man to be elected President of the United States, breaking another color line; Obama was inaugurated as President in January of 2009. The Arizona Cardinals won their first division title in over 30 years in 2008; they will play for the World Championship this weekend.
  • In 12 Cardinals wins this season (including playoffs, natch), the Cardinals have 30 more takeaways than giveaways (i.e. a turnover ratio of +30 -- or nearly 3 per game). In their 7 losses, the turnover ratio is -17 (more than -2 per game). The Cardinals lost the turnover battle in every game they lost this year. They won the turnover battle in every game they won (other than one -- against the Dolphins -- where there were no turnovers in the game). It's stating the obvious, but the Cardinals need to win the turnover battle to win the game.
  • The turnover battle is not usually close in Cardinals games. In 14 of 19 games this season, the Cardinals have had two more or two fewer turnovers than their opponent. In only five games was the differential within one turnover.
  • The rumor is that each team will have nine players on a podium at Tuesday's media day. While I've always paid attention to media day, I've never paid enough attention to count the "key" participants from each team. Here are my guesses for who the 9 Cardinals will be: Guarantees: 1) Kurt Warner, 2) Larry Fitzgerald, 3) Anquan Boldin; Almost Guaranteed: 4) Bertrand Berry, 5) Adrian Wilson, 6) Darnell Dockett, 7) Edgerrin James; Questionable: 8) Antrel Rolle, 9) Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, 10) Tim Hightower, 11) Steve Breaston, 12) Karlos Dansby.
  • The Steelers are appearing in their 7th Super Bowl. They are 5-1 in previous appearances. Their lone loss came in white jerseys in a game played in Arizona. The Steelers will wear white jerseys and face a team from Arizona this year.
  • The Cardinals have never lost a Super Bowl.
  • If the Cardinals manage to win Sunday's Super Bowl they will have a winning record all-time in the NFL post-season. Really.
It's still sinking in.

Monday, January 19, 2009


We’re putting the blog back together. [1]

After a hiatus of more than three years, The Book of Mike is back.

What’s the impetus? The Arizona Cardinals and their improbable run through the playoffs.

I’ve been on the fence about resuscitating the blog and writing this post for a few weeks now. I’d held off because I didn’t want to “jinx” the Cardinals playoff run. Sure, I could theoretically “jinx” the team’s Super Bowl chances now, but I’m not worried about it.

The Cardinals are in the Super Bowl and that’s unbelievable. Whatever happens at this point is lagniappe. Actually, it’s been lagniappe since kick off of the divisional round game against the Panthers. More than that, it means a lot to me personally, for a variety of reasons.

Now I just hope I don’t embarrass myself too much in trying to tell the story (I probably will, as I haven’t written much in a long time – and that’s part of the reason why I need to bring the blog back: so that I write and do a better job of expressing myself. That’s a story for another day).

Now that my recent lack of writing and how difficult it will likely be to read this lengthy entry has been addressed, I will admit something else: Yes, I know that I have attached too much meaning to sports throughout my life.

In the case of the Cardinals and their current run though, the meaning I’m attaching to it all feels different. Much of what’s so special to me about the Cardinals doesn’t take place on the field. My Cardinals fandom is more about the relationships I’ve built, hope to build, and wish I could have built than it is about any product on the field. What happens on the field is usually an afterthought (although maybe that will change if they keep winning).

With that said, let’s jump into the middle of the story, because that’s the least logical place to begin (which is befitting of a story of the Cardinals, isn’t it?)…

The Cardinals moved to Arizona in 1988, right around the time I turned 11 (the Cardinals regular season debut in the desert took place two days before my birthday; I still own the #30 Stump Mitchell jersey that was part of that year’s birthday haul – although the size medium no longer fits me).

Originally the team renamed itself the Phoenix Cardinals. That was kind of fun, since a phoenix is a bird, like a cardinal. My dad and I talked about how we wished the team had renamed itself the Phoenix Phoenix, or even better (so we thought at the time) as simply the Phoenix – using the name of the new “home town” (well, no Cardinals game ever actually took place in Phoenix, as games were originally in Tempe and are now in Glendale) as both the location and nickname of the team.

In hindsight, I’m glad the team didn’t change its nickname. Cardinals not only fits, but it helps to tie together a lot of other things in my life.

First, it ties me to my grandfather (my mother’s father) in some way. I never had the opportunity to know my grandfather well (at least in terms of memories that stick with me as an adult). My family moved from Chicago when I was 7 and my grandfather died just after I turned 12 (during the Cardinals second season in Arizona). I knew my grandfather. We visited him in Chicago after we moved and we saw him plenty when we lived in Illinois. While I didn’t know my grandfather well, I like to think that we both enjoy a Cardinals game.

What I didn’t know back then was that my grandfather was a Cardinals fan. A Chicago Cardinals fan to be more exact. While it’s long forgotten, there was a time when Chicago’s football alliances were split much like its baseball alliances. In baseball you had the White Sox and the Cubs. In football you had the Cardinals and the Bears.

Given all of the migration from greater Chicago to metro Phoenix, I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but I consider myself a 3rd generation Cardinals fan. No, we don’t really have a link to the team in St. Louis. But that’s okay. My grandfather was a Cardinals fan. My father took me to Cardinals games from the time the team moved to Arizona until I left for college. And despite the Cardinals ineptitude, we could always find something to talk about with the Red Birds.

I will always remember the game against the 49ers in the Cardinals first season. It was the first game that the Cardinals taught me to hope. The 49ers were defending Super Bowl champions and had a roster full of future Hall of Famers like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Ronnie Lott. Not surprisingly, the 49ers staked themselves to a 23-0 lead. But the Cardinals made a tremendous comeback and ultimately won the game, 24-23.

Cardinals fans, my dad and I included – from the first row of the upper deck in the North end zone – celebrated by throwing cups (mostly the souvenir plastic kind) throughout the stadium. It was years before souvenir cups returned to Cardinals games.

After that 49ers game, the Cardinals lost each of their remaining games that season. They finished 7-9. It was disappointing at the time. But given what would come over the next two decades, it was a pretty good season. We just didn’t know it at the time. Plus, with all the flashes of brilliance from the likes of Neil Lomax, Roy Green, Stump Mitchell and the rest, there was hope.

The Cardinals always gave you hope.

Even if they turned around immediately afterward and took it away.

More than just providing (fleeting) hope, the Cardinals played a big part in giving me bonding time with my father when I was young. Dad always bought season tickets (first in the upper deck of the end zone and later in the South end zone). We always tailgated before the games (usually in the armory just southwest of the stadium). My love of tailgating definitely comes from those tailgates. While the outcome on the field was usually not what we wanted, we always had a great time.

As a sports fanatic throughout my life, the Cardinals were the only one of “my teams” (other than the Suns – who I mostly watched and listened to, but didn’t attend live very often) that I was able to see live with regularity (the White Sox, my first love, were far away after we moved). Once the Cardinals came to Arizona, they were a staple in my life. Even since I’ve moved, they’ve stayed that way, even if they’ve been difficult to follow (that’s what happens when you win less than six games per year, on average).

To help alleviate some of that “difficulty” my wife has encouraged me to get a DirecTV subscription and to buy the NFL Sunday Ticket package. Accounting for all of the things we would “need”, the total package and set up would cost over $500. I haven’t been able to justify that investment to myself.

Sticking with my wife’s side of the story for a moment, it has always struck me that cardinals (the birds, not the team) were important to my wife and her parents (who passed away before my wife and I came into each other’s life). In some way I’ve always felt like my love of the NFL’s Cardinals connects me to her family’s love of actual cardinals and what the birds represent symbolically:

“As we observe the cardinal…we are reminded that even when things appear bleak or isolated, there is always the presence of beauty, hope, and love.”
While it’s often gone unrewarded, that is – in one simple sentence – what I have taken from the Cardinals on the field over the years. Most importantly “hope” has stuck with me.

And this season, more any other before it, has re-taught me hope. This year I’ve had my hope renewed (more than once, actually, given the late season swoon). I’ve been reminded that it’s good to dream. You may need patience, but dreams and hopes and wishes really do come true sometimes. Even if they don’t (or it they take longer to come to be than you’d hoped) you can still have fun along the way.

I’ve had my fun along the way with the Cardinals. But now they’re realizing things that are bigger than I had ever hoped or dreamed of. They’re going to the Super Bowl.

Before I wrap this up, I have to explain how my mother a role in the story too... it’s the venue: Raymond James Stadium.

My mother spent her last years in Tampa and she sometimes said that she would like to see a game at Raymond James. She wasn’t a Buccaneers fan; she wanted to see the giant pirate ship, with its cannons that fire with each score, in the end zone.

So here we are – fast approaching Super Bowl XLIII, starring my Arizona Cardinals. The game takes place at Raymond James Stadium, which is a mere four hour drive from my house.

Given that the Cardinals managed one playoff win in my grandfather’s lifetime and just one win in my mother’s lifetime (and neither of them saw a playoff win during the overlapping part of their lifetimes), I’m not too confident that the Cardinals will be back to this mega-stage anytime soon.

So I’m going to the Super Bowl. Laura and I have tickets, in the “pirate ship” end zone no less. We’ll see the Cardinals play in their first ever Super Bowl. Hopefully we’ll be sprayed with confetti from one of the stadium’s cannons as the Cardinals celebrate a championship on the field.

No matter the outcome, it’s more than a game to me. Actually, it’s not about the game at all. The game is lagniappe.

I can’t wait.