Moments of Heartbreak: Arizona Cardinals – Super Bowl XLIII

The Arizona Cardinals are the oldest team in the National Football League. They were originally founded in 1898 as the Morgan Athletic Club. The Cardinals have never won a championship in the Super Bowl era and currently have the nations longest active championship drought, with 68 seasons. With the current win lose record of 549-741-40, the Cardinals also hold the record for the most franchise losses in the NFL.

Though they have shown promise the last few years and look like a team that’s built to succeed, it hasn’t been an easy run for the Cardinals. However, in the 2008 season, with (now HOFer) Kurt Warner at the helm, the Cardinals snuck into the playoffs as the NFC West champion with a 9-7 record.

In the wild card round, the Cardinals faced off against the 5th seeded Atlanta Falcons led by then rookie Matt Ryan. This would also be the first home playoff game in their new stadium, the University of Phoenix stadium. Larry Fitzgerald led the way with 6 receptions, 101 yards, and 1 touchdown as the Cardinals outlasted the Atlanta Falcons 30-24

In the divisional round, the Cardinals faced the heavily favored second seeded Carolina Panthers. This game ended up being a moment of heartbreak for the Panthers as the Cardinals defense dominated Jake Delhomme. Delhomme ended this game with 5 interceptions and a lost fumble. Larry Fitzgerald continued his amazing playoff run to the tune of 8 catches, 166 yards, and a touchdown. Arizona moved on to the NFC conference championship by destroying the Panthers 33-13.

This would be the first time, in the Super Bowl era, that the Arizona Cardinals would play in a conference championship game. This game ended up being one of the best conference championships you’ll ever see. Fitzgerald torched the Eagles with the 3 first half touchdowns and the Cardinals went to the locker room up 24-6. The Eagles and Donovan McNabb, however, came roaring back in the second half and dumped 19 straight points on the Cardinals, taking the lead 25-24 with just under 11 minutes left in the half.  Kurt Warner and the Cardinals calmly and methodically moved down the field eating up the clock. The Cardinals took the lead back with a dump off to Tim Hightower and a two point conversion with 2:56 left in the 4th. The Cardinals were able to seal the victory by forcing a turnover on downs. Cardinals win 32-25 on the back of Larry Fitzgerald….again. Fitz finished this game with another 9 catches, 152 yards, and 3 touchdowns. This would also be the game that Fitzgerald set the NFL postseason record for receiving yards with 419 total receiving yards. The Cardinals move on to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.

Could this finally be the year that the Cardinals are no longer the joke of the NFL? The fans could feel the momentum and were buying into this crazy idea that their Cardinals could finally win a Super Bowl and end their drought. This would be Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers 2nd Super Bowl appearance in 4 years. It would also showcase a match up between Ken Whisenhunt, the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, and the team he won a Super Bowl (Super Bowl XL) with as their Offensive Coordinator.

The Steelers jumped to 10-0 lead in the 1st half. Warner was able to bring them to within 3 points with a 1 yard touchdown to Ben Patrick. Just before half time, the Cardinals were able to drive back down the field to the Steelers 2 yard line. With just 18 seconds left in the half, disaster struck. The Steelers blitzed Warner who tried to dump the ball off to Anquan Boldin. James Harrison intercepted the pass and took it back for a Super Bowl record 100-yard interception return. Was this a bad omen? Or was this just a small road bump? The Steelers go up 17-7 to end the first half.

With just over 2 minutes left in the third quarter, Jeff Reed hit a field goal to make the score 20-7. This would be where the Cardinals would begin their comeback. Midway through the 4th, Warner hit Fitzgerald on a one yard pass, bringing the score to 20-14 after the extra point. After trading possessions, the Cardinals were able to pin the Steelers on their 1 yard line with 3:26 left on the clock. On a 3rd and 10, Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes deep to extend the drive, but there was a flag on the play. Offensive holding in the end zone, resulting in a safety. The momentum was shifting. Down just 4 now and getting the ball back, Cardinals fans knew this was their game to win. On just the second play of their drive, Warner hit Fitzgerald yet again on a 64 yard touchdown giving the Cardinals their first lead of Super Bowl XLIII. This was it. This was the the Cardinals time to shine. They could feel it. But did they leave too much time on the clock? 

In the NFL, 2 minutes and 47 seconds is way too much time to give a team at the end of the game. Cardinals fans watched in disbelief as Roethlisberger and the Steelers marched down the field easily including a 40 yard pass to Santonio Holmes. With just 48 seconds left, the Steelers had made their way to the Cardinals 6 yard line. This is where disaster struck. The moment all Cardinals fans would like to forget ever happened. After an incomplete pass intended for Santonio Holmes, Roethlisberger targeted Holmes again on 2nd and 6 with 42 seconds left. Roethlisberger somehow was able to get the ball over 3 defenders to a stretched out Holmes in the very back right corner of the endzone. 

He caught it. Somehow he caught it. 

After review, the catch was upheld. Hearts were broken all through Arizona on that one catch. The game would end on a Kurt Warner fumble with 15 seconds left. Cardinals fans watched in sorrow as the Steelers lifted the Lombardi for their NFL leading 6th championship. Arizona has not made it back to the Super Bowl since.

I want to thank the Arizona Cardinals subreddit for helping with this article. I jumped in their subreddit a few days ago to get their input on heart breaking moments they had experienced as fans. A good majority of them talked about the Santonio Holmes catch. Below are some of their comments. The first one was probably the saddest thing I’ve read in terms of heart break and an NFL team.

The Cardinals are the all-time most losing franchise in NFL history, and they’re the oldest. That means they’ve had enough time to balance this out, and haven’t.

As young Cardinals fans in Phoenix, we’d sit on hot aluminum bleachers in September and October heat of 95-105+ degrees and suffer through awful, disgustingly bad teams. We had to deal with a transient population of a growing city, where people would only come to our games to watch the other team play, where the only time we could sell out was when the Cowboys came and it was 80% Cowboys fans…we were jokes. People wouldn’t even admit out loud that they were Cardinals fans, or they’d get made fun of.

That moment we got to the Super Bowl, people called it a fluke. We were still a joke that somehow went too far. So when Fitz scored that last touchdown, we could feel it – we could feel the moment we went from joke to actual legit NFL team, where we were no longer losers.

And then we watched it vanish, snatched from our hands. The biggest joke of all was the idea that we would ever win a Super Bowl. We were still the worst team ever.

Now it feels more like we’re out for redemption, this franchise and these fans, and it’s a great time to be a fan. But for that singular moment, all those years, all those sunburns, all those jokes about us, it’s like it all flooded into one drowning whirlpool of shit that all Cards fans were caught in simultaneously.

– Reddit user thephoenixx

Everyone hates Santonio Holmes’ catch in the Super Bowl, but I personally cringe more at the thought of James Harrison running the length of the field for a pic 6 as the half expired.

– Reddit user RegalExecutioner

Not the worst, but getting fucked by Carolina in the NFCC was pretty soul crushing. Also playing Ryan Lind in the playoffs after an amazing season was a bs ending.

– Reddit user tinsolider3

Maybe it’s not a singular moment, but just the complete possibility that we were never able to get Larry Fitzgerald a ring. That man is one of the kindest human being that nobody hates, but has suffered through some genuinely bad Cardinals teams. You can look and see at the 12(?) different QBs that he has caught a TD pass from and they are mostly forgotten names. Then we were so so close in the Super Bowl only to have that ringer figuratively taken back off of his finger. So after the retirement talks, that leaves this year as the last possible chance.

– Reddit user StrangZor

The Santonio Holmes catch was bad. But I think the worst for me was the 59-0 loss to Seattle couple years back. To get beat by a rival like that. I think it was at home too?

– Reddit user DrichDude

One of the worst for me was actually seeing Larry so broken in “All or Nothing” after the loss to the Panthers in the playoffs. Seeing him like that hurt way worse than just watching my team lose.

– Reddit user TheNathanHolmes

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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6 thoughts on “Moments of Heartbreak: Arizona Cardinals – Super Bowl XLIII

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