A quick thought from me that I'd love to hear your take on...
When the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Arizona Cardinals in Tampa Bay two Sundays from now, the only spectators cheering for Pittsburgh will be those that make up the Steelers fanbase. Granted, the Steelers fanbase is big. Real big in fact, and far larger than the Cardinals'. That still leaves the fanbases of the 30 non-participating teams rooting for the Cardinals though. Same goes for the tens of millions of other viewers who will tune in just for cultural tradition's sake. Count all those folks with no dog in this fight as likely to be in the Cardinals corner. Our country always cheers for the underdog and Arizona is most certainly that in this game.
Throw in Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald - two easy to like stars - and the Cardinals barren history as well compared to Pittsburgh's previous dates with glory, and we have all the ingredients for a massively one-sided affair in terms of fan support. Kind of like last year when everyone outside of the Pats fanbase cheered on New York in their attempt to slay the mighty and cheating Patriots*.
Not convinced? Check out this outpouring of support. It's but a small sample size, but look at all those folks that offered up their well wishes to Cardinals fans following their victory over the Eagles on Sunday. Outside of a few fine souls who came by to wish Pittsburgh's fans good luck, not much in terms of support and excitement for the Black & Gold's 7th trip to the Big Game.
Does this matter? Not necessarily in terms of crowd noise or anything like that related to the actual game itself. What about in preparations leading up to the game? Here we may be on to something. Perhaps the question is - how will Mike Tomlin use this to his team's advantage?
For the first time this playoffs, Mike Tomlin can play the 'nobody respects us' or wants us here' card. Arizona had it all playoffs. San Diego had it to start the playoffs, etc. Now Arizona must deal with everyone telling them how great they are and how special a story their playoff push has been. All the while, Mike Tomlin can quietly go about getting his team ready to play their very best game of the year to cap a truly remarkable but not yet finished 2008 season.
I have no idea how Tomlin will put his own unique spin on motivating the team and having them prepared and hungry to play one last time. But I do know he will. Just another reason why the stars have aligned unbelievably for the Pittsburgh Steelers this year. Who would have thought we could come into this game edgy and feeling like underdogs? Well, we will, and that's pretty remarkable considering we won 12 games in one of the league's more brutal schedules ever, compared to just 9 wins for them in a cup-cake NFC West division.
If you even consider the possibility of Pittsburgh not taking the Cardinals seriously, you're way off base in my opinion. It will be the exact opposite. Tomlin will have them playing with a huge 'Us Against The World!' chip on their shoulder. I have no doubt about it.