The Cardinals/Eagles NFC Championship game, held in comfy Arizona weather under a closed dome roof, turned out to be a terrific contest, not decided until inside two minutes left when the Eagles, down 32-25, failed to convert on fourth down.
It was the tale of two halves, the first one belonging to the Cards, whose offense clicked and defense held, allowing them to establish a 24-6 lead.
But the Cardinals, cursed for so long, caved in the second half, and it looked as if they would allow the Eagles to tie the biggest comeback in championship game history, 18 points. The Eagles fought back for a 25-24 lead.
That's when Jesus freak QB Kurt Warner and superhuman wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald marshaled their resolve and drove the team down the field for a touchdown, followed by a two-point conversion and a seven-point lead that held.
I'm juiced that the Cardinals are in the Super Bowl. The forever-hapless franchise has a squad this year that's easy to like, with an exciting offense and a defense that has stiffened in the playoffs (although it went on vacation for most of the second half against Philly).
In the AFC title game, Pittsburgh prevailed in a war of attrition . For most of the game, both teams looked as if their primary aim was decapitation. Vicious hits -- showed over and over in super-slomo -- abounded. The crunchfest culminated late in the fourth quarter when a Steelers defensive back pummeled Ravens running back Willis McGahee, and appeared to knock him cold. It took several minutes for medical staff to stabilize McGahee, load him onto a cart and drive him away.
The ballyhooed hate-filled rivalry was put immediately on hold, as players took a knee and wandered around the field with grave looks of concern. McGahee complained of significant neck pain, but had movement in his extremities, and was conscious and talking.
So it's Steelers/Cardinals. It may not be the matchup that the local Super Bowl committee would've hoped for, but think about it: A perennial powerhouse based in a small market, with a team that reflects its home city's hard-hat culture, goes up against a classic cinderella club from the western Sunbelt that's making its Super Bowl debut.
I like it. Maybe not as much as some other years when there was a team in the game that I loved (Bucs, Colts) or a team that I hated (Patriots, Cowboys). I don't dislike either the Cards or the Steelers, but I am congenitally incapable of being neutral in big games. So on Feb. 1, I'll be wearing red and rooting for a team from a city that I've never been within a couple hundred miles of.