Ahead Of Clash, Super Bowl Game Examined The National Football League is gearing up for its championship game on Sunday between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburg Steelers. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis talks about the game, the history of both teams and their coaching similarities.
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Ahead Of Clash, Super Bowl Game Examined

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Ahead Of Clash, Super Bowl Game Examined

Ahead Of Clash, Super Bowl Game Examined

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This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. And in case you haven't heard, the championship game of the National Football League will be played on Sunday in Tampa. The Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping to win a record sixth Super Bowl, while the Arizona Cardinals are aiming to win their first. Joining me now, as he does most Fridays, is sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. I guess, we have to spell six and first with roman numerals because it's Super Bowl. (Laughing) The two teams in this game have deep roots in the NFL, although we tend to think of the Steelers as the old fashioned club, not the Cardinals, but they are.

STEFAN FATSIS: Yeah, that's the most history combined we've ever had in the Super Bowl. The Steelers were formed in 1933. The Cardinals they took the founding of the NFL in 1920 when they played in Chicago. And the ownership of both teams also goes all the way back to their respective starts, and we tend to know about the Rooney family's deep ties the Pittsburgh, influential role in league business, not much about the Bidwell family from the Cardinals. It's an ownership that's been far less involved in NFL affairs and maligned over the years for a poor stewardship of the team.

SIEGEL: Yeah, a part from getting to a championship game last time in 1947 why else were they criticized?

FATSIS: Well, of late, cheap when it came to players, not especially competent when it came to business matters, and almost indifferent it seemed to whether the team won or lost. And usually it lost. That began changing with a new generation in the front office in recent years. They've got this gleaming new stadium outside of Phoenix and the fact that the team is in the Super Bowl is obviously a sign of better management.

SIEGEL: Yes. One explanation that's made the rounds this week is that the Cardinals have actually modeled themselves very consciously on the Steelers.

FATSIS: Yeah, they have. You look at the head coach Ken Whisenhunt, he spent six seasons on the Steelers' coaching staff. His assistant head coach is a guy name Russ Grimm. He had the same title when he was in Pittsburgh. So, practices in Arizona are patterned in part after those in Pittsburgh. In the front office, the Cardinals executives talked openly about emulating the Steelers in the way they draft players and treat players and approach the business and listening to the reverential way the Steelers players talk about the Rooneys and the organization, you can understand why.

SIEGEL: And the Arizona coach was actually passed over a couple of years ago for the coaching the job in Pittsburgh, but he and the man who was hired, Mike Tomlin, seemed to be similar in some ways.

FATSIS: Yeah, they're modern coaches. Tomlin is 36, Whisenhunt is 46, they're both low-key, approachable, by all reports reasonable in the way they deal with their employees, the players, which is not always the case in the NFL. In fact it's the exception in the NFL, and both of these guys are in their second year as head coaches and in the Super Bowl, so may be the approach does work.

SIEGEL: The Steelers were mentioned all season long as a possible Super Bowl champion, not the Cardinals, who won just nine regular season games. Can Arizona actually win this game, or would it be a huge upset if they did?

FATSIS: I don't think it will be a huge upset, and there's been a lot of moaning in the media that the Cardinals shouldn't even be in the game. They only won nine regular season games, as you said, compared to 12 for the Steelers. I think this talk is stupid, and here's why. Despite what Detroit Lions fans might believe, the differences among NFL teams are marginal. Things change very, very quickly in this league. The Cardinals played very well for the first six year - first six weeks of this season. They played terribly in weeks 13 to 16, and then they played terrifically over the last four weeks, the last game of the regular season, and then the three playoff games that they've won.

SIEGEL: Mm hmm.

FATSIS: Does that mean that they're going to win the Super Bowl? No it doesn't, but there's no compelling evidence that they end the riding(ph) the great play of Larry Fitzgerald, the wide receiver in the playoffs, and that's going to be the match up to watch.

SIEGEL: Well, Stefan, thanks for humoring me by answering these questions about the Super Bowl. I know it's not the big game that you're really concerned about, so go ahead and tell us about that.

FATSIS: No, no, the big game, Robert, is of course the World Team Handball Championship final on Sunday in Zagreb, Croatia. ESPN has been streaming games on its Espn360.com Website. I watched the two semi-final matches this afternoon, Robert. It's going to be France and Croatia in the final and the home team, of course we'll have the advantage. It's worth mentioning too, officials from a reorganized U.S. Team Handball Federation are there. They are attempting finally as I've been lobbying for for years as you know to get this country on the path...

SIEGEL: (Laughing) Yes.

FATSIS: To team handball greatness. Yes, we can, Robert.

SIEGEL: And a Hollywood note here. We'd like to say the greatest team handball scene that we know of in any Hollywood movie is in "The Reader." Nineteen seconds of team...

FATSIS: Nineteen seconds of team handball, set in the 1950s, but 19 seconds of team handball nonetheless. We'll take it.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis' lastest book is a "Few Seconds of Panic: A 5-Foot-8, 170-Pound, 43-Year-Old Sportswriter Plays in the NFL." Thank you, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.

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