TAMPA, Fla. - The Cardinals entered the playoffs mocked as frauds and impostors, basically undeserving of a spot in the postseason tournament. Their surprising run to Super Bowl XLIII hasn't improved their stock all that much.
"Well, according to everybody else, we are bad ... terrible, actually," safety Adrian Wilson said yesterday. "We will take it and run with it. We have a long history of being bad, so it is hard to change people's mind-set."
But it wasn't just the Cardinals' mostly inept history that caused all this negativity; it was their finish to the regular season.
After clinching the horrid NFC West Dec. 7, the Cardinals (9-7) went 1-2, completing a 2-4 finish. Included was a 47-7 loss to the Patriots in Week 16 that dropped Arizona to 0-5 on the East Coast. A Week 17 win over the Seahawks -- which lifted them to 6-0 against the NFC West and 3-7 against everyone else -- did nothing to breed public confidence in the Cardinals.
"There was a point in time where everybody was like, 'This is the worst playoff team ever,' " receiver Steve Breaston said.
Cardinals president Michael Bidwill didn't mince his words, either. "When we clinched, we took a couple games off and our players lost their focus for a few weeks," he said. "I think there was some skepticism that we might be a one-and-done team."
The Cardinals have scored three impressive playoff victories, including a 33-13 shocker at Carolina that broke the East Coast schneid. Still, trying to find believers outside this team has been as difficult to find as fans wearing red in Tampa.
The Cardinals are 61/2-point underdogs to the Steelers, who are expected to overwhelm them with their superior physicality and Super Bowl pedigree.
Even the nation's First Fan weighed in on the Cardinals yesterday from the Oval Office. "It's a great Cinderella story," President Obama said. "But other than the Bears, the Steelers are probably the team that's closest to my heart."
Arizona defensive end Bertrand Berry was asked if there is one question he had not heard during this week of crushing media attention.
"No one has asked me if we can win this game," Berry said.
Which is because few people think they can.
The Cardinals have an explosive offense, but many losers of Super Bowls did, too. Besides, the Steelers have the top scoring defense (13.9 points) in the league. The Cardinals' defense ranked 28th (26.6).
The Cardinals have found themselves on, well, the defensive this week, refuting the thought that they are all finesse compared to the stalwart Steelers. Being called the "worst Super Bowl team in history" hasn't produced much more than shrugs from Cardinals players, but the "finesse" label struck a nerve.
"That's what the public eye thinks, so that's their opinion," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "I learned that 90 percent of the public have never played football a day in their life. I learned that the public eye has one or two guys that would probably get picked up for a flag football game.
"The public eye doesn't watch football, they watch highlights. You can deny from a physical aspect, but don't let the public eye fool you, we can do some things. As far as physical, it's the NFL. Everyone is physical."
Receiver Anquan Boldin said even a Super Bowl trophy won't necessarily change the perception of the Cardinals, who haven't won a championship since 1947.
"I honestly don't know," Boldin said. "I'm not sure how people would see us if we won the Super Bowl. The only thing I'm worried about is winning the Super Bowl.
"They can think whatever they want, but you can't take a Super Bowl ring away from us. No matter how people view us -- as the best Super Bowl team or the worst Super Bowl team -- it really wouldn't matter."