When Feb. 1 rolls around, football fans will be treated to a very familiar team (the Pittsburgh Steelers) facing one that hasn’t been to the championship game since 1947 (the Arizona Cardinals), 20 years before the idea of a Super Bowl had even been dreamed up.

The Cards came out on top of the National Football League’s weakest division with a very unimpressive 9-7 record but caught fire at the right time and subdued three playoff opponents, all of whom were favored, and marched right to the pinnacle of professional football.

Arizona overcame great odds to reach Super Bowl XLIII by upsetting the one-point favored Atlanta Falcons 30-24 in the Wild Card round, ambushing the 9 _-point favored Panthers 33-13 in Carolina where they hadn’t lost a game all season and then overcame a 25-24 deficit to beat the three-point favored Philadelphia Eagles 32-25 in Sunday’s NFC championship game to qualify for the upcoming Super Bowl.

The Cardinals’ opponent for the Super Bowl will be the Pittsburgh Steelers, who defeated a strong Baltimore Ravens team for the third straight time this season, 23-14 and will be gunning for their sixth Super Bowl ring. The early line out of Las Vegas has the Steelers favored by a touchdown.

The second half looked like the same old Arizona Cardinals as they let a 24-6 halftime lead slip through their fingers as Philadelphia’s veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb brought his team back.
McNabb’s 62-yard touchdown bomb to DeSean Jackson with 10:45 left in the game put the Eagles in front for the first time 25-24 and the University of Phoenix partisan crowd of 70,650 went so silent one could hear a pin drop.

But the Cardinals’ journeyman quarterback Kurt Warner, who had already been the winning quarterback in the only two NFC title games in which he has played and was the league’s Most Valuable Player both of those times in 1999 and 2001 and a Super Bowl winner, didn’t panic.

Warner took his offense on a brilliant drive that took nearly eight minutes and hit reserve rookie running back Tim Hightower on an eight-yard pass for the game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion, putting the Cards out in front for good 32-25.

Arizona jumped out to an early lead as Warner connected on touchdown passes of 9, 62 and 1 yard to All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who had nine receptions for 152 yards, including two big catches on the final drive. Fitzgerald set a single postseason record with 419 yards, surpassing the great Jerry Rice. And he still has one more game to go—the Super Bowl Feb. 1.

With playoff victories over Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia, this is the Cardinals’ (12-7) winningest season, already eclipsing their total of postseason victories dating back to when the playoffs began in 1933. Arizona becomes the last NFC team since the 1970 merger to make it this far.

Pittsburgh also seemed to have the upper hand in the AFC championship game as they entered the fourth period of this tremendous defensive battle with a 16-7 lead over the Baltimore Ravens.

But Ravens’ rookie quarterback Joe Flacco ignited his team and marched them 59 yards in the fourth quarter with halfback Willis McGahee scoring from one-yard out, narrowing the deficit to 16-14.

The Ravens’ defense held and Baltimore got the ball back with less than five minutes remaining. But it was the Steelers’ defense that secured the victory when safety Troy Polamalu intercepted an errant Flacco pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown and a 23-14 lead with 4:24 left.

The sad-but-true fact of the matter was that Flacco, who had been unflappable throughout his rookie season, finally played like a rookie in the biggest game of his young career. Credit that to the Steelers, who out-hit and outplayed the tough Ravens when it counted most.

And this Korner looks for the Steelers’ success to continue right into the first day of February when they take on the upstart Arizona Cardinals at Tampa in Super Bowl XLIII and defeat them by a 34-21 margin.

KWICKIES…Congrats are in order for 67-year-old Kenny Ruane of Orange who finished second in his age group and 407th overall in Sunday’s Houston Marathon with a time of three hours, 25 minutes and four seconds (3:25:04) over the 26.2-mile course. “My time was slower than last year, but I’m satisfied with my race,” Ruane said. This was his 23rd Houston Marathon and featured more than 20,000 marathon enthusiasts. Also participating from Orange was 64-year old George Guidry, who ran the course in 5:16:21 to finish 4,383rd. Vidor’s Mike Defee, 34, who graduated from West Orange-Stark, came in 27th with a blazing time of 2:38:01. Former Little Cypress-Mauriceville state champion Drew Bean finished 30th in the Half-Marathon with a time of 1:06:25.

Several sports figures were on hand in Washington, D.C. for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration, including former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, golfing great Tiger Woods, Dikembe Mutombo of the Houston Rockets, former major leaguer Dave Winfield and Hall of Fame Georgetown basketball coach John  Thompson. Woods, who makes it a habit to stay out of politics, was asked to speak Sunday.  His two-minute speech paid tribute to the military and referenced his father, Earl, who did two tours in the Viet Nam War with the U.S. Special Forces.

Former West Orange-Stark Lady Mustang standout basketball player Brittany Scott scored a career-high 25 points Sunday as the University of Houston Lady Cougars throttled Memphis 83-65, running Houston’s record to 8-0 at home.

And on sadder note, longtime Sunset Grove Country Club golfer Earl Nugent died over the weekend. He was 79 and was a regular participant in the Thundering Herd, which tees off daily at 12:30 p.m.

JUST BETWEEN US…The tough economy has somewhat toned down the expensive glitzy ads that are part of the Super Bowl extravaganza.  But NBC was smart enough to secure most of the advertising before September’s financial meltdown to ensure that Super Bowl XLIII won’t be a marketing bust. Most ads were sold at around $3 million per 30-second spot, which is an all-time high price, but companies like General Motors, FedEx and Garmin Ltd. won’t be advertising on the Feb. 1 broadcast. And Playboy Enterprises Inc. isn’t throwing its customary party at the game for the first time in nine years.