Sports fans thought they were living in a parallel universe months ago. How else to explain the Tampa Bay Rays going to the World Series? How else to explain that the Rays were favored to win the World Series, until the Phillies got in their way? But just when fans thought the sports world was back in order, the Arizona Cardinals got to the Super Bowl. In a world where baseball’s most wretched franchise and football’s most wretched franchises are on the verge of championships within four months, something is very off.
The Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Cardinals forged a stunning new world for themselves, and for sports in general. This is a comparison of just how stunning their journeys were, after their historic losing in past seasons.
Status heading into 2008:
Tampa Bay Rays: Last place expansion team.
Arizona Cardinals: Team on the rise, but still very bad.
Best recent seasons:
Tampa Bay Rays: Lost only 91 games in 2004.
Arizona Cardinals: Actually got to 8-8 the previous season.
Biggest past achievement:
Tampa Bay Rays: Changing their name from “Devil Rays” to “Rays” before 2008.
Arizona Cardinals: Winning one playoff game in 60 years.
Beginning of 2008:
Tampa Bay Rays: Got ahead in the AL East ahead of the Yankees and Red Sox.
Arizona Cardinals: Won games under washed up 37-year-old Kurt Warner, instead of Matt Leinart.
Expectations after fast start:
Tampa Bay Rays: Expected to let the Yankees and Red Sox overtake them.
Arizona Cardinals: Expected to win NFC West, only because it was so terrible.
Biggest young star:
Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria.
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald.
Biggest old star:
Tampa Bay Rays: Manager Joe Madden.
Arizona Cardinals: Kurt Warner.
Ended the year with:
Tampa Bay Rays: Winning AL East.
Arizona Cardinals: Winning NFC West, then celebrating with giant losses.
Symbol that fans still weren’t on board:
Tampa Bay Rays: Played in front of half-full home stadium most of the year.
Arizona Cardinals: Barely sold out first home playoff game.
Expectations in the playoffs:
Tampa Bay Rays: Possibly to go far, but not to beat out the Red Sox.
Arizona Cardinals: Lose right away, since they didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs.
Began playoffs with:
Tampa Bay Rays: Not so surprising win over Chicago White Sox.
Arizona Cardinals: Somewhat surprising win over Atlanta Falcons.
Continued playoffs by:
Tampa Bay Rays: Getting a 3-1 ALCS lead over the Red Sox.
Arizona Cardinals: Upsetting heavily favored Carolina Panthers.
Expected to finally collapse when:
Tampa Bay Rays: Lost 3-1 series lead to Red Sox.
Arizona Cardinals: Lost big second half lead to Eagles in NFC championship game.
Shocked fans all over again when:
Tampa Bay Rays: Won Game 7 over Red Sox.
Arizona Cardinals: Came back to beat Eagles on long drive.
Level of shock over getting to their sports’ biggest stage:
Tampa Bay Rays: Historically heavy.
Arizona Cardinals: Historically heavy.
Symbol of their magical ride:
Tampa Bay Rays: A cowbell.
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald’s 10-foot leaps.
Ability to complete magical ride with a championship:
Tampa Bay Rays: Failed against team from Pennsylvania.
Arizona Cardinals: To be determined against team from Pennsylvania.