For the next week and a half the entire world will be focusing on the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks as they prepare to do battle in Super Bowl XLVIII. There will be a lot of talk about Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman for Seattle. A lot of attention will be given to future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey as he readies himself for his first Super Bowl appearance, but the biggest media bullseye will once again be affixed to Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning’s legacy seems to be on the line with each game he plays these days and the world can’t get enough. For the Arizona Cardinals, this week will bring a sick feeling of what could’ve been.
In the summer of 2012, Manning watch made a brief stop in the valley of the sun. A news helicopter was present to capture his arrival and follow his every move while in town. Manning met with Cardinals officials and coaching staff, he was given a tour of the facilities and University of Phoenix stadium. He even had a private dinner at the home of then-head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Cardinals star receiver Larry Fitzgerald was at that dinner and also participated in some of the meetings at the team facility. He was seen as one of the key selling points to lure Manning to the desert. I still remember the advertising campaign used by local radio station AZ Sports 620 AM. It was something along the lines of, “Hey Peyton Manning, come to Arizona we have Larry Fitzgerald, we have a dome, we have golf year round, and did we mention we have Larry Fitzgerald.”
If only that was all it took.
As Manning watch took hold of the sports world in ways very few athletes can achieve, several connected media members were reporting that the Cardinals were indeed front runners. Most sources had Manning seriously considering both the Cardinals and Broncos. It was made even clearer when he visited both cities over a three day span. The Cardinals believed they had everything that Manning was looking for in a potential destination. Ultimately it turned out that they were missing two key components that made Denver more appealing to Manning. The first was that they didn’t play in the AFC and the second was that they didn’t have John Elway. For Cardinals fans it was a crushing blow.
Cardinals fans could still vividly remember the feeling they had when Kurt Warner miraculously led the team to their first Super Bowl appearance. They could still taste the bitterness they felt as the game slipped through the Cardinals fingertips. They knew that if the team could somehow add Peyton Manning to their already stingy defense, they could very well be on their way back to the Super Bowl in no time. It was hard for long-time Cardinals fans to wrap their heads around. The Cardinals have never been a destination for top free agents, especially not THE top free agent. It was further proof of just how far the Cardinals had come over the last few years. Imagine how different things might be here if the decision had gone differently.
In the years since Manning announced that he wasn’t going to be joining the Cardinals, team President Michael Bidwill has cleaned house. One season after Manning watch, the Cardinals fired general manager Rod Graves, Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff. I’m sure that if Manning had chosen differently, Graves and Whisenhunt would not only still be in Arizona, they would be considered heroes to Cardinals Nation. They could very well be playing in Super Bowl XLVIII, instead of watching from home like the rest of us. While it’s true that the Cardinals don’t possess the same kind of offensive weapons that Manning has with the Broncos, there is no questioning which team has the more dominant defense.
So as Cardinals fans watch the Super Bowl festivities next week longing for what could’ve been, take solace in the fact that you can still root for Peyton Manning to win the Super Bowl this season. Anything would be better than watching a despised division rival take home the crown.
Find out what there is to yell about in Omaha here.