Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium will play host to a pair of Super Bowl veterans: quarterback Kurt Warner and the five-time champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Warner is going back to the Super Bowl, a sweet journey for a 37-year-old quarterback considered washed up not so long ago.
Warner engineered the Arizona Cardinals’ 32-25 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in the NFC championship game, the culmination of an unlikely playoff run for a Cardinals franchise that had been the joke of the league for years.
Arizona will play the Steelers in two weeks in Tampa for the title after the Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens 23-14 in the AFC championship later Sunday.
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Warner has been to the Super Bowl twice, in 1999 and 2001, as the ringmaster of the “Greatest Show on Turf” of the St. Louis Rams, and his cool leadership and ageless arm were perhaps the biggest reasons for Arizona’s climb from the NFL’s depths.
Las Vegas oddsmakers aren’t buying into the Cardinals, no matter how many times they win as underdogs this postseason.
The Steelers were favored by 6 1/2 points in most sports books to win the Feb. 1 title game, according to Las Vegas Sports Consultants.
“Beating Baltimore is a little more impressive,” oddsmaker Jason Been said.
Las Vegas Sports Consultants provides betting lines for roughly 90 percent of sports books in Nevada.
The Cards — a No. 4-seeded NFC team playing in its first Super Bowl — are the first nine-win team to reach the big game since 1979, when the Rams lost to the Steelers.
“You got one of the more popular teams in the NFL versus a true Cinderella team, and that makes for a very intriguing Super Bowl this year,” said Jay Kornegay, executive director of the race and sports book at the Las Vegas Hilton.
Warner threw four touchdown passes Sunday, three to the phenomenal Larry Fitzgerald. Warner completed 21 of 28 passes for 279 yards with no interceptions. When he left the field, he hugged his wife, Brenda.
He broke down when he talked about it later.
“She’s been one of the few people who’s been with me from the beginning,” Warner said. “It was amazing. It was just joy, telling each other and it was unbelievable. There’s nobody I’d rather share it with.”
The victory followed a 30-24 wild card win over Atlanta and a 33-13 stunner at Carolina in the divisional playoffs.
“We had our struggles this year and I don’t think anybody really knew what to expect coming into the playoffs,” Warner said. “But I saw a bunch of guys band together and believe in one another and really do something that nobody expected us to do.”
His teammates said they couldn’t do it without their quarterback.
“He’s been here before,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s been where we’re all trying to go. He’s held that trophy up and we’ve leaned on him this whole postseason.”
The Steelers were last in the Super Bowl after the 2005 season, when the Jerome Bettis-led team defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Detroit. It was Pittsburgh’s fifth championship, it’s first since the 1979 season.