Cardinals Pull Off Big Surprise

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They aren’t who we thought they were. Actually, the Arizona Cardinals were much better than we believed, as evidenced by the hard-earned Super Bowl ticket they are clutching.

Now, if you wanna crown them, then crown their rears NFC champions.

Okay, so much for paraphrasing Dennis Green rants, the Cardinals are the NFC champions and headed to the Super Bowl where they will play the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Big Red earned the ducat to the granddaddy of all football games with Sunday’s stunning 32-25 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. The victory also capped a three-game postseason run in which the Cardinals pulled off three impressive playoff upsets.

They included a 30-24 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, a 33-13 victory against the Carolina Panthers and the clipping of the Eagles’ wings.

Some Rim Country fans who traveled to Glendale for the game returned saying they could hardly believe their eyes, but woke up the following morning finally realizing the game was not a mirage, the Cards actually won.

Thinking back to last July and August when Payson-area fans flocked to Northern Arizona University to watch the Cards in preseason practices, it would have been almost impossible to believe the team would be playing in the Super Bowl.

The doubts would have existed because the Cardinals have long been the joke of the NFL, and had not won a championship since 1947, while in Chicago, and had not been to the playoffs since 1998.

But that all changed when the Bidwell family hired Ken Whisenhunt as coach and Kurt Warner came on board as quarterback.

Both are class acts and, under the leadership of the two, the Cards were able to pull off an amazing turnaround that has Arizona on the verge of winning its first Super Bowl.

Couple the Cards’ win with the Arizona State Sun Devils' 61-58 upset, in OT, of No. 9 UCLA one day earlier at Pauley Pavilion, and it’s obvious Arizona sports fans had a weekend to remember.

Zumbro on hitting

I asked ex-Longhorn baseball and football star Bryan Zumbro last summer, what was the one thing he could have done a decade ago to possibly improve his baseball career.

He replied, “I’d have hired a really good hitting coach.”

That’s quite a statement considering Zumbo was one of finest hitters in Longhorn baseball history.

Fans will remember he hit and almost single-handedly pitched the Horns to the 1999 state baseball championship.

His prep diamond feats coupled with his academic achievements earned him an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy where he played four years.

He has since graduated from the academy, and is now an officer and a jet fighter pilot stationed in Oklahoma.

About his answer on hiring a hitting coach, Zumbro explained that aspiring young baseball players can benefit greatly from those, usually ex-pros or former college stars, who have the time and ability to teach a variety of skills including proper grip, stance, stride, swing, approach and bat selection.

Most high school coaches believe hitting is the most difficult skill in sports, and teaching it is challenging because every player is different in the many combinations of skills required to hit a baseball.

With Zumbro’s advice in mind, aspiring Rim Country baseball players will have the opportunity to tune up their slugging when the Flagstaff Eagles Baseball Club hosts a two-day clinic Jan. 24 and 25.

On hand to teach the class will be Alan Zinter, who is currently a hitting coach for the High-A Visalia Rawhide in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

Zinter was a first-round draft choice, 24th overall, of the New York Mets in 1989. He played in the minors for 14 years before playing briefly for the Houston Astros and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Both the upcoming clinics will be held on the Flagstaff High School campus, and are open to youths elementary to high school ages.

Chris Rice, of the Flagstaff baseball club, says the session will be broken into morning and afternoon practices to accommodate players of all ages and keep the player-to-coach ratio low.

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