By: Bob George/
January 19, 2009

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No Brady or Gronk, but plenty of storylines at Patriots OTAs

World War II took away a lot of athletes and sent them off to Europe or Japan, while the home front made do with what they had.

Without Ted Williams or Bobby Doerr or Johnny Pesky or Dominic DiMaggio, the Red Sox played a bunch of old has-beens and 4-F neverwillbees. President Franklin Roosevelt told baseball to keep playing, it was good for morale at home. Only in this sort of scenario did the woebegone St. Louis Browns (known today as the Baltimore Orioles) manage to win a pennant, that being in 1944. They would lose the World Series to their cross-town rivals, the baseball Cardinals.

The football Cardinals had an interesting 1944 also. Of course, in 1944 there were no "football Cardinals", as the football team with that name played out of Chicago in those days. They would not move to St. Louis until 1960. The Pittsburgh Steelers arranged a one-year merger with the Philadelphia Eagles the season before, in 1943. In '44, they arranged the same with the Cardinals. This was out of necessity due to the bulk of the NFL players being utilized overseas trying to defend the honor of our nation and what she stands for.

The 1943 merger was named "Phil-Pitt", affectionately named the "Steagles" by the fans. The 1944 merger was a little less whimsical, simply known as "Card-Pitt". Both mergers lasted only one season. Since the war ended in August of 1945, all NFL teams returned to normal for that fall and no temporary mergers were necessary.

The 1944 Card-Pitt team was rather lousy. They would resemble today's Detroit Lions, going 0-10 with opponents outscoring them 328-108. You wouldn't know anyone on this harlequin of a football team, but we should tell you that Chelsea's John Grigas, who played his college ball out in Worcester at Holy Cross, was the team's leading rusher and passer despite his position being labeled as "FB" (thanks,

While Pittsburgh would continue to wallow until 1972, the Cardinals soon came into prosperity, winning the NFL title in 1947 and losing the title game in 1948. Both title games in these years were against the Eagles. The Cardinals would not taste such success again until, well, Sunday.

The Arizona Cardinals, believe it or not, are heading to Super Bowl XLIII. They will play for the NFL championship against the very same team they merged with 65 years ago. The last post-merger NFC team to play in their first conference championship game managed to hold off a favored Philadelphia Eagles team (the team they beat for their last NFL title) at home, 32-25 to punch their tickets for Tampa in two weeks.

The Cardinals became the first 9-7 team to reach the Super Bowl since the 1979 Rams turned the trick thanks to upset wins at Dallas (21-19) and at Tampa Bay (9-0). Kurt Warner fired four touchdown passes, three of them to Larry Fitzgerald, then held off a furious Eagle comeback in the second half. The Eagles managed to take a 25-24 lead after trailing 24-6; the last team to come back from down 18 to win a conference title game was the Indianapolis Colts, who did it against your beloved New England Patriots two Januaries ago.

Of course, the Eagles did not win, as Warner hit J.J. Arrington from six yards out with just under three minutes left to provide the winning margin.

If Bob Kraft is among the top five owners in the NFL right now, it's a good bet that Bill Bidwill, who inherited the Cardinals from his mother Violet upon her death in 1962, is in the bottom five. Mocked and ridiculed by football experts down and through the years for all the adversity the Cardinals were associated with, it looked strange to see former Cardinal cornerback Aeneas Williams hand him the George Halas Trophy. In what had to be his personal grand moment of high triumph, he glumly took the trophy, held it up to the crowd, and let his son Mike, the president of the Cardinals, verbally accept the trophy. It would have been nice to hear something from the old man, reminiscent of the moment when the late Steeler founder/owner Art Rooney accepted the team's first Vince in 1975. Maybe the elder Bidwill was afraid to hear Terry Bradshaw say something like "So, how does this feel after years and years and years of mediocrity?" The normally quiet Bidwill chose to say nothing and deferred to his son instead.

The Cardinals will get the challenge of their lives in Super Bowl XLIII. The Steelers crushed the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on Sunday night, 23-14. And when we say crushed, we mean literally. That was a scary sight at game's end when Willis McGahee collided at full speed with Ryan Clark and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. He had full movement in all his extremities, but he will conclude that losing to the Steelers was one big pain in the neck.

The Steelers will unleash their vaunted top-ranked NFL defense on the Cardinals. Warner and Fitzgerald will try and work their magic, and despite their immense talents, that's probably what it will take for the Cardinals to win. There is no hotter receiver in the league right now than Fitzgerald, but if Warner has no time to throw, it won't matter. Edgerrin James could help with the run attack, but without injured blocking tight end Stephen Spach, the former Patriot backup tight end and the man Bill Belichick left behind last year in the Super Bowl, the run attack won't be as helpful as it could be.

The Steelers open as 6 ½-point favorites to win the Super Bowl. These old rivals go all the way back to 1933, when the Pittsburgh Pirates (they became the Steelers in 1941) beat the Chicago Cardinals, 14-13 in Chicago. The Steelers lead the all-time series, 31-23-3, but the Cardinals won the most recent meeting, 21-14 in 2007 at home. The Steelers' last win against the Cardinals was in 2003, 28-15 at Pittsburgh. These teams usually met twice a year, but since the merger when the Steelers joined the AFC, the teams have met only eight times, with the Steelers holding a 5-3 edge.

If you were around in 1944, and remember Card-Pitt, enjoy this Super Bowl. These two teams are linked by that one wartime season, but that is a definitive bygone era which will have no bearing on the game in two weeks.

One man remembers Card-Pitt, for sure. Bill Bidwill was 13 years old at the time, and his father would pass away three years later. For all the criticism this man has had to endure over the years, this new University of Phoenix Stadium has already had its share of monumental pro and college games in its short life, and this legacy is thanks to the Cardinals owner, who brought you this football palace in the desert.

It is therefore hopeful that Bidwill enjoys every moment of this Super Bowl. Last year, he got the game in his backyard as host of the feast. This year, he gets to sit at the table. Let's hope Bidwill enjoys a big feast at the grand table of the Big Show, whether or not his team wins. This is a team which has never known this kind of prosperity, and Bidwill and his family should savor every moment.

And wherever Art Rooney is right now, given his long struggle with getting the Steelers to the top, he has to feel something good for the Bidwills right now. Not that he won't root for his team, mind you.