HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Chike Okeafor loves the Bucs' digs.
With Arizona using Tampa Bay's training facility in preparation for Sunday's game, Cardinals players have gained an appreciation for the structure, which is less than 3 years old.
"They have an awesome facility," said Okeafor, a defensive end. "Great grass. Their facility is actually ridiculous, so it's actually been a treat to be over there. They're spoiling us.
"I don't know how they expect us to go home now."
While Okeafor said the amenities are first class, there is something noticeably missing.
"It's got everything that we need, except maybe we could use a little covered dome," he said. "It gets hot out there sometimes."
Bucs coaches and players sometimes wonder where that dome is, too.
THE WAITING GAME
Now comes the hard part for the Cardinals: waiting for kickoff.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said his team must guard against losing its focus between Friday's final practice and Sunday night's kickoff of Super Bowl XLIII.
"The biggest issues that I have, or that anybody has, is after Friday's practice - when there is some down time and you are not in your normal routine at home and you are away, there's a lot of family here and a lot of excitement - losing that focus in that time is always a concern," Whisenhunt said.
"I think because we have had a couple of games this year when we have lost our focus and it didn't work out very well for us, that it puts us a little more on edge to keep that focus."
Whisenhunt said the Cardinals benefited from a 47-7 loss to the New England Patriots in their second-to-last regular-season game. After that, the Cardinals beat the Seattle Seahawks, 34-21, in the regular-season finale and have won three consecutive playoff games as underdogs to reach the franchise's first Super Bowl.
"I mean that from a standpoint of what you have to do to be consistently successful in this league, and it's not just the X's and O's. It's about being a football team, believing we made, especially defensively where we've had a number of turnovers ... that we have good enough players that those plays will come to us," he said.
"I think we saw a little bit of that in the first playoff games where we got some turnovers defensively, where we made some big plays offensively and special teams, and I think we build off of that."
LOCAL BOY MADE GOOD
Deuce Lutui remembers his first Cardinals game. It was 1990, the franchise's third season in the Phoenix area after moving from St. Louis, and Lutui was 7 years old.
"I still have the ticket stub," he said.
The pride is evident in the Cardinals' right guard, as his attachment to one of the NFL's most downtrodden franchises runs much deeper than his teammates can claim. Lutui grew up in Mesa, Ariz., and has supported the team his entire life.
"I saw Deion Sanders walking around at Media Day this week," Lutui said. "When the Cowboys used to come in town, I was one of those kids throwing soda pop cans at him. I was a big fan growing up."
His strategy for attending Cardinals games at Sun Devil Stadium was simple: buy the cheapest ticket and then move down into the vacant seats closer to the action - there were plenty - as the game unfolded. Lutui couldn't have predicted watching the kind of football the Cardinals played back in the day that he would see them in the Super Bowl one day - let alone be playing for them when they finally arrived.
"It's Ripley's Believe It or Not," he said. "We're actually here."
BROOKS SYMPATHIZES WITH ARIZONA
Although he's picking the Steelers to beat Arizona - simply because he's all about defensive teams winning Super Bowls - Bucs LB Derrick Brooks couldn't help but admire the Cardinals' dream season.
"They want to turn around the image of being negative and we can relate to that here in Tampa when we won the Super Bowl after going through losing seasons," Brooks said this week.
"From that standpoint, I understand what Arizona is going through. They deserve to be here.
"They're a good football team."