Shanoff's W.U.C.: Obama vs. the Cardinals

Today's Calls: Cardinals vs. Steelers, McNabb vs. Eagles, Rex Ryan vs. Steve Spagnuolo, Wake vs. Duke, Cavs vs. Lakers, LeBron vs. Browns and More. ↵

↵The Opening Pitch: There is a lot of talk this week about seeing things we never thought we would ever see. ↵

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↵An African-American U.S. President, who will greet championship teams in the Rose Garden? Knew it would happen someday. ↵

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↵The Red Sox winning a World Series? No surprise. (I even think the Cubs will win it, sooner or later.) ↵

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↵The Arizona Cardinals going to the Super Bowl? ↵

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↵No. Nope. Never. ↵

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↵This is the most historically hapless franchise in the NFL — perhaps all of sports. And now they are NFC Champs, headed for the Super Bowl and on such a roll that I'm not even sure the Steelers can stop them. ↵

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↵And fans — all fans — should step back and enjoy this novelty, if for no other reason than this is the ultimate "If THIS team can win, then MY team should certainly be able to." ↵

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↵But more than that, it reinforces the idea that, in sports — and perhaps politics — never say never. ↵

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↵MVP: Larry Fitzgerald has emerged from these NFC playoffs — shattering the old Jerry Rice receiving-yards record — with the new reputation as the best WR in the NFL. That might not be going far enough. Much like in college, when he was the best player but still finished second in the Heisman, Fitzgerald is arguably the best player in the NFL right now, period. ↵

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↵(Meanwhile, as only the second QB to take two different teams to the Super Bowl, has Kurt Warner just ensured he will make the Hall of Fame? By the way: For all those who think Tim Tebow is too public in his proselytizing, I offer Warner as a reason to think Tebow is actually pretty low-key about it.) ↵

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↵As for the AFC's Super Bowl rep? Ho-hum. The Steelers are the anti-Cardinals: Championship history. Perennial contenders. Back in their second Super Bowl in the past four years. And grinding their way to it; the Ravens shut down the Steelers’ running game, and it took a fluky Big Ben-to-Holmes TD pass and a Troy Polamalu pick-6 to make it to Tampa. (If the question is which team has looked better on their playoff run, it is the Cardinals.) ↵

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↵Looking ahead to the Super Bowl: Everyone will be picking against the Cards. (1) The Steelers are playing smothering D right now, and (2) this is the Cardinals. But if the past three weeks have shown anything, it is that we all pick against the Cards at our own risk of being totally wrong. ↵

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↵What next for the Eagles — and Donovan McNabb? Despite being lucky to get into the playoffs, this team should have rolled through the NFC and won a Super Bowl; you can't pin that on McNabb, but he certainly symbolizes the missed opportunity. The Eagles will be worse without McNabb — the "Kolb Era," I guess you could call it. But I could also see them figuring that this is as good of a time as any to break up. I hope that McNabb ends up in Chicago, playing for fans who unconditionally appreciate him. ↵

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↵What's next for the Ravens — and Willis McGahee? Wow, that neck injury looked terrible. Here's hoping McGahee — who has already come back from one devastating injury (to his knee) — is back on the field this fall. ↵

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↵NFL Coaching Carousel: Rex Ryan to the Jets? This has been the presumption all along, and now — coming off his team's impressive (if losing) performance against the AFC champs — Ryan's season is over ... but his career in New York is just about to start. Good luck with that. (First question: "Hey, coach: Do you want Brett Favre back?") ↵

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↵Meanwhile, across town: If I were the Giants, I would have let Tom Coughlin go and promoted Steve Spagnuolo to head coach. As it stands, they can let Spagnuolo get head-coaching experience in St. Louis, then — when the Giants inevitably part ways with Coughlin in the next two-to-three years — they can bring Spagnuolo back. ↵

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↵Regardless, the Rams have their best moment since they won the Super Bowl a decade ago; after years of offensive-minded coaches, they are right to get a coach in charge who is an expert at defense. (In Tampa, the Bucs will be better off simply because the players don't hate Raheem Morris like they did Chucky Gruden.) ↵

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↵CBB: What we learned this weekend? The top of the ACC is better than the top of the Big East — perhaps because UNC is the third-best team in the league. Wake and Duke are the top of the conference — and the country — and, by the way, in that order: Wake winning at Clemson is tougher than Duke beating Georgetown at home. ↵

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↵(Meanwhile: Just because the top of the ACC is the best in the country doesn't mean the Big East still doesn't have the most compelling night-in-night-out schedule. Off its loss at Louisville on Saturday, Pitt has Syracuse tonight. And if only Louisville could play the entire NCAA Tournament against ranked Big East rivals.) ↵

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↵NBA Instant History: The Magic are the hottest team in the league, sweeping through the West, including wins over the Lakers and Nuggets on the road on back-to-back nights this weekend. The Magic get another two nights off before their Game of the Year in Orlando on Thursday night — against the Celtics, with the potential for the East All-Stars coaching job on the line. ↵

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↵MLK Day is almost better than Xmas Day for NBA games: 12 games total — including afternoon games (fun for those of you not taking the day off from work) — capped with high-profile evening match-ups, headlined by LeBron in L.A. vs. the Lakers. ↵

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↵Last night's top highlight: Dwyane Wade. Whew. ↵

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↵NBA All-Star Dunk Update: Rudy Fernandez is in, which gives the Dunk Contest an international flair, but it also means fans will miss out on the awesomeness that is Joe Alexander (who should hold his own shadow dunk contest outside the All-Star arena). ↵

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↵Pop Culture: LeBron James joins the Browns. It is every Cleveland sports fan's dream — LeBron suiting up for the Browns, leading them to a Super Bowl title. And there it was, brought to life (at least, through a State Farm ad), and I have to say: LeBron looks pretty good in an NFL uniform. (His Heisman pose at the end of the commercial was a nice touch, too.) ↵

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↵MLB Hot Stove: Cole Hamels for 3Y/$20.5M? That's a bargain for one of MLB's best young pitchers. Compare that to what the Yankees are going to have to shell out for CC Sabathia — or A.J. Burnett. ↵

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↵Lance is back in the peloton: He finished in the middle of the pack in the initial stage of the Tour Down Under in Australia, but in his first live racing after coming out of retirement, he couldn't possibly have been expecting more than just being on the road with everyone else. ↵

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↵Best wishes to NCAA President Myles Brand, who announced this weekend he has pancreatic cancer. ↵

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↵The Last Word: Of the All-Star cast at the Obama inaugural celebration at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday, Tiger Woods was the only athlete to participate, interesting for a few reasons: (1) Tiger is arguably the most prestigious athlete in the world right now, and (2) like MJ and LeBron, Tiger hasn't inserted himself into politics much — if at all — in his career. That he has chosen this moment made it even more powerful to see him up there. ↵

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↵Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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