Whisenhunt unfazed by hoopla

Associated Press
The Cardinals' Matt Leinart (left) and Karlos Dansby turn their camcorders on the media during Super Bowl XLIII media day. Arizona is a seven-point underdog against Pittsburg.

TAMPA, Fla. --- Did you know that Ken Whisenhunt always eats blueberry muffins on the morning of home football games?


Or that he prefers warmer weather to freezing cold?

Or that his best score at Augusta National Golf Club is even par thanks to an eagle on No. 11?

These are the things that become imperative for some people to know when they are covering the Super Bowl. In between the particulars of the Arizona Cardinals wide-open offense or the preparation involved to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, the former Richmond Academy and Georgia Tech star had to toss out a few irrelevant nuggets to satisfy the most peculiar media throng in sports.

"There's been so many it would be hard to point out one," Whisenhunt answered to a dumb question about the dumbest question he'd been asked in the previous hour. "It's been a lot of fun."

Whisenhunt has moved from the bleacher domain of the assistant coaches to a captain's chair on a podium at the 15-yard line in this annual ritual of journalistic excess. He was the offensive coordinator for his Sunday opponent, the Steelers, in Super Bowl XL in Detroit. Three Roman numerals later and he's the head coach of an NFC championship franchise that was counted for dead before the playoffs even started this year.

"I think it ranks pretty high on the surprise meter that we're here based on everything that I've heard leading up to this point," Whisenhunt said. "I don't think that anybody on our football team is surprised that we're here. We put a lot of work in and made great progress as a team."

Now the trick for the second-year head coach from Augusta is to keep his team from suffering from one of the worst afflictions that can strike a Super Bowl participant -- Happy-to-be-here Syndrome. Whisenhunt believes he might have discovered the antidote during a December swoon leading into the postseason.

"When we clinched the division we had a number of guys who were happy that we did that and we got beat up pretty good over the next couple of weeks," he said. "I think that gave us a reality check and will help us understand that we're not just happy to be here and need to work and focus in order to have a chance."

To that end Whisenhunt is trying to keep his inexperienced team from getting caught up in the myriad of distractions that pulsate from the Super Bowl environment. Tuesday's 60-minute media day session was a microcosm of Super Bowl craziness.

There was the transvestite in the red spaghetti-strap gown muscling up to the barricade to ask about Kurt Warner. There was every hue of morning zoo disc jockeys trying to out-stupid each other. There was 10-year-old Shelby Fallin getting an interview she asked for her Scholastic News network. There was Warren Sapp being Warren Sapp with a microphone and a license to interrupt any conversation. There was the handful of Telemundo models catching the eye of every player, coach, owner and media member that happened into their line of sight.

Whisenhunt never wavered in the glitter and the glare. He spoke with the same consistency that his players claim he brought to a franchise that was grossly lacking in such discipline. He doesn't get caught up in the giddiness of it all.

"When I was a young boy playing football, I always envisioned myself as a pro player, which I think a lot of young boys do," he said. "I was just very fortunate that I had a number of very good role models as I was growing up. I think my course that took me here as a head coach never could have been anticipated. My core belief is in teamwork. There is no sport like football that requires teamwork more than any other. To me that is the reason I have a passion for this sport and the reason that I enjoy doing it so much. When you see a team come together like our team has, that's really what it's all about."

Now Whisenhunt is four days away from the game that defines the careers of players and coaches. He has the opportunity to lead a team that hasn't won a championship in 61 years against a program that has been tested and succeeded more than any other. The Steelers are the gold standard in the NFL, and the Cardinals are trying to chip off a little piece for themselves.

"Every team starts off the preseason and the regular season wanting to get to this game," Whisenhunt said.

"This team has never been to the Super Bowl before. We are very excited that we were able to get here, and obviously you want to win it. It means a lot to this organization."

So Whisenhunt will wake up Sunday morning, probably eat a blueberry muffin (the Cardinals are officially the home team) and walk out into the warm stage of Raymond James Stadium.

One more victory would rank well above any score he posted at Augusta National. It would rank close beside Larry Mize winning the Masters Tournament as the highest sporting accomplishment by an Augustan.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.



WHEN: 6 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Raymond James Stadium; Tampa, Fla.

TV: NBC-Ch. 26 LINE: Steelers by 7



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