We are now less than a week away from the annual tribute to American sporting excess known as the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh will face underdog Arizona in the 43rd installment of the National Football League's uber-championship Sunday evening at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Here are some of the story lines you'll be hearing about -- repeatedly and possibly to the point of frustration -- this week.
The game is going to suck like a Shop-Vac: You hear this one a lot in the NFL's era of parity, which some refer to as parody, as teams go from worst to first and vice versa in the span of one season. Given that the participants are from relatively small markets, many people will predict low ratings and a game that ranges from mediocre to craptacular.
It might happen. But, it's not an automatic. Think back to last year. A lot of people predicted that New England would steamroll New York and cap off the first perfect season since Don Shula's Miami club celebrated in the early '70s.
The Giants won a thriller. While that game certainly set a high standard for this year's contest, the Super Bowl has reached a point where we don't need well-known teams or marquee players to ensure an entertaining game. Super Bowl Sunday is an unofficial national holiday. If the game stinks, people will still gorge themselves on taco dip, finger foods and commercials that are sometimes hilarious, sometimes painfully bad and always very, very expensive.
The respect / Cinderella card: The media (and Cardinals fans) will play this one to the hilt. They'll say nobody gave the Arizona club a chance. Of course nobody gave them a chance. A few weeks ago, they looked nothing like a Super Bowl contender. But, that doesn't matter now. The Cardinals have a chance to reiterate what has become a truism in the NFL -- the best team doesn't always win. The hottest team wins.
Steel Curtain revisited: Back when the NFL's setup allowed for dynasties, the Steelers piled up championships behind a vaunted defense known as the "Steel Curtain." Since the current Pittsburgh's offense isn't much to write home about, the defense will get a lot of publicity this week. That's fine. Troy Polamalu is a fantastic player and the guys with the black helmets hit opponents early and often. They pounded San Diego and then rattled Baltimore's Joe Flacco en route to Tampa.
Comparing them to the Steel Curtain, however, is silly. The Cardinals defense will get second-class treatment this week, but it truly is the main reason that Arizona is in the final two.
Look for a recreation of the "Mean Joe" commercial, too. Even that won't be as good as the original.
Bandwagon fans vs. Diehards: Arizona fans will revel in this appearance, but the rest of the country knows that most of them are frauds. The Cardinals turned off most of their target audience with decades of bumbling missteps under owner Bill Bidwell's shaky leadership. The fact that it took an 11th-hour rescue to sell out the first playoff game and prevent an embarrassing blackout tells you all you need to know.
Steelers fans, on the other hand, are the opposite of bandwagon fans. Look for them to gobble up more tickets and have more of a presence in Tampa.
Is he worthy? Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner -- an undrafted former Packers backup who bagged groceries and played in the Arena League before leading St. Louis to titles and crashing and burning in New York -- is one of the better sports stories of this generation.
As he leads the Cardinals out of the desert in search of the promised land (the hyperbole is going to get thick), many will debate whether he has the resume to join the immortals of the game at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Some say yes. Some say no (but they'll be silent this week). Some say yes, but only if he wins the big game Sunday.
If you ask us, Warner doesn't make the grade. He's an upstanding fellow and has had some great highlights, to be sure, but his body of work doesn't put him among the all-time greats. He's a guy who has been in the right place at the right time with the right offense and the right receivers.
If he makes it to the Hall of Fame, what do you say about Phil Simms, Boomer Esiason, Ken Anderson and others who have more consistent and compelling stats?
In Boldin Type: Every Super Bowl needs a bad boy. Since Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson isn't around for a cocaine-fueled bash and Eugene Robinson has retired, the role this year will likely go to Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin. During the NFC Championship game, the fiery Boldin -- who hates being overshadowed by teammate Larry Fitzgerald in the media and on payday so much that he requested a trade during the off-season -- screamed at offensive coordinator Todd Haley. While his teammates celebrated their stunning victory, Boldin bolted the locker room. Can he put aside his "me-first" mentality and help his team win? Stay tuned.
Big Ben: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn't have to be great for his team to win. He has to be healthy. Roethlisberger is battling a number of injuries from bruise dribs to a spinal cord concussion. His favorite receiver, Hines Ward, has a "slightly sprained" ligament in his right knee.
If Big Ben is hurt, Byron Leftwich will get the call.
Familiar foe: Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt was the offensive line coach on Bill Cowher's Pittsburgh staff and many considered him a lock to replace Cowher in 2007. Instead, Whisenhunt headed to Arizona for what was perceived by many as an impossible rebuilding job. Mike Tomlin, who had been the Vikings' defensive coordinator, took the Steelers' job. Whisenhunt's still-fresh knowledge of Pittsburgh's personnel may or may not give him an edge in the coaching chess match, but it will get a lot of ink. As for Tomlin, he's a great story, too. Thanks to the Tony Dungy-Lovie Smith matchup in a previous Super Bowl - and the fact that an African-American now resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. -- Tomlin's race won't generate a lot of coverage this week.
Getting to know you: Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been regarded as one of the best players that hardly anyone has heard of. That ends this week. Fitzgerald's dad is a sportswriter. He was a ball boy for the Vikings as a teen. He's humble. He's not a prima donna. He's almost too good to be true, or he will seem that way this week.
The Edge: Cardinals running back Edgerrin James wanted out of Arizona. But, he mounted a surge down the stretch and is trying to push his way to Canton, too.
The Boss: The halftime show by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will generate a lot of heat leading into the game. Some gambling houses will offer prop bets on what songs the band will play. Many will wonder if his performance will be more compelling than the game itself.
The economy: The Super Bowl is, pardon the pun, the Super Bowl of advertising. With the economy in quicksand, you'll see lots of stories this week about companies scaling back their commercials, sales of big-screen TVs dropping, the cancellation or scaling-back of lavish corporate parties and other offshoots of what continues to be a major story in the non-sporting world.
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.