Whatever happens to the Cardinals in Tampa, this much is clear: It's time to anoint a new NFL punching bag. So here's my question: who should it be?
What are we looking for in a punching bag? Consider Arizona's resume. Between 2000 and the start of this season, the Cardinals were 43-85 with no playoff appearances. Going back further, they made two postseason appearances in the 1980s and '90s (combined score in those games: 57-89). They haven't produced a Pro Bowl running back since Johnny Johnson in '90 or a Pro Bowl quarterback since Neil Lomax in '87. Their drafting has been notoriously atrocious (see: Matt Leinart, J.J. Arrington, Wendell Bryant ... ). When they've found talent, they've managed to let it slip away (see: Kyle Vanden Bosch, Thomas Jones, Calvin Pace ...). They've let lovable coaches overstay their welcomes, from Joe Bugel to Buddy Ryan to Dennis Green, who leant us the most memorable -- and pathetic -- press conference of the decade. They are who we thought they were!
But a Super Bowl appearance erases all of that, just as an NFC Championship Game appearance seemingly cleared New Orleans' slate two years ago. So who's the new punching bag, the butt of all of our jokes, Jay Leno's monologue go-to?
Is it as easy as the Detroit Lions, 0-16 in '08 and perpetrators of the worst four-year draft stretch in pro sports history? Or did they buy their way out of this spot by firing Matt Millen and the coaching staff? They certainly have some history on their side: Barry Sanders; six playoff appearances in the '90s; four NFL championships overall ...
The Raiders? They still have a Super Bowl in the decade, albeit a loss; and isn't there the sense that they're one loony owner away from being a contender again? We missed our window of opportunity to say the Dolphins. Is it too soon for the 49ers or Chiefs or even the Rams? With the Tampa-bound Cardinals safely out of the running for a few years, who do you think is the new punching bag in the NFL?
Check SI.com's Super Blog regularly for more dispatches from Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa.