Originally Published: January 18, 2009 6:13 p.m.
GLENDALE - The throngs of tailgaters playing football, bean-bag toss, poker and beer pong extended outward from the University of Phoenix Stadium long before the 1 p.m. kickoff on Sunday.
For Arizona Cardinals' fans, seeing their team reach its first NFC Championship Game was a victory before the team even took to the field and later advanced to its first Super Bowl in franchise history.
"It's a miracle," Linda Roeske of Phoenix said before the game.
Roeske was a season-ticket holder for the Arizona Outlaws of the United States Football League in the 1980s, so she was at the top of the list for Cardinals tickets from Day 1 in 1988.
She laughed when asked what it was like to see the team break through this year.
"I was restless last night," Roeske said. "This is absolutely fabulous. It's the best thing that's happened around here in a while."
About 20,000 available tickets sold out within six minutes of going on sale last week. Fans were obviously excited.
Rudy Soto, a lifelong Phoenix resident sporting his Pat Tillman #40 jersey, said he arrived at the stadium with friends and family at 7:45 a.m.
"The feeling is indescribable right now," said Soto, who also has had season tickets since 1988. "I want to know what it's going to feel like. Parity has hit other teams, it's never hit us. Finally the parity has come to Arizona. We love it, we enjoy it and this town is going to go nuts when we win - when we win today."
The Cardinals pulled out a 32-25 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in what fans and players said was the loudest crowd they've ever heard at a Cardinals home game.
"Our fans are crazy," safety Adrian Wilson said after the game. "A lot of people underestimate our home-field advantage. I think we had about four or five false starts that were big in the game. It's crazy, man. Our fans really deserve a lot of credit."
The Suns have had their success in the past, like a run to the NBA Finals in 1993. The Diamondbacks won the World Series in 2001. But fans agreed it's different with the Cardinals.
"This is going to surpass the reaction those teams got when they made it because nobody expected this," Soto said. "This came out of nowhere. They were expected to make the playoffs this year. I think a lot of people were pretty content with that. But now that we're on the verge of actually making the Super Bowl. The city is just abuzz."
Frank Gonzales, wearing his Aeneas Williams jersey, is a Suns fan but has never seen the city so excited for the local football team.
"(Suns' success) is good but this is a lot better," Gonzales said. "It's a lot better feeling because we've waited so long. Great, great, great. Real great."
Even Gonzales' 10-year-old son, David, was glad the wait was over.
"I'm happy that they finally made it this far," David said, adding that compared to the Suns, "This is better."
It didn't matter when the day was over, but Sunday wasn't a case of Super Bowl or bust for the upstart Cards.
"Going by how the Cardinals have been in the past - obviously everybody knows their history has been kind of futile - just this chance, this opportunity we have, is amazing," Soto said. "You've just got to soak it in."
But the thought of seeing their team in the biggest game of the year on Feb. 1 in Tampa, Fla.? Even hours before hand, fans were still having a hard time wrapping their minds around it.
"I think we'd all go," Roeske said of her husband and friends. "That's how important it is."
Six hours later, it was a reality.