Column: We've been robbed, but there is a bailout plan

Miner Sports Writer Shawn Byrne is beaten down moments after the Cardinals’ heartbreaking loss in Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday. There would be no “Cardinal Dance” for Byrne this year.

KATHLEEN WILBER/Courtesy Miner Sports Writer Shawn Byrne is beaten down moments after the Cardinals’ heartbreaking loss in Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday. There would be no “Cardinal Dance” for Byrne this year.

They stole my daughter's favorite toy and kicked my dog while it licked its wounds. They ripped my heart out, chewed it up and then spit it out just to tell me it was sour. The culprits are called "NFL officials" and, unfortunately, it's a path professional sports is headed down.

There were many instances when ticky-tack penalties were called during Super Bowl XLIII, which saw the Pittsburgh Steelers crowned Super Bowl Champions*. They really did come up with some doosies.

I know it's painful to remember, but I must take you back to Santonio Holmes' winning "touchdown" catch with :35 left. We can argue all day about whether it was a catch - it's still a tough call to make. I'd rather argue about the no-call for Holmes' end-zone celebration.

Apparently, Holmes wanted to honor Lebron James' chalk commercial and used the ball as a prop to emulate the flying chalk. There is a NFL rule penalizing a player who uses the ball as a prop. It's a silly rule, but the NFL officials had enforced the rule tirelessly all season.

Why, when it would matter the most, would the Steelers' shenanigans be allowed without penalty? Shouldn't Pittsburgh have kicked off from the 15-yard line?

Would the last :35 have had a different outcome if the Cardinals had started near midfield rather than inside their own 30?

Did Kurt Warner fumble the ball on the game's last play?

Or, did his arm continue its forward motion and the ball fell harmlessly to the ground? We'll never have an official ruling. The NFL officials decided, at yet another time when a rule had been put in place precisely so the biggest game of the year would not end in controversy, to forego their responsibility and review the play.

And what's with the no-challenge rule in the last two minutes? Why allow challenges except the moment when it would mean the most? Cardinals' coach Ken Whisenhunt had proven the officials wrong twice during the game. I believe he would have proven them wrong a third time.

The NFL is now the new NBA. Officials seem to enter the championship rounds with a predetermined mindset of who the better team is, and, as a result, are looking for the so-called lesser team to make the fundamental errors. The zebras need to be calling the game the way it occurs, not the way it should occur.

I never thought I'd hate being a sports writer, but I'm having trouble with it this week. Everyone wants to talk to me about the Blooper Bowl, but I don't want to talk about it anymore. I want to look forward, soaking in the new environment the Cardinals have put all its fans in.

Despite all the blunders from the officiating crew on Sunday, we almost won. We still almost won. And that makes me proud to be a Cardinals fan.

We're not to be considered dreamers anymore. We can now be realists. Our beloved football team has taken us from a place where we could only dream about playoffs. A place where Super Bowl chatter was greeted with a "yeah, right" whenever the Cardinals were mentioned.

We are now legitimate contenders. If another team is going to win the Super Bowl next year, it will have to go through the Cardinals. We have ventured forward into the world of expectations. We can expect to make the playoffs, and from there, we'll see where the ride takes us. If this year was any indication, we're going to have a lot of fun in Arizona for years to come.

The former laughing-stock of the NFL has just become a model franchise for the fans in Cleveland, Detroit, Jacksonville, Houston and New Orleans. With a lot of patience and the hiring of good football people, these teams now have on their horizon a chance to get to their first Super Bowl. And when they do, I hope they remember to thank the Arizona Cardinals.