Univ. of Phoenix Stadium: Historic Despite its Youth

Where is the current hotbed of sporting venues? Lambeau Field? Nope. Yankee Stadium? No, but getting warmer. Fenway Park? No, that place hasn't seen a title won there since Babe Ruth's era.

That site of the most dramatic games in recent memory is thousands of miles from those three legendary diggs, and resides in the Valley of the Sun.

It's hard to believe that it has been just less than two and a half years since Glendale, Arizona's University of Phoenix Stadium opened its doors. Built as the ultimate state of the art venue for sports and entertainment, the desert palace has more than lived up to the hype and moniker.

In its three seasons of football, the vast amount of historic games that have taken place on the movable gridiron is astounding. Starting in 2006, the Arizona Cardinals have used the stadium as their home field, and capped off a great run in Glendale by clinching their first NFC title Sunday.

Considering the stadium hosts the Cardinals, one would think that Sunday's monumental victory would be the top moment in the stadium's brief history, but in this case, that is far from the truth.

The history of the place all started in October 2006, when Lovie Smith traveled to the desert for a brilliant Monday Night Football clash with his eventual NFC Champion Chicago Bears. After three plus quarters of sheer dominance, the Cardinals allowed the Bears to pry themselves back into the game through game changing defensive plays, and the supreme return game of Devin Hester.

The Bears went on to win the game 24-23 despite their six turnovers, over coming a 20-point Arizona lead. The game gave the Bears the momentum to take them to Super Bowl, and for the Cardinals, it provided the quote of the century by head coach Dennis Green.

The Bears are what we thought they were, they're what we thought they were. We played them in preseason, who the hell takes a third game of the preseason like it's bullshit, Bullshit!? We played them in the third game, everybody played three quarters; the Bears are who we thought they were! And that's the way we took the damn field. Now if you wanna crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were, and we let 'em off the hook!
Although that game provided the locals with their low point of the year, arguably the football season's most shocking and dramatic game was only two months later in college football's Fiesta Bowl.

The traditional January bowl game was fresh of its own move from Tempe's SunDevil Stadium, along with its two teams that were from opposite spectrums of the college football landscape. Big 12 Champion, and legendary football program Oklahoma was lead by Heisman contending running back Adrian Peterson. Their opponent however was compiled of Idaho farm boys and big school rejects from Boise State under first year coach Chris Petersen.

Despite being undefeated, the WAC Champion Boise State Broncos were heavily undersized and likewise considered an overwhelming underdog.

Surprisingly to Oklahoma and the rest of the nation, Boise State showed up that New Years Day, and opened a healthy 28-10 lead in the third quarter. But the Sooners would not give up, as an a five yard touchdown strike from Paul Thompson to Quentin Chaney and a following two-point conversion tied the game at 28 with 1:26 left in regulation.

It would not stay tied forever, as on the following Boise State drive, quarterback Jared Zabransky was intercepted by Oklahoma's Marcus Walker who returned the errant throw for six, finally giving the Sooners the lead.

The game was far from over however, as coach Petersen(below) got tricky, and with seven seconds left called for some razzle dazzle, scoring on a 50-yard hook and latter, sending the Glendale crowd into a frenzy as the Broncos forced overtime.

The overtime period would be one for the ages, despite its brief stint. The Sooners scored on their first play, a 25 yard scamper from Peterson, once again pitting Boise State's back against the wall. This time, their answer would be even more shocking as they scored on a fourth down play on the unlikely arm of wide receiver Vinny Perretta on a trick play.

Rather than settling for the conventional extra point, Chris Petersen sent his offense on the field and shocked the world. The result was a play that will live in infamy, as Ian Johnson scored on the famed Statue of Libery play, slaying the beast that was Oklahoma.

The concept of the underdog Boise State winning, combined with the fact that they won on the legs of three trick plays in the final seconds and overtime, will forever put the game into college football, and University of Phoenix Stadium lore.

But the history of the arena would not end there, as a week later Chris Leak and Tim Tebow blew away Ohio State as the Florida Gators won the first BCS National Championship at the stadium, 41-14.

A year later, the mystic of the iconic stadium was at it again. Once again history was on the line, as the New England Patriots headed to Glendale for a shot at a 19-0 dream season. However, via the play of Eli Manning, David Tyree, Plaxico Burress and the rest of the New York Giants, Tom Brady and company were sent home trophy-less.

In what is noted as the greatest Super Bowl, and the biggest upset of all, surpassing Super Bowl III, the Giants' won the game after the greatest drive in the history of the big game.

After Randy Moss capped off a 12 play, 80 yard drive by the Patriots with just 2:42 left in the game, just like Boise State, the Giants weren't throwing in the towel. Eli Manning followed the score with history.

Manning led the Giants for 83 yards on 12 plays, finishing with a 13-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds remaining. However they might have never gotten that far if it wasn't for the miracle catch(shown above) by obscure wideout David Tyree on a 32-yard third down pass with just over a minute left.

The pass will go down amongst the greatest playoff catches ever, picturesque as Lynn Swann's diving grab in Super Bowl XIII, and as significant as "The Catch" itself by 49ers tight end Dwight Clark.

Not only did the beauty of Super Bowl XLII make it historic, but the significance of the plateau that the Patriots were denied was immense, writing just another epic chapter in the history of the University of Phoenix Stadium.

The Giants' win brings us back to the tall task that the Arizona Cardinals were faced with Sunday as they won the NFC for the first time ever. Despite the cultural, local, national, and historical significance of the Cardinals' win, for their home stadium, it will go down as just another classic in a long line of epic games.

Glendale's prized jewel will never reach the statures of Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Lambeau Field, but amongst it's modern contemporaries, it's a man amongst boys.

Photos: Letro Sonics, flikr, KBCI-Boise, The Daily Mail


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