SEATTLE — There will be no post-game ceremonies today.
No trophies will be presented, no champagne poured. No players will run from one sideline to the other in search of a little brown jug or an axe or the Apple Cup.
The passing of the torch will be strictly symbolic.
So even if the Arizona Cardinals hand the Seattle Seahawks their third consecutive home loss this afternoon at Qwest Field, the shift of power in the NFC West — from past champion to future champion — will not be commemorated on the field.
Only in the standings.
The Cardinals (6-3) are on the verge of winning their first division title in 34 years, regardless of what happens today. If Arizona does come out with a win at Qwest Field, the NFC West crown is essentially wrapped up with six games to go.
“It’s like a championship game,” Seahawks defensive end Darryl Tapp said of today’s contest, which begins at 1:05 p.m. “It’s like the West Division title. If we lose, they win (the division). If we win, we keep fighting and get it settled later in the season.”
Officially, the Cardinals would not clinch the division until next week at the earliest. Arizona’s so-called magic number is four, meaning the Cardinals need that combination of wins and Seahawks losses over the final seven weeks to win the West. But a victory today would put Arizona a full five games ahead with six to go, all but knocking the senseless Seahawks out of their misery.
Even a Seattle win today wouldn’t necessarily make the West race much more dramatic. Like in recent seasons, the division is all but wrapped up in November.
The difference this time, of course, is that Seattle, after winning four consecutive division titles, is not the team looking down at the other three sad sacks in the NFC West.
“It’s been frustrating for everyone, just because we’re 2-7,” said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who is expected to make his first start since Oct. 5 after missing five games with a back injury. “We’re not used to that.”
Even head coach Mike Holmgren, contrary to his nature, sounded rather defeated last week when he described this season by saying: “The sun is starting to set a little bit.” He went on to talk about how the team has adjusted its goals, which originally included a postseason appearance.
In Arizona, where the Cardinals have appeared in only one postseason since moving from St. Louis 21 years ago, hopes are at the other end of the spectrum. While Holmgren’s cup may be three-quarters empty, the Cardinals’ is overflowing right now.
“We haven’t been in this position in forever,” said Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, who is leading the entire NFL in passing efficiency, with a rating of 106.4. “The fans have been behind us and are excited about what we are doing. This is definitely different for this community. There is a buzz — and not your typical training-camp buzz.”
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who is in his second year with Arizona and his first stint as a head coach, said that the key to the Cardinals’ turnaround has been changing the franchise’s outlook.
“There was a tendency by our players to think something was going to go wrong,” he said last week. “I think that is where we have made progress as a team.
“When the 49ers returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown (in Monday night’s 29-24 Arizona win), that is something very hard to overcome. And I don’t think we could have done that last year.”
This year’s Cardinals have already shown an ability to go where few other Cardinals teams have gone.
“They’ve always been a talented team. They just, for whatever reason, haven’t been able to get it done,” Seahawks defensive tackle Rocky Bernard said. “There were years where you think: oh, the Cardinals are going to be really good. But then their record isn’t what it’s supposed to be. But now they’ve gotten over that hump.”
Not only have the Cardinals gotten over the hump, but they’ve also got an open path to the finish line. Barring an unforeseen tailspin, and another division team that puts together a long winning streak, the Cardinals are on their way to becoming kings of the hill in the NFC West.
This afternoon, they’ll get their first shot at the team that currently holds that title.
“We’re not just going to hand it over,” Seattle’s Bernard said. “Whatever happens at the end happens. But we’re not giving it up without a fight.”