Arians gives Yorkers rooting interest
The Ravens were never a factor, losing six of their first seven games before ending up a disappointing 5-11.
The Eagles teased us for a while, but ultimately stumbled to a 7-9 finish, costing Chip Kelly his job.
The Redskins compiled a surprising 9-7 record to win the mediocre NFC East, but got eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
And the Steelers managed a 10-6 mark and a postseason victory before injuries and a critical turnover stalled their run.
So here we are in late January and York County's four most popular NFL teams are all sitting at home.
So who should local folks root for in this Sunday's conference title games?
That's easy — the Arizona Cardinals.
Yes, it's true, there are more than 2,300 miles separating York from Glendale, Arizona. But the other three survivors, Carolina, New England and Denver, aren't exactly close by, either.
The Cardinals, however, have some serious York County connections. The two men most responsible for turning around what was once a laughingstock franchise are both from these parts.
Arizona's general manager, Steve Keim, is a Red Land High School graduate, while the team's head coach, Bruce Arians, is a York High grad.
But this isn't just about hometown boys making good. Both Keim and Arians also seem like genuinely good guys — the kind of men you like to root for. Arians, in particular, is the kind of coach that every fan wishes his team had.
He survived four decades in the sometimes cut-throat world of pro and college coaching. He had one brief shot as a head coach with a struggling Temple program in the 1980s. He never had a legitimate chance to succeed there and soon got fired by the Owls. After that, he appeared destined to be a life-long journeyman assistant at multiple outposts across the country.
Finally, however, after excelling in an interim role as the Colts' head coach in 2012, Arians finally got his shot to lead his own team with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. Like Temple, the Cards had a long history of losing, but Arians has quickly changed all that, compiling a 34-14 regular-season record in three years.
Now he has the Cards one win from the Super Bowl.
He's resurrected the Arizona franchise by doing things his way. After waiting decades for his shot, he wasn't going to waste his opportunity by playing things safe.
Take Saturday night's pulsating 26-20 overtime victory over Green Bay for example. Arians caught some heat by choosing to throw the ball with his team leading 17-13 with just more than two minutes left in the game. It didn't work. The pass fell incomplete, stopping the clock. Arizona later settled for a field goal. That incomplete pass allowed Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers the time he needed to complete his Hail Mary pass to send the game into OT.
Did Arians regret the decision?
"Oh, hell no," he said. "I never regret a call ... I play to win."
That, in a nutshell, is Arians' character. It's why his players love him.
In his early 60s, Arians knows this is likely his one and only shot to lead his own team, so he coaches with an attitude, a swagger bordering on cockiness. He doesn't sugar-coat anything. He'll tell you exactly what he thinks. There's no spin, just the plain, unvarnished truth. That's almost unheard of in the buttoned-down world of the NFL.
At the same time, however, he actually seems to enjoy what he's doing. The man has the audacity to have fun coaching, unlike most of his NFL brethren, who usually look like they are trudging toward a root canal surgery.
Put it all together, and it makes for a very appealing character. His style is all his own, right down to trademark Kangol hat.
It's just plain easy to root for Bruce Arians, and that's exactly what most NFL fans in York County will be doing on Sunday.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.