PHOENIX (AP) -Longtime Arizona Cardinals fans learned years ago to have low expectations - they've been let down so many times.
But now that the Cardinals have made it to the NFC championship game - yes, the Cardinals - Arizona fans are tingling with an unfamiliar sensation: enthusiasm. Team jerseys are selling out, sports bars have been packed for the playoffs and tickets to Sunday's game in Glendale against the Philadelphia Eagles sold out in six minutes.
``It's kind of pathetic to say it, but the truth is, I'm having trouble sleeping I'm so excited,'' said Jack Corson, a Cardinals season ticket holder since 1993.
Corson, known as ``MadJack'' to his friends and even the Cardinals' management, is the only fan allowed to hang a banner in University of Phoenix Stadium, because of his longtime loyalty.
His giant banner depicts a cardinal's head in place of the star on the Arizona state flag, and each game displays a different message in yellow and gold letters.
ld'' as the Cardinals try to soar past the Eagles into the Super Bowl.
``It feels surreal,'' said Corson, a 50-year-old project manager for a Chandler software company. ``It's totally like living a dream. Somebody pinch me.''
Until the Cardinals (11-7) beat Carolina 33-13 on Saturday, they were the only NFC franchise to never play in the conference title game since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.
The wins against Carolina and Atlanta a week earlier followed a few awful late-season showings, including a 47-7 loss in New England on Dec. 21 and a 48-20 Thanksgiving night defeat in Philadelphia (11-6-1).
The Cardinals' last title of any kind was in 1947 - as the Chicago Cardinals.
Dustin Holmes, a Tucson software engineer who likes to go by the nickname ``Kidstallyn,'' said he hasn't missed a Cardinals game since he became a season-ticket holder in 1999. Every time he goes, he wears an outfit he describes as ``your standard run-of-the-mill Cardinals red pimp suit with matching Cardinal red tiger-striped pants.''
Picture a pimped-out Kid Rock, complete with blonde wig and mustache.
Holmes, 37, said he'll be dressed up again at Sunday's game and will wear a No. 11 jersey in honor of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who has 14 catches for 267 yards and two touchdowns in his first two playoff games.
. ``It doesn't seem real to me, to have people come up to me at work and say, 'How 'bout them Cardinals?' and not meaning it in a joking sense. It's weird to be on that side of the fence.''
Keith Prescott, a native of Liverpool, England who has been in Phoenix the past 17 years and owns 16th Street Sports Bar in central Phoenix, said his customers used to view the Cardinals as a joke.
``That was the way the conversations were going two or three years ago - 'Oh the Cardinals, oh yeah right,''' Prescott said. ``They were never taken seriously. A loss was expected. It became a surprise if they did win.''
This season was different. As it progressed, more and more fans came in, until it reached ``fever pitch'' on Saturday, when Arizona pummeled the Panthers in Charlotte.
``It was just screaming, screaming, screaming,'' Prescott said. ``One client was complaining - could we turn the sound up - and we were on full volume with the surround sound there was that much noise. It was hilarious.''
Corson said he just has a good feeling about Sunday and the home-field advantage. The Cards are 7-2 at home this season.
``When you come to Arizona, you're playing in the house of pain because that crowd is loud,'' he said. ``When they close the roof, it's going to be so raucous. This town's got Cardinals fever.''
Earlier this week, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said the home-field advantage is ``huge.''
``I know it is going to be a great atmosphere and it is going to be electric,'' he said.

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