Arizona Cardinals booked their first trip to the Super Bowl after Kurt Warner tossed three first-half touchdowns to Larry Fitzgerald to beat the Philadelphia Eagles 32-25 in the NFC title game.
|Warner escapes from Victor Abiamiri [GALLO/GETTY]
The Cardinals, who last appeared in NFL title game 61 years ago when the team played in Chicago, will face Pittsburgh Steelers on February 1.
The 37-year-old Warner, who went from bagging groceries to league and Super Bowl MVP honours with the St Louis Rams before returning to relative obscurity, has found new life in Phoenix and combined with Fitzgerald on one, nine and 62-yard touchdown strikes in the opening half.
"I just want to say 'Arizona Cardinals and Super Bowl' in the same sentence, because I like the way that sounds," said Warner, who led the Rams to Super Bowl victory in 1999 and lost with them in the NFL championship game two years later.
"I really didn't know anything at that time in my career.
"To come back here, when everybody had counted us out, everybody had counted me out, and everybody told us every single week, the Cardinals don't have a chance against Atlanta, the Cardinals don't have a change against Carolina.
"When we accomplished that, it's really, really special.
"This one's sweet, this one's special."
The sure-handed Fitzgerald finished Sunday with nine catches for 152-yards and earned a line in the NFL record book becoming the first player to score three touchdowns in the first half of conference championship game.
The All-Pro receiver also replaced Jerry Rice as the most successful receiver in a single post-season with 419 yards.
Job to do
"I knew I just had to do my job, stay grounded and not get too emotional," Fitzgerald said.
"We've got another game to go.
"We want to get back to work tomorrow, enjoy this victory tonight and just keep pushing.
|Fitzgerald makes the endzone [GALLO/GETTY]
"The games are getting bigger, but we're going to keep our heads down, keep leaning on each other, keep fighting,"
A Neil Rackers 49-yard field goal on the final play of the half gave the Cardinals what appeared to be a commanding 24-6 advantage going into the intermission.
Philadelphia's early points were provided by a pair of David Akers field goals.
The Eagles, making their fifth appearance in the NFC title game in eight years, finally found the end zone late in the third, Donovan McNabb rifling a six-yard touchdown strike to Brent Celek trimming the Arizona lead to 24-13.
McNabb and Celek hooked up again on a 31-yard touchdown in the final seconds of the quarter to slice the deficit to 24-19, sending a shudder through the capacity crowd of more than 70,000 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Philadelphia continued their fight back in the fourth, McNabb finding DeSean Jackson with a 62-yard bomb, the wide receiver bobbling the ball before gaining control and racing into the end zone to give the Eagles their first lead of the game 25-24.
The Cardinals finally broke out of their second half slump with just under three minutes to play, Warner capping a 72-yard drive with an eight-yard screen pass to Tim Hightower to retake the lead 32-25 with the help of a two-point conversion.
Arizona will now have a chance to end the second longest championship drought in North American sport when they take the field for Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa Bay.
The Cardinals' 61-years without a championship is second only to baseball's Chicago Cubs, who have gone 100 years without a title.