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The Legend of Lee Grosscup lives, thanks to the Arizona Cardinals. The winning touchdown in Arizona's overtime defeat of Green Bay last weekend came via Carson Palmer's shoveled toss to Larry Fitzgerald, a play originally popularized in college football as the "Utah Pass" in the 1950s.

In advance of Sunday's NFC championship game at Carolina, a closer look at the Cardinals:

Team's theme

Arizona was statistically the NFL's best team in the regular season with the No. 1-ranked offense and No. 5 defense, even though the roster is not loaded with stars. In comparison to Carolina, the league's last remaining unbeaten team, the Cardinals' success went almost undetected.

How they got here

The Cardinals went 13-3 to win the NFC West title and earn the conference's No. 2 seed. They beat Green Bay 26-20 in the divisional playoff round, scoring on the first possession of overtime.

Super Bowl-bound if ...

Carson Palmer continues his high-level quarterbacking. Thriving with his third NFL team, Palmer passed for 349 yards and three touchdowns against the Packers. Playoff stats are separate, but Palmer has topped 5,000 yards for the year.

Homeward-bound if ...

The game comes down to a Hail Mary, launched by Carolina's Cam Newton. The Cardinals somehow allowed Green Bay to tie them on the last play of regulation.

Biggest variable

The Cardinals' running game is an afterthought, as illustrated by their 40-yard effort against Green Bay. Any production on the ground would be a bonus vs. Carolina.

Best player

Patrick Peterson is an AP All-Pro cornerback and he's even more important in the secondary now that All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu, another LSU product, is out with a knee injury.

Best player you've never heard of

Justin Bethel, a cornerback from Presbyterian College in South Carolina, was selected to the Pro Bowl as a special-teams player.

Local connections

First, the "Utah Pass" story: In a 2003 Tribune interview, Grosscup laughed about how he's generally credited with inventing the shovel pass, pointing out that Utah coach Jack Curtice picked it up long after Stanford's Pop Warner used it in the 1920s. In any case, the overhand flip worked for Palmer and Fitzgerald on that 5-yard touchdown.

Alani Fua, a linebacker from BYU, made Arizona's roster as an undrafted free agent and has appeared in every game in his rookie season, mostly on special teams.

Kerwynn Williams, a third-year running back from Utah State, gained 142 yards on 27 carries in the regular season. He was inactive against Green Bay.

Reasons to cheer for them

Fitzgerald is one of the classiest athletes in pro sports, as a sportswriter's son. Palmer, a Heisman Trophy winner, is targeting his first Super Bowl appearance in an up-and-down pro career, and outspoken coach Bruce Arians is a refreshing contrast to the programmed coaches of the NFL.

Reasons to cheer against them

There's not much to dislike about the Cardinals. They're not even the only team to have left St. Louis anymore. The only negative thing anyone could cite is they've played in the Super Bowl more recently than Carolina.

Twitter: @tribkurt —

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