The most intriguing story of the early Super Bowl prep is actually a sidebar, which is a weird enough way to start what might be the weirdest Super Bowl ever.
It isn't the Arizona Cardinals overcoming decades of self-applied filth; that one was played out after they beat Carolina.
|From Kurt Warner to T.O., Todd Haley has proven he won't back down to any player. (Getty Images)|
It is, in fact, the sidebar to the Boldin story -- the fast-developing cult of Todd Haley.
Haley, the Arizona offensive coordinator who snapped back at Boldin on the sidelines during the NFC title game, has become the new prettiest girl at the dance -- the coach who faces down the diva wide receiver by pitching an even more effusive nutty. Indeed, he is the first coach since his mentor, Bill Parcells, to announce loudly and publicly that he is not a "players' coach."
And that is resonating in ways that Haley's work as the offensive coordinator of the pass-happy Cardinals never did. That is resonating so much, in fact, that he is now considered the next coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, which must come as a surprise to Herman Edwards, the current coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Indeed, the diva receiver is already learning the joy of institutional recoil. Terrell Owens is wondering for the first time if Jerry Jones still has his back. Chad Johnson already took a hard scolding from the Cincinnati Bengals. Braylon Edwards, Steve Smith, Randy Moss ... they have all found the limits to their diva-hood, and the largely more conservative customer seems fine with it.
But Haley has become the first assistant coach to actually benefit from striking back, and though it isn't his first time, the fact that he was willing to take time out of his busy schedule to strike back in the most public of venues makes him the new hot flavor.
He and Owens had their issues during his time in Dallas, a fact that is getting him points now for telling truth to power when it wasn't popular. He also gets points for having gotten in Larry Fitzgerald's grill in the offseason and being acknowledged by Fitzgerald for having a considerable role in Fitzgerald's breakout. He has had his loud arguments with Kurt Warner and both have come out ahead for it. Edgerrin James hasn't liked the way he's been used, but he suddenly got the ball more often down the stretch when Arizona decided it actually needed more of a running game than Tim Hightower and J.J. Arrington could provide.
And he really gets points for saying, as though he were channeling Parcells himself, that he isn't a players' coach. People like that, and as long as they're not the ones being barked at, they want to see more of it.
The down side, of course, is that Parcells did his best yelling when he had good teams, and Haley hasn't been the first-yeller-in-chief yet. Were he to get the Chiefs job, he would be yelling at a bad roster, which goes only so far before it makes you look like a lunatic rather than a strong man. True, he and Larry Johnson probably wouldn't get on well, but Johnson's time in Kansas City always seems short anyway.
In short, Haley looks great now because he and his employers are talented and on a roll, the best time to look tough. Even though the Cardinals are playing it down as best they can, the cult of Haley is rolling on at the best time for any cult to grow and flourish.
But like Parcells, who had to turn around a bad Giants team to make his rep, we won't know if Todd Haley is the next big deal until he can take a bad team on his own and make it a winner under his name. And we will actually get a hint of that this week and next if he tries to play up his newfound image as though it were a brand. That would be a bad idea, and would expose him as being too manufactured and disingenuous.
No, Haley needs someone in his face to be the caricature. What we'll discover next Sunday is not whether he can yell at Steve Breaston, because he probably can, but whether he can outthink a tougher defense than any he's faced this year.
That goes a lot further than any vein in his neck ever will.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle