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Dan Bickley

John McCain’s allegiance to Arizona teams felt real because it was

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., applauds during the break in the seventh inning of a baseball game between the Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks in Washington, Wednesday, May 3, 2017. The Nationals won 3-2. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Arizona has lost one of its best sports fans, a political icon who showed no favorites.

John McCain loved the Coyotes as much as he loved the Suns. He blamed his erratic performance at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on a late night with the Diamondbacks, watching a game against the Padres that ended at 1:40 a.m. on the East Coast.

McCain’s death was a hallmark moment in Arizona. It darkened the mood and lightened the Valley. Our show of gratitude seemed to reach the magnitude of the moment, too strong and too important for political rhetoric.

Better yet: By the end of the weekend, his beloved Diamondbacks were still clinging to first place. His beloved Cardinals still haven’t lost a preseason game, impressing a national audience in a road demolition of the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.

The senator would’ve loved that.

McCain was a true America hero, no matter what anyone says. Don’t waste your time arguing with nitpickers.

He was also a fan boy, and it was one of his best traits. He boxed at the Naval Academy and hardscrabble pugilism always held a special place in his heart. He pushed legislation protecting the gullible nature of professional fighters, the men who lived their lives in a shot glass. He scaled and clawed his way up the slippery mountain, nearing the summit of American politics, so close he could almost see his portrait in the White House.

He was that big. And yet …

Give him a prime seat at a local sporting event, and he was a transfixed child. He beamed with idolatry and excitement. He loved representing Arizona at the highest level of government, serving as the state’s strongest voice inside the machine. He loved to claim he was doing God’s work in the city of Sin.

But he also loved representing Arizona as a diehard sports fan, fully invested in the local teams. He was a cut above the politico poseurs who ride bandwagons, mispronounce surnames of star athletes and couldn’t tell a kickoff from a faceoff.

That wasn’t the case with McCain, who always wore our colors with sincerity and pride. He pledged unwavering allegiance to Arizona teams. His affection felt real because it was. And we all know it’s hard to fool a sports fan in matters of the heart.

Just like McCain’s passing will dominate the political conversation, the Cardinals will generate a lot of interest around NFL water coolers. Expect a strong push in power rankings. They will be anointed as a team that might surprise in the coming months. Their domination of the Cowboys featured a pick-six from Patrick Peterson and an end-zone interception from Budda Baker. They have forced 16 takeaways in three preseason games.

David Johnson is an extremely-motivated MVP candidate, and an elite offensive line could open new horizons. Give Chase Edmonds the football and he seems to respond with great urgency and burst. And after missing the 2017 season, T.J. Logan cracked off an electrifying touchdown run against the Cowboys.

There is an abundance of cotton candy after three preseason games, the stuff that always looks better than it tastes.

McCain knew better than anyone. His career resembled the Arizona teams he adored. He was like Steve Nash’s Suns, admired for fearlessness but unable to deliver a ring. He was like Kurt Warner’s Cardinals, so close to the ultimate triumph, only to peak too soon, paying for poor decisions down the stretch.

Once, I asked McCain what it felt like to lose the race for the White House, falling short in the Super Bowl of politics.

McCain said he slept like a baby. He’d wake up every two hours, cry hysterically and fall back asleep.

Along the way, he never lost his good humor or his humanity. He was a shining ambassador for Arizona, after Jerry Colangelo and before Larry Fitzgerald. The teams he adored are deeply touched by his passing, as they should be. And they can honor him by following the senator’s lead:

Chin out, teeth clenched, fists balled up at their side. Always fighting for a better Arizona.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier