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

Aug 27, 2018, 6:57 AM | Updated: 8:56 am
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., applauds during the break in the seventh inning of a baseball game betwe...
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)
(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.

Dan Bickley

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) looks to pass as Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (...
Dan Bickley

Suns’ season starts off uneasy, just like Deandre Ayton’s contract situation

Welcome to a new year in Phoenix, when Deandre Ayton’s contract status is part of every narrative, one that’s not going away anytime soon.
2 days ago
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz sits on the bench during the first half of a preseason NFL ...
Dan Bickley

Zach Ertz trade is proof the Cardinals are all in for 2021

Zach Ertz has pedigree. He has a Super Bowl ring. His presence is a declaration. He is proof the Cardinals are all in to win in 2021.
7 days ago
Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt (99) celebrates a defensive stop against the San Francisc...
Dan Bickley

Cardinals earn forgettable win over 49ers to stay atop NFC West

Victories last forever. Even when they’re instantly forgettable. The Cardinals played one of those games on Sunday.
12 days ago
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals looks on during the second quarter in the game ...
Dan Bickley

Kingsbury’s turnaround with Cardinals starting to silence some doubters

Six weeks ago, Kliff Kingsbury’s seat was the hottest in professional football. Now he is among the early favorites to win Coach of the Year.
13 days ago
Owner Robert Sarver stands with the Western Conference Championship trophy after the Suns beat the ...
Dan Bickley

Sarver’s past makes stalled Deandre Ayton contract talks alarming

The Suns are playing a dangerous game. They are perilously close to contaminating elite team chemistry. They might kill the vibe entirely.
17 days ago
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, left, avoids the rush from Los Angeles Rams outside lin...
Dan Bickley

Cardinals leave Los Angeles with something bigger than a win

Dan Bickley says the Arizona Cardinals left Los Angeles with a big ‘L’ on Sunday: legitimacy.
18 days ago
John McCain’s allegiance to Arizona teams felt real because it was