Diehard Cards fans go long - real long - East Valley Tribune: News

Diehard Cards fans go long - real long

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Posted: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 5:36 pm | Updated: 2:57 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

The Arizona Cardinals got to Super Bowl XLIII behind a 72-yard drive that took nearly eight minutes.

SLIDESHOW: Cards fans hop on the Magic Bus

The Arizona Cardinals got to Super Bowl XLIII behind a 72-yard drive that took nearly eight minutes.

SLIDESHOW: Cards fans hop on the Magic Bus

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INTERACTIVE: Follow Cards fans to the Super Bowl
INTERACTIVE: Follow Cards fans to Super Bowl

Four Valley men, in their aged yet adored "Magic Bus," departed Tuesday for the game - a drive of 2,200 miles and more than 48 hours. That's a whole bunch of first downs and even more time off the clock for these diehards.

A cross-country trip to tailgate in Tampa is no small undertaking, especially in a vehicle built in 1972. But tailgating in style takes even more preparation. That's why, minutes before the journey began, Chuck Underwood rushed back inside his Gilbert home to grab some necessities: a high-definition television and a tuner for the short bus' satellite dish.

"These would be bad things to forget," said Underwood, electronics in his arms and remote control in his back pocket.

Replied fellow fan Dirk Ross: "Worse would be forgetting the beer."

Joining the two are brothers Jef and Joe Johann of New River. Identical twins, Jef is the mechanic while Joe is the driver. Along for half the ride is Underwood's dog Sam, a vizsla/pit bull mix.

The four - all but Joe are technicians for T-Mobile - have been following the Cardinals for years, first driving to Tempe's Sun Devil Stadium and now to Glendale's University of Phoenix Stadium. Next stop: Raymond James Stadium for Sunday night's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Over the years, the interior of the bus has been signed by team members and other local luminaries: Cedric Smith, Adrian Murrell, Jake Plummer, Pat Tillman, Charles Keating, Frank Kush. But forget the history in those autographs; they can't match the history of the bus.

Joe Johann said it was in 1987 that he paid $675 for the Carpenter B-500 bus, then 15 years old, in Ohio and drove it back to Arizona, where he was moving.

Since then, among other fixes, the engine has been replaced four times; the transmission and hood, three each; and the rear end, twice. The frame is the original, and Jef Johanns guessed it now has at least 250,000 miles of wear.

"No power brakes, no power steering," Joe Johann said, and gas mileage is as low as 7 mpg. But, he added, the bus' cruising speed now is 58 mph, 10 mph faster than it once was.

In the face of the toll taken by age, the Johanns have added some modern touches: the DirecTV dish, GPS navigation and a 1,000-watt sound system with 10-inch subwoofers. Joe Johann estimated he's spent about $10,000 annually on repairs, maintenance and upgrades.

"Funny thing is," Joe Johann said, "there's more technology in the stereo and the nav system then what there was to build this bus."

The Magic Bus nickname came after a 1989 incident on rough road between Oklahoma and Dallas; the ball broke off the hitch, Joe Johann said, yet the trailer somehow stayed attached. The first Cardinals-red paint was applied in 1998, three years after their first purchase of season tickets.

For this trip, the itinerary is simple: A nonstop drive to Dallas, home to the Johanns' parents, where Sam will stay until the return trip. While in the city, the men plan to let their presence show Cowboys fans the real champions of the National Football Conference.

"In August, the Dallas fans were like, 'Just hand the NFC title to us - we're going to the Super Bowl,'" Joe Johanns said.

Then, a second nonstop leg, to host city Tampa. There they will meet eight friends who are flying in for the game.

If the Cardinals win, the men said their trip back may have a detour and a delay.

Said Underwood: "We'll party in New Orleans for a week, have to extend the vacation a little bit."

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