"I think it's an exciting time for us in baseball," Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday said Sunday night at teammate Chris Carpenter's home in St. Louis, where he and his family watched the game with about 30 others, their recent tradition. "All the attention focuses on Spring Training after the Super Bowl, a lot of people start turning their focus to their favorite baseball team.
"Every year you look forward to the offseason workouts coming to an end, to being back with your teammates again and getting back in the sun playing baseball. Every year at this time you start to get that itch to get back out there and give it another go. I'm excited about our team and our chances. ... I've already handed it off in my own mind."
Holliday, who once turned down an Oklahoma State football scholarship to sign with the Rockies, represents not only this particular transition, but also one within baseball. In fact, that is the word he uses to describe the reigning champs.
The great conversation now shifts to the imminent reporting of players to Spring Training, and that includes a Cardinals club that will head to Jupiter, Fla., facing major changes, including the retirement of manager Tony La Russa and the signing of Albert Pujols with the Angels. Can they repeat in 2012?
Holliday said he and teammate David Freese, the 2011 World Series MVP, will both head down to Jupiter on Feb. 20.
"It's obvious we're going through a lot of changes, a sort of different year in Cardinals baseball, which is kind of weird coming off a World Series. Usually you stay the same, and keep guys together. But Tony retired, [pitching coach Dave Duncan] stepped to the side to be with his wife, then Albert signed with the Angels. It's a transition time for us, but we feel we are still set to have a competitive team.
"In getting Adam Wainwright back, it's like you are adding a potential 20-game winner. [Carlos] Beltran gives us an All-Star bat in the middle. We feel good about our team, everybody is excited to get to Spring Training. It's interesting to see how spring will go. It definitely will be different."
Holliday rode in the back of a truck with his wife, Leslee, and their children late last October, the last pro sports parade. On Sunday, he and his wife, along with their two sons, were enjoying Carpenter's annual hospitality. There was bison chili, bison burgers, healthy hot wings -- supplied by Cardinals chef Simon Lusky -- and lots of big-screen TVs. When it all came down to final drama, Holliday was able to relate.
"When it all comes down to the final moments like this, as an athlete you are just trying to keep it like you would any other game," the All-Star left fielder said. "Don't try to get too far in front of yourself. Just do the best you can every play, concentrate like you would every regular-season game on the little things and don't get too far ahead of yourself."
The Patriots overcame an early 9-0 deficit and put together a 96-yard touchdown drive just before halftime, and then followed with another long drive at the start of the third quarter, building a 17-9 lead. Then the Giants answered with a pair of field goals, making it 17-15. That set the stage for another Manning comeback, just like four years earlier.
The Giants scored on an Ahmad Bradshaw touchdown run with about a minute left to make it 21-17. It came down to a Hail Mary incompletion by Brady. Holliday watched it all as best he could, but it wasn't easy.
"At a party like this you catch about 80 percent of the game and you can't really hear the commercials, so there's a little bit of a tradeoff," Holliday said. "You come to a party with a lot of people, and sometimes it's hard to follow the game real closely."
In some ways, Super Bowl XLVI was so similar to what the Cardinals did: "They were playing the best here at the time, played the best at the end and that's the team that wins. They got hot. The hot team always wins," Holliday said. "It really is similar to our story."
In some ways, Super Bowl XLVI was so different: One of the most dramatic World Series ever went the full seven games, and the Super Bowl is such a quick night of elimination and such a spectacle. Having just been at the pinnacle stage of pro sports excitement, Holliday said he had a special way of relating on Sunday.
"You understand what they are going through as far as the excitement, getting ready, everybody focused on the last two teams. It's just exciting," he said. "All the buildup to it. The good thing for us, we got to play seven times. For them, it's one game and do or die."
Having had a few months to digest what the Cardinals accomplished in that series against the Rangers, Holliday said: "It's historic. You're not going to see a lot of seven-game World Series, and to see it end the way this one did, the way it got there, Game 6, all the crazy stuff that ended up happening, and then getting in and going against the Phillies, who had the best pitching staff ever, winning Game 5, Carp throwing that big game against [Roy] Halladay, there was so much cool drama."
It was coincidental that he would end up starting his Major League career in Denver, because he said his earliest Super Bowl memories involved John Elway.
"I remember the ones with the Broncos back in the day, and started really watching when Elway was in them. That's when I got interested in football."
His prediction of a Patriots victory fell through on this night. "I should have stuck with the Giants," Holliday said, having reversed his usual habit of picking against Brady. "That was a good game, though. Any time it goes down to the last play, you have to appreciate that."
But it is no matter now. Feb. 20 is going to be here quickly. Soon it will be time for Spring Training, time for the Cardinals to begin a major challenge, as if repeating is not challenging enough already. The handoff has been acepted. It is time for baseball season again.