Larry Banman " Card-holding members only on Cardinals’ bandwagon
January 26, 2009
All of a sudden, it’s crowded on the Arizona Cardinals bandwagon. The Super Bowl this year pits the prohibitive favorite, the Pittsburgh Steelers, against the Lil’ Engine That Could, the Arizona Cardinals.
It isn’t just the fact that the Cardinals limped to the finish line after clinching the National Football Conference West crown with four games to play that makes this an improbable matchup. To fully appreciate the magnitude of what the Cardinals have done, you have to look back a bit in history. One of the earliest franchises in the National Football League, the Cardinals have moved from Chicago to St. Louis to Phoenix to Glendale, Ariz. During that time, they have exactly one NFL title, earned in 1947 while in Chicago. The team was defeated by Philadelphia in the title game the following season and promptly fell into football purgatory for the next 60 years.
I became a fan of the Cardinals in the early 1960s. They were in St. Louis then and, even though our Kansas farm was 410 miles away, it was still the closest NFL team and they were my “home team.” Every Sunday in the fall and winter, I could count on a few things, church in the morning, fried potatoes cooked by my dad for lunch and, more often than not, a disappointing Cardinal’s loss in the afternoon.
There were a few (let me emphasize few) highlights. The first star I remember was Mel Gray, a fleet wide receiver from Missouri who would use his world-class speed to get open deep in the secondary. The Cardiac Cardinals of the mid-1970s made a few runs at the playoffs. Dan Dierdorf, the television analyst, was an outstanding offensive tackle for those teams. Terry Metcalf set some rushing records and
Jim Hart was a classic overachieving quarterback.
Alas, those days were fleeting and the Cardinals annually sunk to the depths of what was the NFC East. Every year, the Redskins, Cowboys and Eagles took turns pummeling my beloved Cardinals into a pile of feathers. They expanded the number of teams that made the playoffs, Expansion teams were added. But every year ended the same way, the Cardinals were left home in January, hoping for the next miracle first-round choice to lead them to the promised land. Eventually, the ownership group of the Cardinals thought it might find fame and fortune in the desert of Arizona. They moved and I allowed my allegiance to go along for the ride.
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For years, whenever the subject of favorite NFL teams was broached I made sure people knew the Cardinals were my team. It wasn’t gloating, because there was nothing to gloat about. I knew the chance of success was slim, but I wanted to make sure that people knew I had always been there for the Cardinals. I didn’t want people to accuse me of being a frontrunner, when that day finally came. For years, I had a Phoenix Cardinals jersey as proof of my loyalty. But it was finally discarded as the dirty rag that it had become.
Now, I find myself on a crowded bandwagon. The Steelers are the obvious choice to win the game. They have the topnotch defense and they survived, as I have been reminded ad nauseam, the toughest NFL schedule in the last 26 years. It may even be a blowout win. The trouble with Cinderella teams is that they generally wilt when they have a chance to consider what has happened. With a two-week break after the NFC and AFC title games, there is plenty of time to think.
Too much time to think. All of the people who are now enamored with quarterback Kurt Warner and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will be the first to leap from the wagon, should the Steelers win.
For the next week, I am going to enjoy the ride. In the same time period that Steeler fans have celebrated numerous Super Bowl wins, I have cheered for exactly one playoff victory. Until this year, the Cardinals had not won a playoff game at home. Most sports fans realize the Chicago Cubs have the longest title drought in history. Second longest? The Chicago/St. Louis/Phoenix/ Arizona Cardinals.
This is as good as it gets for a fan of the Big Red.
I will watch the game in the privacy of my own home. Should midnight strike and Cinderella lose her slipper, I prefer to be alone. I may even go outside and shoot some baskets, the way I used to as a young lad after seeing another frustrating loss. If they win, you won’t be able to slap the stupid grin off my face. I’ll be the guy in the back of the bandwagon on a seat that is well worn.
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