House Money

Gentlemen, please remove your hats. For the first time in Sporting Box history, I am pleased to offer congratulations to the A-R-I-Z-O-N-A C-A-R-D-I-N-A-L-S. Funny how that name rolls awkwardly off the tongue, making a strange, clicking sound akin to pronouncing “Uzbekistan” when it’s spelled backward. But, apparently this NFL franchise has won. Let me recheck…yes, Arizona has won the NFC West.

The Cardinals claimed their spoils after besting St. Louis 34-10. True, the Rams are 2-11, but 2-11 is good enough for third place in the NFC West, just behind the second-place 49ers, who own a .385 winning percentage.

The Arizona Cardinals are home-based in Phoenix, otherwise known as Glob City, the place where America went wrong. Think L.A. without freeways. Still, the Cardinals are champions, division-wise.

Against all odds. An owner’s decisions, stacked one upon the other over many years, eventually affect every aspect of his team. So, if you have a Bidwill, as the Arizona Cardinals do, you are screwed, fan-wise.

A couple years back, Sports Illustrated ran a story on the worst owners in the NFL. Bill Bidwill was ranked 31st worst, only ahead of human waste and New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. Honorable men can disagree on this question. But, you’ve gotta admit that Bill Bidwill has put up the numbers: one winning season in the past 24 years, 33 years since the Cardinals won a division title, 61 years since they hosted a playoff game. When victory came, it came as a stranger.

The Arizona Republic gives us a picture of what the Cardinals locker room looked like after Sunday’s win. “When the game was over, the sense of joy was palpable. Deuce Lutui peeled the jersey off his back and gave it to a fan in the stands. Darnell Dockett scribbled ‘NFC West champs’ on a dirty hand towel and waved it to the crowd. And although you couldn’t tell from his poker face as he shuffled through the locker room, owner Bill Bidwill was said to be tickled.

“‘This is the first time he’s gotten a hat,’ said Michael Bidwill [son and club president].… ‘He likes his hat. A lot.’”

Bill Bidwill’s soulmate in this shocking development is once-a-big-deal quarterback Kurt Warner, 37, who has his own curious story.

Warner came up the hard way. He was third-string quarterback for the University of Northern Iowa until his senior year. Warner made it to Green Bay Packers summer camp in 1994 and was cut. No one noticed. Next year he signed with the Iowa Barnstormers. Played for the Amsterdam Admirals in 1998, then on to St. Louis as backup quarterback for their 1998 season. He took over after Trent Green went down in a 1999 preseason game.

And then he was the best. Transformed. Zero to 60 in rocket-ship time, finishing the regular season with 4353 yards passing and 41 TDs. He led the Rams to Super Bowl XXXIV, beating Tennessee 23 to 16. Warner was named Super Bowl MVP and also NFL MVP. Wow.

As 2000 opened, there was sunshine upon the land…until Warner broke his hand. The Rams made the playoffs as a wild card but lost in the first round. In 2001, Warner and the Rams were in the Super Bowl again. He played well, but the Pats won on a field goal as time expired.

It was over. The Rams lost their first three games in 2002 to confirm. Warner broke his finger during the fourth game. Things got worse. He was yanked in the first game of the 2003 season after fumbling six times.

The Giants picked him up in 2004. He was their guy. Eli Manning took over after nine games.

He signed a one-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals in 2005. A one-year contract is God’s way of telling you you’re not going to be around for long. Warner started the first three games, then pulled. He climbed back on the pony and started the 2006 season but lost his job to rookie Matt Leinart in Week 4.

Leinart was injured early in the 2007 season, thereby causing Warner to play the last 12 games. Warner did so well that Leinart was named starting quarterback for the 2008 season.

See a pattern yet?

But, when 2008 rolled out it was Warner who was number 1. Since then he’s been playing like it’s 1999. The man actually has a shot at league MVP. He ranks second in NFL passing yards, pass efficiency, and touchdowns. The Cardinals have won their division, and it’s house money from now on.

It can’t happen again, can it?

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