At Last

Deep in the fourth quarter, when Donovan McNabb reared back and threw his fourth consecutive incomplete pass, things turned suicidal at NBC headquarters in Manhattan. The hideous stomach-dumping nightmare had become fact. To wit: the Pittsburgh Steelers will play those slap-happy, cow-faced kids known as the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl 43. Advertisers are lining up all the way to the other side of Rudy’s pencil sharpener.

Perhaps advertisers are cautious because they didn’t know Arizona had a professional football team. Understandable. The last time the Cardinals won a championship was 1947. True, 1947 was a special year. KTLA, Channel 5, went on the air in Hollywood to become one of 12 TV stations operating in the U.S.

Hit shows that year were NBC’s I Love to Eat and Let’s Rumba. Said entertainment was freely broadcast to the nation’s 14,000 television sets. The price of a gallon of gas was 15 cents, a new Ford cost $1300, a house cost a little more ($1824), a UFO landed in Roswell, New Mexico, and the Arizona (née Chicago, née St. Louis, née Phoenix) Cardinals won the National Football League championship, beating the Philadelphia Eagles 28-21.

The Cardinals date their lineage from 1898, when they were the Morgan Athletic Club, a Chicago amateur football team. From this pristine beginning, the team mutated into the Racine Normals, Racine Cardinals, then, in 1920, became a founding member of the American Professional Football Association, which turned into the NFL two years later. Still, one thing has remained constant from 1898 until today: the Cardinals suck.

True, the birds won the NFL Championship in 1925, but it was by default — the team with the best record, the Pottsville Maroons, had their franchise revoked for messing with the Frankford Yellow Jackets’ turf.

Even so, 1925 was good for the Cardinals…something to savor, since they only had two winning seasons over the next 20 years. Charles Bidwill bought the team in 1932, which led to a question still being debated as I speak: Was the franchise cursed from the beginning or was the curse laid down by Charlie Bidwill and carried on by his vile spawn? Honorable men can disagree.

Follows are notable records earned under the Bidwill family crest. Starting in 1942, the Cardinals dropped 29 games in a row to the Cleveland Rams. They lost every game in the 1943 and ’44 seasons. Yes, the team won the NFL championship in 1947. It was their first home playoff game, and here we are in 2009 and the Cardinals have already played their second home playoff game. Time flies.

After Charlie died in 1947, wife Violet took over, followed by her sons. Son Bill acquired complete ownership in 1972 and owns it to this day. The man will not die. Grandson Michael is entering stage right.

The 1950s was a landmark decade for the club, racking up 33 wins over ten years. That’s averaging 3.3 wins a year, which (and I’m sure you’ll agree) is considerably better than not winning any games per year. This became the team’s motto: “We’ll win every once in awhile.”

The Chicago Cardinals fled to St. Louis in 1960. It was a new beginning; the team averaged 6.7 wins a year during the 1960s. Things were looking up.

Then came the 1970s, referred to by team historians as their “shining city on a hill,” decade-wise. The Cardinals won ten or more games three times. They made the playoffs twice, losing in the divisional round both times. Don Coryell was coach and the cotton was high. The Cardinals averaged 6.9 wins a year. Yes, indeed, things were looking up, up, up.

Or maybe not. The Cardinals averaged 6.2 wins a year during the 1980s, but remember this, pilgrim, they made the playoffs in 1982, losing to the Packers in the first round.

Hoping for a change of luck and a change in money-gathering, the Cardinals moved to Arizona in 1988 under the Phoenix Cardinals pseudonym and played in a state-college football stadium for the following 18 years.

This was perfectly planned to build character. And that’s how you can read their 1990s results. The fellas averaged 5.8 wins a year, just a little less than the preceding decade. And if it weren’t for a dropped pass there and an interception here, they might have made 6.5 wins…who knows?

And now, through nine seasons of the 2000s, the Cardinals are reborn, averaging 5.2 wins per season. You don’t build a record like that without relentless, generational incompetence on the part of ownership. With that said, I’m picking them to cover the spread against Pittsburgh. Arizona is playing great football right now. Right now is what counts.

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