Skip to main content

Why you should root for the Arizona Cardinals

Interested in rooting for one of the NFL's 32 teams -- but don't know where to start? Adam Rank has you covered with this series, which will present a handy guide to becoming an instantly rabid fan of each organization in the league. Below, find out why you should root for the Arizona Cardinals.

What you need to know so you don't sound stupid

Bruce Arians is a freaking G. The Cardinals you see before you comprise a pretty good football team. One of the most respected organizations in the NFL. But it hasn't always been this way. (Shoot, some might say it has never been this way.)

Realize this is one of the oldest running sports franchises in the world. The team was founded in 1898. That's right. If you want to go ultra-hipster, tell people you still mistakenly call this team the Morgan Athletic Club. And then go for a high-five. (Odds are, they won't high-five you.)

There have been a lot of dark years for the franchise -- like, most of them. I know, the team made a miracle run to the Super Bowl a few years back. And there were some good teams in the 1970s, when the organization played in St. Louis. But to find a time when the Cardinals won a championship, you have to go all the way back to 1947, when the Chicago Cardinals defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, 28-21, in a game they still talk about on the South Side. (They don't, actually. My dad used to tell me stories about going to Bears and Cardinals games at Comiskey Park. He said he would sit in the Cardinals section to cheer on the Bears, which kind of explains why I'm such a contrarian. But it also points out that the Cardinals were like Chicago's version of the Clippers.) The Cardinals were awarded the 1925 NFL Championship because the Pottsville Maroons were suspended. Yeah! Go squad!

And damn, the Cardinals have had a lot of homes. They were the Morgan Athletic Club (The MAC!), the Racine Normals (a.k.a., best name ever) and the Racine Cardinals. And, no, that's not the town in Wisconsin -- rather, it's the street they were housed in on the South Side. Then it was St. Louis, Phoenix and Arizona. 

I think I just buried the lede here: It's been 69 years since the franchise has won a title. That's the longest streak in North America professional sports, thanks in part to the Chicago Cubs' World Series win last year. And the Bears played football at Wrigley Field, so I guess it all comes full circle.

Not named after a bird

Well, the logo is now a bird. But the Cardinals got their name because they secured some old maroon jerseys from the University of Chicago, whereupon owner Chris O'Brien said, " 'That's not maroon, it's Cardinal red!' " Dude, you could be called the Normals! I'll never get over this.

As good as Hutson

Most NFL observers agree Don Hutson was the most dominant receiver in NFL history. (And if they don't, they should.) But there were some at the time who felt the Cardinals' Gaynell Tinsley was just as good, if not better. Tinsley led the NFL in receiving yards in 1937 and tied Hutson's single-season record with 41 receptions in 1938. (The game was different back then.) Tinsley, unfortunately, played just three seasons before a knee injury forced him to retire.

Super Bowl XLIII

Again, this was all on Kurt Warner, who only became the starter because Matt Leinart got hurt. The Cardinals beat the Falcons in the Wild Card Round, ended the career of Jake Delhomme by getting him to throw five picks and fumble once in the Divisional Round (not really, because Delhomme would sign a two-year contract with the Browns, who then ruined his credibility) and then beat the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. (Hey, you beat Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid in the playoffs. Congratulations.)

The Super Bowl was kind of painful. The Birds trailed the Steelers 17-7 at halftime, then mounted a furious turnaround to take a 23-20 lead with 2:37 in the game, thanks to a huge 64-yard, catch-and-run touchdown by Larry Fitzgerald. But the Steelers rallied to win on a pretty amazing catch by Santonio Holmes. It was a thing of beauty. Did he get the second foot down? The refs seemed convinced.

Of course, the crushing play came at the end of the first half. With the Cardinals inches from taking a 14-10 lead going into halftime, Warner threw a pick-six, which I still contend wasn't his fault. I mean, Anquan Boldin could have put in a better effort on his route. And somebody should have been able to tackle the 250-pound linebacker who lumbered all the way back down the field.

Totally not bitter about this at all.

Fans reborn

The Cardinals lost the Super Bowl, but their fans became hardcore. Like, it's really a fun atmosphere in Arizona, and not just because of the new stadium. These fans -- as if, ahem, rising from the Phoenix ashes -- became some of the best fans going.

I'll be honest: It wasn't always this way. The Birds played at Sun Devil Stadium for a number of years. The stadium had metal bleachers, which could get hot AF, but those games were fun -- mostly because the opposing team's fans made it fun. If it was a late-season Cardinals vs. St. Louis game with both teams out of the playoff race, well, it kind of sucked. But there were some good times.

I would typically make a pilgrimage out to Tempe every year back in the 1990s. Normally, my roommate Eric and I would pick the Cowboys game. Fun fact: I was at the Cowboys vs. Cardinals "Monday Night Football" game in 1995, which they used for the movie "Jerry Maguire." So, in short, I was in the movie "Jerry Maguire," which is kind of a nice credit. With the crowd being about 74 percent Cowboys fans, it was like a festival out there.

Now, though, the Cardinals have a pretty loyal fan base. Yes, you will find opposing team's fans in the stadium for some games. But that's true of every NFL stadium now. NFL games are a destination event, so back off. And Arizona has a lot of transplants. Don't be judging. I love these new hardcore fans. They are good people.

Beat the streak

The Cardinals snapped a 13-game losing skid to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2 of the 1997 season in overtime. The Cardinals fans stormed the field and ended up tearing down the goal post and parading it down Mill Avenue in Tempe. Again, my roommate and I were out there for that game, and it was pretty damn great.

We went to the Bandersnatch, which was the first bar we came to outside of Sun Devil Stadium, to join the party. The pure euphoria of those Cardinals fans was evident. There were some very salty Cowboys fans, but you could tell the majority of them were kind of bemused by the whole thing. I mean, it was pretty great to see. Now this has kind of become commonplace for the Cardinals. The winning, that is -- they don't tear down goalposts anymore.

Kurt the Machine

The 2009 Cardinals team was probably better than the team that went to the Super Bowl the season prior. One of the best playoff performances I've ever seen in my life was the Birds' 51-45 overtime win over the Packers in an NFC wild-card game.

Warner had some pretty stunning games in his career. Some of his St. Louis stuff was legendary. But I've never seen something like this. Warner went 29 for 33 for 379 yards and five touchdowns. He had more touchdowns than incompletions. Simply amazing.

This game also had an amazing ending: Aaron Rodgers throwing a pick-six. (I know it was ruled a fumble, but you know that was a pick. Of course, they want to protect the Green and Golden Boy.)

The franchise's best

I'm not going to say he was the best player in a statistical sense or anything like that. Maybe the franchise's best person. Because it's Pat Tillman.

He was a seventh-round draft pick out of Arizona State. Some saw this as a gimmick draft pick, going for the local kid, but the dude worked his way to relevance as an NFL starter. St. Louis tried to woo him away with a big-money deal, but he nixed that notion. He eventually left the Cardinals to join the United States Army Rangers after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, moved him deeply. Tillman's family had strong military ties, and he felt it was his duty to contribute as well.

Sadly, Tillman paid the ultimate price on the battlefield. There is a memorial outside University of Phoenix Stadium. I had the honor of working with Pat a few times. If you're interested in some more of my personal reflections on him, please check this out.

Not enough credit

Jimmy Hart was a pretty good quarterback during his time with the St. Louis Cardinals. He ranked third on the all-time yardage list when he retired in the 1980s, trailing just Fran Tarkenton and Johnny Unitas. His numbers (34,665 career passing yards) wouldn't jump out at you now because today's NFL is like the Arena League compared to what it was in the 1970s and 1980s. But he was damn good when you compare him against his peers. And really, that's how we should be judging these folks.

Air Coryell

You might have heard of Don Coryell or seen some cool NFL Films video of those high-flying Chargers teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s. But did you know that stuff started (in the NFL, at least) with the St. Louis Cardinals?

Coryell's Cardinals won the NFC East in 1974 and 1975, and had three consecutive double-digit win seasons. The Cardinals lost in the opening round in both 1974 and 1975. Coryell would leave for San Diego in 1978. Dang, St. Louis has had it bad with things leaving for the West Coast: Coryell, Albert Pujols and the Rams.

Way overrated

Kevin Kolb. The Cardinals at one time traded the promising Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick for a player they hoped would become their franchise quarterback. Kolb played in 15 games and threw 17 touchdown passes for the Birds in two seasons. That's not good, Bob.

Hipster jersey

I'm going with the Jake Plummer Arizona State jersey. I still contend that when you talk about people being criminally robbed of the Heisman Trophy, Jake Plummer not winning in 1996 was the most egregious decision in history. Like Danny Awful could have done what Jake did with that Sun Devil team. And if Fright Night could have just defended David Boston (don't buy his jersey), we'd be looking at a national championship for ASU. Oh, and Plummer was good for the Cardinals, too.

Closing fun fact

The Cardinals played the Steelers in the Super Bowl. But did you know the two franchises merged in 1944 to be known as Card-Pitt? The reason was World War II. And I know a lot of you are thinking, "Wow, it's weird for a team in Arizona to merge with a team in Pittsburgh." But they were IN CHICAGO, REMEMBER?

Final snap

It might seem easy to pick the Cardinals because of that 69-year drought, but that might actually make it more difficult. You could feel guilty if you jump on board and the Cards win it all in your first year of fandom (which definitely could happen). I mean, there has to be somebody out there who has suffered for 69 years. Some dude living out in Sandwich, Illinois, who remembers when they played in Comiskey, dammit, and he's stuck with the team! (All right, it's my uncle.) But let your conscience guide you on that one.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @AdamRank.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.