The pain of the Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals went out with a whimper in the NFC Wild Card playoffs, losing 27-16 to the Carolina Panthers on a rainy Saturday night.

Arizona began the season so well, only to watch Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton succumb to knee injuries. Without them, Ryan Lindley became the starting quarterback and subsequently lost the final two regular-season games before falling in the postseason. A loss felt like a foregone conclusion with Lindley at the helm, and it was.

It’s simply the latest disappointment for a franchise that has been through so many over its 95 years of existence. For almost a century, across three cities, the Cardinals have been snake-bitten or just flat bad.

Coming to be a charter NFL franchise in 1920 as the Chicago Cardinals, the organization has mustered only two NFL championships. The first of which came in 1925 with the last in 1947, both during their tenure in the Windy City. Even the 1925 title is disputed, with the defunct Pottsville Maroons always claiming they were the correct champion, despite being sanctioned that year for playing an illegal exhibition game. Even more embarrassing is having only nine all-time playoff appearances, or less than the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers each have this century.

The Cardinals have 28 winning seasons in their history, with miserable campaigns bordering on the absurd. During World War II, Chicago was a disaster, going 0-10-0 in 1943 before merging with the Pittsburgh Steelers to become Card-Pitt in 1944. That year, the combined franchises posted another 0-10-0 mark before becoming two separate teams again for 1945. Chicago made strides that year, going 1-9-0.

In the 1970’s, things were looking up for the Cardinals, who had moved to St. Louis before the 1960 season. Jim Hart was the quarterback, and he had plenty of weapons in Jackie Smith, Terry Metcalf and Mel Gray. Under innovative head coach Don Coryell, St. Louis won consecutive NFC East titles in 1974 and 1975, only to be bounced each time without a postseason victory. Despite a 10-4 mark in 1976, St. Louis failed to qualify for the playoffs, beginning a long dry spell. Not including the strike-shortened season of 1982, the Cardinals would not have another playoff appearance and only two winning seasons (8-7-1 in 1983, 9-7 in 1984) until 1998.

In 1988, the Cardinals moved to Arizona and became the Phoenix Cardinals, playing in the ugly and brutally hot Sun Devil Stadium. Second-year quarterback Jake Plummer led Arizona to its first playoff appearance since relocating, and beat the Dallas Cowboys before losing to the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings. Things were once again looking up, but the results never materialized.

Plummer regressed over the following four seasons and signed with the Denver Broncos in 2003, leading them to an AFC Championship Game appearance in 2006. Meanwhile, the Cardinals failed to post another winning record until 2008, when Kurt Warner led a miracle run to the Super Bowl. Of course, the dream ended in misery, with Santonio Holmes catching the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left.

Currently, Arizona is teeming with talent on defense. Head coach Bruce Arians is one of the best in the business, and the wide receivers are top caliber. Can the Cardinals, who have always found a way to screw up hope, get Palmer back next year and make a championship charge?

One can dream, but history says something will get in the way. Cardinals fans, the longest-suffering group in the NFL, deserve better fortune.

About Matt Verderame

Matt Verderame, 26, is a New Yorker who went to school at the frozen tundra of SUNY Oswego. After graduating, Verderame has worked for Gannett and SB Nation among other ventures.