After years of being the NFL’s Steve Buscemi, always the less attractive bit player and rarely the star, to the league’s George Clooneys and Brad Pitts, it’s odd to see the Arizona Cardinals role reversal. A media darling and a national favorite after All or Nothing is something I never imagined happening in my lifetime. And that’s before we even talk about many experts picking the Cardinals to make it to or win the Super Bowl.
As a Cards fan since 1988, entering a season with massive expectations is a system shock. It’s like running from the hot tub and jumping into a freezing pool. It’s exhilarating and yet somehow extremely uncomfortable. For years we have waited for the other shoe to drop whenever something seemed like it was going well. Like Pavlov’s dogs to a bell, I’ve been conditioned to respond that way.
Since misery loves company, I decided to talk it through with a guy who has loved the Cardinals longer than I have, writer Will Leitch. Before he was the guy who started Deadspin — yeah, before the Hulk Hogan sex tape — an accomplished author and podcaster, he was a kid from central Illinois rooting for the NFL team two hours away from him in St. Louis. While I grew up with Tom Tupa — yes, he was a punter and a QB — Ron Wolfley, Garth Jax, he grew up cheering for Jim Hart, Dan Dierdorf, Stump Mitchell, Pat Tilley and Roy Green.
Maybe our shared experiences can help each other find some confidence in this new found success. I mean heck, we, like all Cardinals fans, have traveled down a long hard road to get here.
“Not just losing, but: Irrelevance,” Leitch said of his years as a Cardinals fan. “Once they moved to Arizona when I was 11, I honestly could no longer find much proof that they existed at all. You couldn’t get their merchandise from catalogs. Their games rarely made the newspaper. They were part of one of the biggest sports leagues in the world but ignored; think of them as the Jaguars of, well, the entire time period until five years ago. I remember when they made the Super Bowl thinking, “OK, now everyone has to acknowledge that they do in fact exist and have always existed.” I had a rather low bar.”
But with that low bar rising gradually each year since the 2008 surprise Super Bowl appearance, there’s been less room on the Cards bandwagon than the 101 during rush hour. I just never know if we should embrace the new found fans or take offense as the long suffering crew.
“The idea of an Arizona Cardinals bandwagon being an actual thing is so baffling and disorienting to me that I can’t possibly get upset about it,” Leitch shared. “I spent decades going to the bar with DirectTV to watch my team and getting shuffled to the back of the bar with the sad little black and white TV they didn’t know they had. Bandwagon? Heck, come one, come all, the more the merrier. There was a time when the only Cardinals fan I knew on earth was me. I’ll take all comers.”
It’s a great point. After years of being in obscurity and dealing with things like Dave Krieg’s stinger, Stoney Case ever playing a down and draft bust after draft bust having any bandwagon is better than having none. But what about this odd feeling of being a favorite to win it all? It feels about as odd as Stefan Urquelle after years of Steve Urkel. How can one justify that reality with the one where it was always about “the same ole Cards.”
“I am conflicted in that I do not believe it,” Leitch said of the Cards being favorites. “I am conflicted in that I assume those who have them as the Super Bowl favorite have, in fact, totally forgotten who they are and what they have been through. The idea of them actually winning one is so foreign to me that I can’t even seriously consider it. Honestly: Part of me thinks anyone who calls the Cardinals a Super Bowl contender is playing an elaborate prank on me.”
And who knows, maybe this all is one cruel prank and we’ll all be treated to another reminder of what it used to mean to be a Cardinals fan. Or maybe, just maybe it’s our turn to be the star of our own story. Either way, I know myself and Will are going to watch every second of the season like we always have. Hopefully this time, we finally get our happy ending.