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PRO FOOTBALL WEEK 1 | The NFL / T.J. SIMERS

Cardinals Fly South After Only One Game

September 07, 1998|T.J. SIMERS

The Department of Vital Statistics for the state of Arizona reports that 30,981 people died this past year in the greater Phoenix area. That's 30,981 souls who went before ever seeing the Cardinals win more games than they lost in the same season since arriving in Tempe in 1988.

Hanging on as a Cardinal fan is not easy.

And now of all the luck, after Bill Walsh, a certified genius, stoked expectations with happy chatter about quarterback Jake Plummer, and magazines everywhere were predicting a Cinderella Arizona story, this shocking development: A Cardinal loss on opening day.

The season's over.

Since 1978, of the 269 teams to lose opening game, only 60 have gone on to make the playoffs and none of them were the Cardinals.

Fifteen games to go and the Cardinals, who haven't won a playoff game since 1947, already have their backs against the wall.

Losing to Dallas is a terrible thing, because the Cowboys are a terrible team, and it means the Cardinals must win every game played for the next nine years, then go 10-0 the next season--taking Arizona to the year 2008--just to reach the .500 mark as a franchise for the first time since 1935.

There have been rumors recently that owner Bill Bidwill might consider moving his team to Los Angeles. More likely they are wishful thinking by Arizona season-ticket holders, who can probably quote the most chilling words ever written, directly out of the Cardinal media guide: "Bidwill remains involved in all areas of the Cardinals' day-to-day operations."

Is there some hidden message in the fact that Bidwill sits on Arizona Board of Director of Boys and Girls Hope?

The Rams and Raiders were not always good during their stay in Southern California, but the Cardinals have been playing football since 1920 and have advanced to the playoffs six times.

So opening the 1998 season with a defeat is not a good omen.

Forget that the last coach to leave the Cardinals with a winning record was Larry Wilson, who finished 1979 as the interim boss at 2-1, then headed back to the front office, presumably because he didn't want to press his luck. And forget that Arizona has never beaten Miami or Denver or finished better than .500 since 1984.

Gone is the optimism, the cry of promise like that delivered by former Coach Joe Bugel before the 1990 season, "Are we excited? Are we enthusiastic? You bet. This is the greatest moment of my life."

The Cardinals finished 5-11.

A year later Bugel told everyone, "I'm not saying . . . we'll be in the Super Bowl, but I know we'll be better than last season."

The Cardinals finished 4-12.

Buddy Ryan took over and announced, "With [quarterback Dave] Krieg in there, we've got a hell of a shot."

The Cardinals finished 4-12.

This year's opening loss gives the Cardinals a 55-106 record since moving from St. Louis, and with the exception of fans living in St. Louis who have watched the Rams play and think that's not all bad, that's not good.

New Orleans, Atlanta and San Diego already have better records than the Cardinals. Next week Arizona is at Seattle, which rolled over the Eagles, 38-0, in Philadelphia.

One game into the 1998 season, and for the Cardinals, already it's just wait until next year.

Around the league:

* Billy Joe Hobert gets the Saints rolling like never before, then is knocked out for the season because of an Achilles' tendon injury, turning the team over to Danny Wuerffel, who will probably have to survive some hazing before he's allowed to play.

* The West Coast offense is used by teams emphasizing short passes like the Eagles, who averaged 0.4 yards per passing play against Seattle. In the past they just went with short quarterbacks.

* The Rams attracted 10 flags, or scarfs as Georgia Frontiere calls them, in trying to repeat as the most penalized team in football.

* Glenn Foley completed 30 of 58 passes for 415 yards against the 49er defense. Just wait until San Francisco has to play the likes of Chris Chandler, Tony Banks and Wuerffel.

* Emmitt Smith might not have lost it, but how do you explain Troy Aikman having more rushing touchdowns?

* Washington spent more than $57 million on defensive tackles to stop the Giants, and they did, limiting them to 82 yards on the ground. The Redskins should have spent another few bucks and put quarterback Gus Frerotte on the first bus leaving town.

* Baltimore opened its new stadium with Captain Comeback, Jim Harbaugh, making his debut. One problem: Harbaugh was injured and never came back.

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