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Cardinals Leave Cowboys at Loss

Pro football: Arizona goes on road and rolls to first franchise playoff victory since 1947, 20-7.

January 03, 1999|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVING, Texas — Do you believe in miracles?

The Vikings do now, but the giggling really is not appropriate.

Instead of getting the winner of today's San Francisco-Green Bay tussle, Minnesota gets a bye, playing the Arizona Cardinals, who were in the playoffs some time last decade.

Of course you're not familiar with them--postseason play has begun. They were known as the St. Louis Cardinals the last time they made the playoffs. They were the Chicago Cardinals the last time they won a playoff game. And Truman was president. The year was 1947.

Saturday, however, they defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 20-7, before 62,969 in Texas Stadium.

The Cardinals went to Arizona to retire like everyone else 11 years ago, but accidents will happen. All ready for another long winter's nap at 6-7, their kicker made three game-winners in a row and they made the playoffs as the last invitee.

Not to take anything away from the Cardinals' finest moment in the past half-century, of course, but they beat Dallas.

The Cowboys were champions of the NFC East--what some other less-than-serious journalists have dubbed the NFC Least. They start three wide receivers--only one of whom can catch, while the Vikings employ three who can make Randall Cunningham look good.

The Cowboys didn't score a point against the Cardinals until there was 3:33 left; the Vikings scored more points than any team in NFL history this season. No one stops the Vikings.

"Everyone's telling us what we can't do," said Lomas Brown, Arizona left tackle. "No one gave us a chance here and we pretty much dominated those guys. We're just happy to have the opportunity to go to Minnesota. We're the team that's always catching up from behind, the team that can't hold a lead, the team that shouldn't have gotten into the playoffs, so it's all these negative things against us.

"But you can't measure our heart, and we have a team with guys with heart."

It also helps to play a team without any heart, a team that goes flat from the very start with three dropped passes.

"The Cardinals' desire was greater than ours," confirmed Dallas safety George Teague. "They came out and played like they were on a mission."

The Cowboys, who had whipped the Cardinals 16 of the last 17 times they had played--including twice this season--had obviously not taken Arizona seriously. How could they? The Cowboys were making their 25th playoff appearance--more than any other team in NFL history--with a league-high 32 wins. They had 26 players on their roster with 238 games of playoff experience.

The Cardinals had played only twice previously in the month of January in their 78-year history.

"I was not surprised by our performance," said Cowboy cornerback Deion Sanders, returning from a toe injury. "I think a lot of the guys were looking ahead to the next game."

The victory over Dallas gave the Cardinals their first win over a team with a winning record this season, but it was more than that, said Arizona cornerback Aeneas Williams, the team's best player.

"It was war," Williams said. "We declared it when we got to the airport in Phoenix. We told our fans we were declaring war on the state of Texas. It's like boxing. When guys fought against Mike Tyson, Mike Tyson prided himself on scaring guys before they got in the ring with him."

That must have been before he went to jail.

"We're talking war here," said Williams, who had two interceptions. "We're going back to Phoenix, clean our weapons and taking them to Minnesota."

Given advance notice, Minnesota should have time to shore up airport security. The Vikings, meanwhile, can begin examining videotape of Williams and rookie cornerback Corey Chavous at work--both of whom were directly responsible for bringing down the Cowboys.

Williams, who stopped Michael Irvin's 117-game pass reception streak in the last meeting, had Irvin so frustrated again there were times when he looked more interested in shaking a pesky Williams than catching the ball. Irvin finished with four catches for 32 yards--his longest reception going for 11 yards.

Because Williams was so effective in smothering Irvin, Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman had to look elsewhere, which gave Chavous the chance to establish himself on national TV. Chavous had an interception negated by a poor official's call, but along with Williams, allowed no catch longer than 19 yards.

"We had a lot of dropped passes, then we'd get a first down and turn around and get a penalty," Cowboy Coach Chan Gailey said. "One step forward--two steps backward and that is how we played. We couldn't get anything going."

It would have helped if Gailey had assembled a better game plan, but that's what he did last year in Pittsburgh, calling pass plays for Kordell Stewart when everyone else knew the ball should go to Jerome Bettis. The result was an AFC championship game loss for Gailey, who left the Steelers showered with criticism.

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