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NFL PLAYOFFS

Cardinals get no respect, for good reason

Franchise has been the laughingstock of the NFL for decades, but this team is one win from the Super Bowl

January 17, 2009|Bill Shaikin

GLENDALE, ARIZ. — Not even two minutes had passed since Karlos Dansby started talking, and already he had played the favorite card of just about every NFL player.

"That's the biggest motivation for us," the Arizona Cardinals' linebacker said. "Nobody gave us respect."

It's a tiresome refrain, an unimaginative motivational ploy. To hear NFL players talk, the No Fun League ought to be re-nicknamed the No Respect League.

No one respects the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cardinals' opponent in Sunday's NFC championship game, because they squeaked into the playoffs behind a once-benched quarterback.

No one respects the Baltimore Ravens or the Pittsburgh Steelers, the combatants in Sunday's AFC championship game, because the Ravens are led by a rookie coach and a rookie quarterback, because the Steelers have a poor offensive line and a poor running game.

These are three teams among the NFL's final four. The Cardinals are the fourth team, and they get no respect because, well, they are the Cardinals.

And this is where the absurdity of the "no-respect" mantra becomes readily apparent: The Cardinals are the team that really could claim to get no respect, but their sad history gets drowned out, their claim cheapened by the "no respect" chants heard all around the league.

The Eagles, for instance, have had one losing season this decade. They got to the Super Bowl four years ago. And yet they say they get no respect.

"Yeah, but they had it in the past," Cardinals linebacker Chike Okeafor said. "When you're talking about who's been disrespected and never gotten respect, this is a whole different scenario."

The Cardinals are the only NFC team never to play in the conference championship game. In the 28 years they played in St. Louis, they never won a playoff game.

"Here, there has been a culture of losing," quarterback Kurt Warner said.

Before this season, they had one winning record in the last 23 years, one playoff victory in the last 60 years. They had not played host to a playoff game since 1947, when they played in Chicago. They never had won two playoff games in the same season.

In a franchise history dating to 1920, they are undefeated in home playoff games -- both of them.

And, as for this season, they had won no road games outside the NFC West, a division in which the Cardinals finished as the only team with a winning record -- at 9-7.

They get no respect among the talking heads on television, according to fullback Terrelle Smith.

"Those guys that are analyzing us, they're not playing anymore," Smith said. "They should do a little more research before they say we're going to get whooped."

Warner, whose ascent from the Arena Football League and NFL Europe makes him something of an expert in the issue of respect -- and lack of same -- shrugs off the battle cry.

"I laugh at it," he said. "Why would we get a lot of respect when we haven't done anything to prove otherwise?

"It is what it is. It's a process. You're trying to earn respect, as an organization and as a team. It takes year-in and year-out consistency to earn that respect."

The Cardinals could win the Super Bowl this season and still be the butt of jokes next season, at least until they prove they are more than one-year wonders.

So they might as well stick the no-respect card back in the deck, no matter how logical it might be for them to play it, and stick to football.

"You think you're always going to get respect. Sometimes that comes a couple years later," Okeafor said.

"We're cool with that. If you play the game for a pat on the back from someone else, you're playing the game for the wrong reason."

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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