Caught In The Cardinals' Quagmire

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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It's no secret that the Arizona Cardinals are up there with the greatest of the world's truly great losers -- the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs, referred to by one scribe "as one of the most futile franchises in all of American sports," have not won the World Series since 1908, nor a National League pennant since 1945. As another writer puts it, the Cubs have "an unshakable stench that's clung to this team since 1908."

So do the Cardinals. Despite the predictions of many to the contrary (Pete Prisco, senior writer for CBS SportsLine, predicted: "The Arizona Cardinals will be contenders in the NFC West this season."), the Big Really Bad Red is resting comfortably among the also-rans once again this year.

It doesn't matter if you bring in "winners" like Buddy Ryan, Emmitt Smith, Dennis Green and Kurt Warner. The Cardinals losing tradition is much more powerful than the strongest mortals.

This team will simply chew them up, spit them out, and turn to its next victim.

Looking at the big picture, the Cardinals haven't won a title since 1947, and their recent history doesn't show any cause for optimism. Thomas Boswell, writing earlier this month in the Washington Post, posed this question: "Of the 28 teams in the NFL at the start of '93, how many have won fewer games than the Redskins the last 13 seasons?"

You know one has to be the Cardinals, and you may have guessed the other is the Cincinnati Bengals. The Redskins have won 85 games the past 13 seasons, the Cardinals 73, and the Bengals 71.

But while the Cardinals show no sign of ever turning things around, the Bengals are atop the AFC North this season, while the Skins hover around the semi-respectable .500 mark.

But it's only a game, right? We can just blow the Cardinals off once the season is over and cheer for the Suns or Wildcats. Heck, even the Coyotes are showing some rudimentary signs of life.

Oh, that it were so simple. But unfortunately, the Cardinals will not go away so easily.

One of the gimmicks they've come up with to substitute for a competitive team is a brand spanking new $430 million covered stadium in the West Valley.

"Long-suffering fans of the Arizona Cardinals will at least have a nice place to hang out on game days next year when the team moves into its new stadium in Glendale," The Arizona Republic's Craig Harris wrote recently.

Pricey as the new facility is, it's hard not to grant the people who continue to put up with this abominable football team at least the most rudimentary of creature comforts. Sun Devil Stadium should have been razed 10 years ago.

But the latest accouterments the Cardinals have added to their stadium are way, way over the top. In fact, I think the only appropriate response is a boycott.

Earlier this month the Cardinals announced that they plan to install "two large grassy areas on the stadium's west and southwest sides, where fans can picnic or throw around a football," according to Harris. "The Cardinals also plan to plant 1,240 shade trees, including many that turn red in the fall, outside the complex."

Don't get me wrong. I am a big fan of shade, especially in the desert -- which, we have to keep reminding its residents, the Valley is.

But we are not talking 50 or 100 water guzzling, non-native shade trees, but 1,240 of them. 1,240!

Team Vice President Michael Bidwill, son of the man who singlehandedly created this entire mess, explained that the "premier area" for fans will be the "Great Lawn," an eight-acre expanse on the stadium's west side.

I don't know about you, but I think the term "Great Lawn" should be illegal in a desert in the middle of a drought. In fact, lawns of all kinds, shapes and sizes should be illegal in a desert period -- just as they are in the town of Payson.

If The Arizona Republic would stop berating rural Arizona for its "misguided" water policies, long enough to look at the irresponsible practices of some of the Valley's own more prominent citizens, perhaps it would see that its condescending attitude is the ultimate hypocrisy.

Instead of allowing Cardinals officials to gush enthusiastically all over their news pages about eight-acre expanses of grass and 1,250 shade trees that lose their leaves just like the ones back east where it rains all the time, for god's sake, while simultaneously accusing rural Arizona -- where what little conservation going on in this state is happening -- of behaving just like a "know-it-all-teenager, I would humbly suggest the state's third best newspaper (behind the East Valley Tribune and the Payson Roundup) take a good, hard look in the mirror.

At the very least, this football team known as the Godawful Big Red ought to be required to demonstrate it is capable of putting a decent product on the field before it's allowed to play on real grass.

But wait, here's an even better idea. Those large expanses of grass around the Cardinals' new stadium could be much smaller if they were made to look like end zones.

Every true-red Cardinals fan knows you just don't go there.

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