Thank God something good finally has happened to the football Cardinals.
It has taken only 61 years and two relocations. That a franchise that has lost more games than any in the NFL has reached the Super Bowl after decades of comedic mistakes, chronic mismanagement and notable tragedy is overwhelming even to some of the men who spent years trying to make the Cardinals winners.
Roy Green, who played for the Cardinals in both St. Louis and Arizona and on offense and defense no less, follows the Cardinals closely from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. Asked this week how he feels seeing his old team so close to being a champion after such epic failure, Green said: "It's damn exciting. But to a man, as much as we love the Cardinals, we're all asking ourselves: 'Is this real? Are we crazy? Are the Cardinals really in the Super Bowl?' We're talking about the Cardinals and the Super Bowl. All of us are living it through these guys."
It's one thing for an expansion team that's been around 40 years or less to be bad, but nobody has been as tragically bad and as consistently, comically inept as the Cardinals until now. It's the oldest professional football franchise in the United States, dating from the turn of the 20th century, and a charter member of the NFL. Yet the only thing the Cardinals have won since 1947 was Cuba Gooding Jr.'s best actor Oscar for his portrayal of fictional Cardinals wide receiver Rod Tidwell.
Forty years in Chicago produced one disputed championship in 1925 and one legit title in 1947. Another 28 years in St. Louis produced only three trips to the playoffs and not a single postseason home game. Another 20 years in Arizona had produced one playoff victory until this January, when the Cardinals won three of the franchise's total of five playoff victories to reach Sunday's Super Bowl.
They had 10 straight non-winning seasons, from 1936 to 1945, and won only 33 games in the decade of the 1950s. Until this month, the Cardinals had as many relocations as playoff victories.
The story in Chicago is that they took their uniforms from the University of Chicago Maroons. They began as the Morgan Athletic Club, which would turn out to be one of Al Capone's hangouts on the South Side of Chicago. The Bidwill family, which has owned the Cardinals since Charles Bidwill purchased the team in 1932, wanted to move the franchise to Evanston, a north shore Chicago suburb, and not to St. Louis after the 1959 season.
But Bears owner George Halas, whose franchise Bidwill had saved from creditors with a $5,000 investment in 1931, enforced an agreement that the Cardinals could never play north of Madison Avenue (the dividing line between the North Side and South Side), so the Cardinals trundled off to Missouri, helping the NFL keep the fledgling AFL out of St. Louis.
Their entire time there, the team was known as the "football Cardinals," to avoid confusion with the real Cardinals, the team of Stan Musial and Bob Gibson and World Series victories.
There were some flashes of greatness in St. Louis. Don Coryell's teams, the "Cardiac Cards," had three consecutive winning seasons in 1974 (10-4), 1975 (11-3) and 1976 (10-4). And there were certainly great players, including quarterbacks Jim Hart and Charley Johnson, Hall of Famers Dan Dierdorf, safety Larry Wilson and cornerback Roger Wehrli. Even in the 1980s, the Cardinals had quarterback Neil Lomax, running back O.J. Anderson and Green, who made the Pro Bowl playing wide receiver and cornerback.