By Barry Federovitch
For the Chris Murray Report
The story of a good sports curse is never just about the hex itself, but like real estate is centered in location.
Want to embellish a Curse of the Bambino? Where better than in New England, where more than a century of baseball fans have been smitten by a team thanks in large part to legendary scribes like Peter Gammons, Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessy?
Want a billy goat curse? Where better than in Chicago, another great sportswriting town? And the last seventy-five years of general sports misery seem like a perfect match between Cleveland and its long cast of talented scribes.
Old pain gels with old-style pontification, which is perhaps why the suffering of the the NFL’s Cardinals, owners of the league’s best record at 8-1, hasn’t gotten nearly its rightful due online, in print or even film. From Chicago to St. Louis to Arizona (where they moved after the 1987 season), they are the Army Brats of the NFL, never staying long enough to forge meaningful friendships. Add an almost inexplicable inability to secure a franchise quarterback and the truth is far more disturbing than any fictitious curse.
The Cards haven’t won an NFL title since 1947. That’s a year before the Indians won their last World Series, 17 years before the Browns won their last NFL title and only two years after the Cubs last appeared in the World Series. Babe Ruth was still alive, not nearly as many people cared about the Red Sox and let’s not even discuss this year’s Underdog Flavor of the Decade, the Kansas City Royals, who were nearly a quarter-century from existence.
Six years ago, the Cardinals reached their first Super Bowl, which not only marked the first time they not only got a chance to play for a title in 60 years, but one of only seven seasons since 1920 that they have reached double-digits in wins. They have never won 12 in a season and have only reached 11 three times, something franchises like the Patriots do with regularity.
Still dwelling on curses? When you have won only six playoff games in almost a century, that’s far worse, an almost unabated run of ineptitude and misery.
For most of their 94 years, the Cardinals have been under-represented in print for at least two reasons: mostly they have been among the league’s worst franchises, but also they lack long-standing ties to a particular city. And when they had ties, they left in forgettable fashion, unlike the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier and helped Brooklyn win the pennant. That same year Paul Christman quarterbacked the Chicago Cardinals to the NFL championship. No one remembers Christman, who went an abysmal 3-for-14 in a 28-21 win over the Eagles highlighted by two long Charlie Trippi touchdowns (one by run and another by punt return). But then a large part of Cardinals history since isn’t particularly memorable either.
After the 1957 season, the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles, just two years after their only world title and a year after their final pennant. The football Cardinals left Chicago only two years later, but their swan song in the Windy City was very different; they went 7-28-1 over their final three seasons, most of the time their home attendance was below 25,000 and the Bears’ success made their departure for St. Louis almost unnoticed.
Their arrival was no Milwaukee greeting of the Braves nor West Coast success for the Dodgers either. It took the Cardinals until their 15th season in St. Louis to record a 10-win year. Back-to-back playoff appearances were followed by a 10-4 year in 1976 that just missed out on the playoffs.
The Cards looked like they were on their way to a fourth straight strong season in 1977 until an epic four-game slide down the stretch that included a six-touchdown game by Bob Griese and the Dolphins and the first home victory by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Cardinals’ 1977 slide, though not necessarily caused by, for the most part marked the end of Jim Hart’s effectiveness as starting quarterback. A four-time Pro Bowler, Hart also had 10 seasons with more interceptions than touchdown passes. At 87-88-5, he is the franchise’s leading signal caller, underlining a disturbing trend for Cardinal quarterbacks: they were usually mediocre at best and when they were good, they weren’t good for long.
Cardinals fans rarely get to enjoy the services of a top-notch quarterback for long as only Hart and Neil Lomax have started as many as 100 games with Charley Johnson (1961-69; 36-28-5) and Carson Palmer (16-6) their only top-10 quarterbacks with winning records. And the 35-year-old Palmer just tore his ACL.
Think about that for a moment.
You could remove Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre and Bart Starr (going on 40 years of excellence) from the Packers’ best quarterbacks list and Green Bay would still have a better history at the position than the Cardinals. So should anyone be surprised when a candidate to become the best quarterback in team history (Palmer) is forced to yield the starting mantle to Drew Stanton, who has thrown only 93 career passes?
If the Cardinals get past the NFC North-leading Lions this week (a team familiar with difficulty at the quarterback position the last half-century), there are still two intradivisional matches with the Seahawks and one with the 49ers left on the schedule (plus a tough Week 14 matchup with the Chiefs). Given all those obstacles, it seems unlikely that this will be the year to end Cardinal fans’ long-time yearning for a championship.
But then who will notice? When you don’t have a bambino or a billy goat, not to mention a quarterback, it’s very easy to go 67 years without a very large bandwagon.