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News » It was ugly for a while


It was ugly for a while


It was ugly for a while
TAMPA - Think Clippers in the NBA Finals.


That's the Arizona Cardinals, here in Super Bowl XLIII.

And, of course, you might know that when the Chicago/St. Louis
They come here as only the second seven-loss Super Bowl competitor. They come here with the stench of a late-season pig job against the Patriots still permeating the Foxborough air. They come here as losers of four of their final six regular-season games. And they come here carrying the dreaded weight of a sorry franchise history. Two titles in 88 years?

Yup, that's who they are.

Well, no, not really. They are here because when the tournament bell rang they started playing better, much better, than any other NFC team. They were home underdogs against Atlanta, but handled them, 30-24. They were road dogs against Carolina, and smashed them, 33-13. They were again home dogs against the Eagles, and defeated them, 32-25, doing so with a textbook march for the winning touchdown, followed by a defensive stand to preserve the victory.

Once again they are underdogs, and it makes sense. They are up against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have taken care of their own AFC business, proving, beyond argument, that they are the best their conference has to offer. The Steelers are chalk. The Cardinals remain questionable.

Is this Cardinals' running game for real? Where was this defense against the Jets (56 points), Eagles (48), and Giants (37)?

And then there's this: Does Bill Bidwill really deserve a title?

This is an interesting ownership matchup. The Bidwills came in when Herbert Hoover was still occupying the White House. The Rooneys made their debut alongside FDR. But whereas the Rooneys are regarded as the paragon of virtue, efficiency, and all that is good, just, and American concerning this country's sport of choice, the Bidwills are the Black Sheep of the NFL.

First, there was Charles Bidwill, who purchased the team in 1932. He died in 1947 (eight months too soon to see his team win its second NFL title, the family's first). He was succeeded by his wife, Violet, who ran the team for 15 years. When she died the club was inherited by sons Charles Jr., known as "Stormy," and Bill. The latter took complete control in 1972 and remains the owner today.

The word best describing the eight decades of Bidwill rule: incompetence.

It's that simple. Through 12 presidential administrations, far too many wars, and an astonishing array of technological advances, the Bidwills managed to stumble home once, in 1947, when the Cardinals defeated the Eagles, 28-21, in the NFL championship game. They had another good shot the following year, when they lost a 7-0 blizzard game in Philadelphia, and that was it.

They were always the "other" team in Chicago, which was, and is, Bears country. They moved to St. Louis, which was, and is, a baseball town. But in St. Louis they did have one nice little run, a three-year flight with Air (Don) Coryell when they went 10-4, 11-3, and 10-4 from 1974-76. Oh, but guess how many playoff games they won? That would be zero.

Since then, look out below.

Neither Stormy nor Bill could get it right. They tried everything when it came to coaches, even hiring collegiate legend Bud Wilkinson for the 1978 season. The legendary Oklahoma mentor went 6-10 that year and was sitting on 3-10 the following season when he was removed in favor of Larry Wilson, one of the great safeties who ever lived.

That led to a serious parade of failed coaches: Jim Hanifan, Gene Stallings, Joe Bugel, Buddy Ryan, Vince Tobin, Dave McGinnis, and - who could forget? - Dennis Green, who, on the night of Oct. 16, 2006, in the aftermath of a stinging loss to the Bears, immortalized himself with his, "They-were-who-we-thought-they-were" tirade.

But it didn't matter who coached, or who played, for that matter. There was always a stupid decision to be made or a penny to be pinched. The Cardinals annually rotted from the head down.

Playing in Phoenix didn't help.

Whatever else we can say about the Big Guy's interest in American sport, we can say with assurance that God did not intend for professional Football to be played in Phoenix during September and October, and he most definitely did not intend for patrons to sit in an unshaded Sun Devil Stadium on those scorching afternoons. It may be no coincidence, therefore, that the Cardinals' fortunes seemed to turn when they moved into the climate-controlled University of Phoenix Stadium in 2006.

Almost by accident, the Cardinals have been quietly assembling some real talent in the past few years. I thought they were a team to watch as far back as 2005, and now it appears that the two things that tied it all together (aside from no longer playing in conditions requiring halftime IVs) were the hiring of Ken Whisenhunt as coach in 2007 and the decision he made prior to this season to go with Kurt Warner as his quarterback.

Whisenhunt had been around the NFL long enough to hear all the stay-away-from-that-place stories concerning Bumbling Bill Bidwill. However, "I didn't really look at it as far as history goes," he claims, "because I didn't think it really had anything to do with what we were trying to get done. I looked at where the team was, what type of players they had, what type of support we were going to get from Mr. Bidwill and [son] Michael [a former federal prosecutor], all things I felt very good about."

Remember, too, that Steelers patriarch Art Rooney was regarded as a lovable loser for 40 years prior to the Steel Curtain emergence in the mid-'70s. Sometimes it just takes a little time for families to figure it out.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com



Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: February 2, 2009

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