Sunday, December 20, 2009

Take Heart, Lions Fans: Even Arizona Cardinals Became Winners

So even the Arizona Cardinals got it right, eventually.

There’s something wrong with the world in which I now live. Since when did they change slapstick and make it into refined theater?

The Arizona Cardinals are now a championship contender for two years in a row.

The blind squirrel found a nut—twice.

The Arizona Cardinals? Winners, two years in succession? About to wrap up another divisional title?

It’s like the Marx Brothers playing Shakespeare. Buddy Hackett reading Hemingway on stage. The Keystone Kops getting their man.

Maybe I woke up in one of those parallel universes. The kind where the sun rises in the West and human beings answer the phones at the utility company and the Arizona Cardinals are (gulp) good.

The Cardinals, who visit the Lions on Sunday and who will most likely leave Detroit 9-5 and in tune for the playoffs, used to be lockstep with all the inglorious losers in professional sports.

You could break up a room at just about any comedy club with the mere mention of their name.

The Lions have kept their losing confined to one city; the Cardinals have traveled the country, dropping turds from Chicago to Phoenix.

The Cardinals used to be the Los Angeles Clippers of the NFL when they played in Chicago. They shared a big city with a legitimate team, the Bears, and provided comic relief. And financial turmoil.

Here’s Pat Summerall, who was a Chicago Cardinal before he made it big with the New York Giants and CBS television.

“We used to get paid and run to the bank immediately,” Summerall once told NFL Films. “There’d be fights in the locker room. They’d dump our paychecks on the floor and make us fight for them. Then it was a race to the bank, to cash them before they bounced.”

The Cardinals got nudged out of Chicago and took their vaudeville act to St. Louis in 1960.

The Cardinals passed through the Gateway to the West and were semi-transformed. An occasional winning season would break out. Then, as if they’d signed a one-year pact with the Devil, the following campaign would be a return to fumbling, bumbling, and stumbling.

St. Louis wasn’t westward enough, though. The Cardinals pressed on in 1988, taking their sideshow all the way to Phoenix.

Phoenix! How fitting; the Cardinals move to a city named after a bird that rose from ashes.

But the losing followed them, like that annoying neighbor kid who won’t leave you alone.

The Cardinals even tried changing their affiliation. After six years of being known as the Phoenix Cardinals, they decided that one city’s reputation wasn’t enough to sully, so they indicted the entire state; they became the Arizona Cardinals in 1994.

The Cardinals, until last year, were among those sitting at the table at the back of the room—filled with those who’d never played in a Super Bowl.

The Lions, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Houston Texans lost a member, when the Cardinals plowed their way through the 2008 playoffs and made it all the way to the Big One.

The Cardinals, like the Lions, are owned by a Bill.

Bill Bidwill, 78, has been the sole owner since 1972, after sharing the honor with his brother Charlie for 11 years. Other than his signature bow tie, the only thing Bill Bidwill was known for was losing. And being clue-free about how to win. Sound familiar?

Bidwill also has a kid named Bill. The comparisons to the Lions would be spooky, if not for one thing—the Cardinals are actually winning football games.

Which brings me to my opening state of confusion.

The Arizona Cardinals can’t be winners. This might be one of the first signs of the Apocalypse. Maybe that stuff about 2012 is true, after all.

They have an aging quarterback, Kurt Warner, who’s trying to recover from a concussion. But they also have a young, gun slinging lefty named Matt Leinart who’s stepped in and the Cardinals haven’t really missed a beat with the USC grad at the helm.

Leinart is young, good-looking, and from California. Which means he’s hated by every defensive lineman in the league and by sports writers in their mid-40s.

The Cardinals have a superstar wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, whose name sounds like he should be a friend of Beaver Cleaver’s. The have a running back named Beanie Wells, and I’m back to the Cleaver thing.

“Mom, can Larry and Beanie come over for dinner?”

The offensive line actually blocks. The defense is capable. The Cardinals are, you know, a real football team.

It should bring hope to Lions fans everywhere. If the Cardinals can do it, then…

Of course, Lyle Lovett did get Julia Roberts, albeit briefly.

The Cardinals are winners. Two years in a row. The clock broke at 11:59. Ice crystals are forming in Hades. I hear Steven Seagal is up for a Golden Globe.

My call to the cable company really is very important to them. The check really is in the mail. Comcast must be done buying things.

In such a parallel universe, you’d think the Lions could even be successful.

Instead, we get Jason Hanson missing field goals.

Maybe the Lions can find a player named Lumpy.

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