A wave of generosity has swept over the Arizona Cardinals.
No, they haven’t upped their corporate philanthropy or increased community volunteerism. Rather, on the field, they’re giving away footballs like holiday fruitcakes.
NFL coaches preach the necessity of protecting the ball—how it’s essential to winning in the league. Turnovers frazzle their nerves, turn their hair white, and cause them to sit bolt upright in bed, perspiring, in the small hours of the morning. Sideline cameras have been trained more than ever on Arizona Coach Bruce Arians, likely not only to detect the increasingly bulging veins in his temples, but perhaps to capture the precise moment that his head finally explodes.
The Cardinals, darlings of the NFL cognoscenti before the season, have fallen to 1-3, already losing as many games as they did all of last year. In 2015, they scored more often than Ryan Gosling at a summer cheerleading camp. In 2016, the offensive attack looks muted, and baffled by even mundane defensive formations. And there have been coverage errors and missed tackles on the defensive side. But the biggest culprit lately has been turnovers, a gaudy ten in the last two games.
The epidemic has spurred my crack research team (well, me) to scan the franchise archives in search of a historical precedent, even going back to the old Chicago Cardinals days. I’m still searching.
The Chicago Cardinals began life as the Racine Cardinals in the early years of the 20th century. The “Cardinals” nickname came from the reddish hue taken on by the faded maroon uniforms the team purchased second hand from the University of Chicago’s athletic department. The Cardinals were part of a burgeoning football circuit in the Chicago area, which included the Hammond Pros, Chicago Tigers and Decatur Staley’s, famously coached by the legendary George Halas. The Cardinals were forced to suspend operations in 1918 due to the outbreaks of World War I and the Spanish Flu. Resuming play in 1920, the team became a charter member of an organization that would become the National Football League, for a franchise fee of $100. The team’s current value? $2.2 billion.
Legend has it that when the Cardinals played the Chicago Tigers in 1920, the loser agreed to leave town. While this has not been proven, the Tigers disbanded at the end of the year.
My research hasn’t turned up a two-game Cardinals stretch with 10 or more turnovers. But here are two more items of note:
1. In the mid-1920’s, the Cardinals signed the first African-American lineman in the sport, Duke Slater, who become one of the top linemen of his era.
2. Veteran fans may remember this: In 1944, due to player shortages brought on by World War II, the Cardinals merged with the Pittsburgh Steelers and were known that season as the “Card-Pitt.” Really. The squad didn’t win a game all year.
Perhaps this little diversion has been a welcome break for readers. One must sometimes step away from analyzing the untidy minutia of missed blocking assignments, improper route running, and yes, excessive turnovers.
Fans can be forgiven for losing themselves in sun-washed daydreams of recent seasons past, with talent stretched across the field, a high-powered offense and a respected defense. But they’ll be snapped out of their reverie at 5:25 p.m. PST this evening, when Arizona takes the field against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. After fans blink their way to full consciousness, they’ll be broadsided by the current state of things: a 1-3 record despite high expectations and three home games, quarterback Carson Palmer out with a concussion, a misfiring offense and an under-performing defense.
And then there are those veins in Coach Arians’ temples, and the danger they may portend. Watch the game diligently tonight, but be prepared to avert your eyes from time to time.
This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.