Tag Archives: San Francisco 49ers

Arizona Cardinals Pause, Reflect, and Return to War

christmas-truce

Christmas Truce – The Illustrated London News

As dawn broke on Christmas morning, 1914, entrenched British troops on the Western Front of World War I heard singing from the German side, across no man’s land, accompanied by a brass band. Soon after, German soldiers rose and walked toward the British side, calling out “Merry Christmas.” Eyeing them with suspicion but noticing the troops were unarmed, British soldiers lowered their rifles and took to the field themselves, their linguists calling out “Fröhliche Weihnachten.” Plum puddings and cigarettes were exchanged, carols were sung, and a soccer game broke out. The “Christmas Truce” was a welcome respite from the brutality of the Great War.

The Arizona Cardinals are coming off their much-needed bye week, a ceasefire in the hostilities of a long NFL season. The Cards sit at a disappointing 3-4-1, but some wounds are healing, such as speedy WR John Brown’s achy legs after treatment following diagnosis of the sickle cell trait. All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu was expected to be out several more weeks with a shoulder injury, but the Honey Badger was observed prowling the practice field this week. He’ll miss today’s home game against the 49ers, but his progress is encouraging.

Another beneficiary of the week off may have been Chandler “The Cat” Catanzaro, the Cardinals’ beleaguered placekicker. Cats are not known for their kicking, except perhaps for certain European breeds, but Catanzaro performed well last year, converting every kick from 46 yards and in. This season he missed game-winners in weeks one and seven, the latter a chip shot against rival Seattle that now surely visits his dreams. Arizona GM Steve Keim could be forgiven if over the break he had auditioned former NFL kickers, a couple of Rockettes and a mule.

To clear his head, Catanzaro retreated home to South Carolina during the break to visit family and friends and to “self-medicate.” No word on the nature of the medication but Cardinals Nation is praying for its potency.

Coach Bruce Arians and his staff settled in over the bye week to review game video, noshing and gnashing and trying to solve the puzzle of an underperforming offense. The films are unlikely to compete for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but they may reveal clues to a team that has fallen from number one in offense last season to 16th this year.

Even to the naked eye, the receiving corps has vastly underachieved after being one of the league’s most feared units last season. Michael Floyd has declared himself a top receiver in the NFL, but his numbers (19 catches, three TD’s, multiple drops) have yet to reflect that in the last year of his rookie contract. Larry Fitzgerald has gone 15 games without a 100-yard effort, his longest such streak since 2004.

Field General Carson Palmer simply hasn’t looked like himself all year. He’s been slowed by ailments and he hasn’t connected on the big plays that lit up scoreboards last year. The Cardinals aim for at least five “explosive” plays per game—22 yards or more—but that feature of their attack has been muffled so far. It doesn’t help that 6’8”, 321 pound offensive tackle Jared Veldheer is on injured reserve with a torn tricep, giving Palmer a tick less time to throw.

Arizona continues to lean heavily on running back David Johnson, the only player in the NFL with at least 100 yards from scrimmage in every game this season. And despite its share of injuries, the defense has sparkled, allowing the fewest yards in the league.

Arizona hosts the 1-7 San Francisco 49ers today at University of Phoenix Stadium, which may be just the tonic to settle the nerves. It’s a must-win game for a team still stocked with talent and with playoff aspirations. After today, the Cardinals set off on a lengthy road peppered with land mines—three early games in the Eastern Time Zone, a looming skirmish in Seattle, and five of their last seven contests away from the comforts of home.

After a welcome break, it’s back to business for Arizona today at 1:25 p.m. PST for the season’s second half. Cardinals Nation is hoping it only faintly resembles the first.

– Eric Forgaard

This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Arizona Cardinals: Reality and Reverie

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10: Wide receiver John Brown #12 of the Arizona Cardinals attempts to catch the football against safety Anthony Harris #41 of the Minnesota Vikings during the second half of the NFL game at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 10, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

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.

Eric Forgaard

This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Arizona Cardinals v. SF 49ers: Farewell, Candlestick Park

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The Arizona Cardinals grappled with the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday night in a game featuring all that is great and good about the NFL—pinpoint passing, bone-crushing hits, lead swings, mood swings, valor and heartbreak. In the end, the Cardinals won out 34-31 when a 32-yard Chandler Catanzaro field goal attempt proved true as time ran out. The Cat Man would have had to hit from 47 yards were it not for a rare strain of unsportsmanlike conduct on the part of Cincinnati’s defensive tackle Domata Peko, who was flagged 15 yards for yelling out offensive signals in an effort to confuse the Cardinals. Real schoolyard stuff.

Arizona improved to 8-2 and enjoys a three game edge on rival Seattle.

The Cardinals have winged west for an afternoon tilt today with another division rival, the San Francisco 49ers. Arizona is a solid wagering favorite to defeat San Francisco, a team that is barely recognizable from a year ago. Coach Jim Harbaugh fled to Michigan, all-pro players retired or signed elsewhere and starters all over the field have fallen to injury this season. This dumpster fire landed in the lap of former 49ers defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, whose previous experience includes stints with the Division II Catawba College Indians and the Scottish Claymores and Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe. San Francisco sits at 3-7 this season, and the Super Bowl appearance in 2012 is a simply a distant fond remembrance for fans.

San Francisco 49ers fans once included irascible veterans of old Kezar Stadium and the early years of wind-battered Candlestick Park, men who looked to have scuttled out from under the wharves on Sundays like shore crabs, leathered faces pelted by driving December mists, one hand tucked into the pockets of faded metallic gold satin jackets and the other clutching plastic cups of $2.00 Budweiser, which helped numb the senses through back-to-back 2-14 seasons in the late ‘70s before Bill Walsh and Joe Montana flashed onto the scene and lifted the team to preternatural heights in the early ’80s. Those sorts of beer-soaked, relish-stained memories seep into the bones, cementing a fan base and spawning generations of devotees.

Cut to the present.

Pristine, tech-savvy Levi’s Stadium has risen 40 miles south of San Francisco in the cradle of Silicon Valley. Their hearts bruised, some of the old guard swore they’d never visit the foreign environs of Santa Clara and they’ve stayed true to the oath. Were they to make the trek, they’d inch along traffic-choked streets near the stadium, pay a minimum of $40 to park, tailgate only in designated areas and then shuffle to their seats in a stadium sterile enough in which to have one’s spleen removed without preparation or worry.

Those fans likely wouldn’t be lounging in one of the 165 luxury suites half-filled with startup mavens distractedly hatching schemes over Asian steamed buns and muffuletta paninis to convince potential VCs that their vaporware can somehow monetize by Q2. They may well end up squatting on the dreaded, sun-splashed eastern side of the stadium, squinting like an Iditarod musher against the glare and baking to a fine crisp like a sourdough loaf. No, the memories of Candlestick Park sufferings will do just fine, thank you.

Cardinals supporters don’t have to contend with such untidy business. The retractable domed roof of University of Phoenix Stadium helps keep things comfortable. And fans’ psychic wounds don’t run quite as deep. The honeymoon phase that began when the Cardinals moved to Arizona from St. Louis in 1988 helped subpar seasons go down a little easier. And fans’ hearts leapt in 2008, when grocery store bagger turned NFL MVP Kurt Warner nearly led Arizona to its first Super Bowl victory. That marked the beginning of a cultural shift in the mindset of players, coaches, fans and the front office. This team could win, and a championship was no longer out of reach.

Some NFL sages have called today’s Cardinals-49ers contest a trap game. Arizona has had to rally late to notch wins against powerful opponents Seattle and Cincinnati the last two weeks, and some key players are either out or questionable with injuries. San Francisco QB Blaine Gabbert has recently breathed life into the position, and the 49ers are playing at home with nothing to lose. Arizona is a 10 point favorite, but a letdown is plausible.

Arizona coach Bruce Arians will have none of it. Yes—he’s a good family man, he works tirelessly for abused children, and he’ll raise a pint with you and give you a shoulder-squeeze of support. But San Francisco fans should be reminded: with the Cardinals leading the 49ers 31-7 at halftime of their September 27th game, Arians told the team, “If you relax, I’ll be looking for new people. Put your foot on their throat.”

San Francisco fans can handle such things. They have endured worse.

– Eric Forgaard
11/29/15

This blog is not supported by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.