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New dark ages: The Cardinals are on the brink of the abyss

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Cardinals fans never thought it’d be as bad as the Sun Devil Stadium years. But it might get even worse than that unless big changes are made soon.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Arizona Cardinals
Josh Rosen looking like most Cardinals fans feel right now.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Like many of you, I’m a long-time Cardinals fan. My first game was in 1999 at Sun Devil Stadium, a Jake Plummer versus Donovan McNabb duel. It was a sloppy, low-scoring, turnover-ridden affair. But the Cardinals won in a dramatic comeback, winning on a late Jake Plummer QB sneak. I remember cheering wildly with my dad from up in the nosebleeds.

But the team wound up finishing 6-10 that 1999 season. They wouldn’t finish above .500 again until that storied 2008 Super Bowl season.

Those were dire times to be a Cardinals fan. I vividly recall being surrounded by drunken, foul-mouthed Eagles fans—for there was far more green than red in the stands that day. Any cheers for the Redbirds were drowned out by “E-A-G-L-E-S!” chants. Most games were like that (especially Cowboys games). If there was such a thing as negative homefield advantage, the Cardinals had it at Sun Devil Stadium.

The team bottomed out with a 3-13 record the next season, the worst record since the Cardinals played in Chicago 40 years prior. That season was the absolute nadir of the franchise.

Or so we thought.


University of Phoenix Stadium—now known as State Farm Stadium—opened in 2006, and the rest is history. Super Bowl run under Ken Whisenhunt two years later, then the Bruce Arians era and another NFC Championship Game appearance, and 100+ sellouts in a row. We’ve been, in many ways, a model NFL franchise for the last decade or so.

Not anymore.

I haven’t been to a game in Glendale this season, but from what I’ve seen, it looks like a lot like the Sun Devil Stadium years in the stands—empty seats, more (and louder) fans of the other team, plenty of boos. And we’ve been just as incompetent on the field.

We’re a dismal 1-6 with one of the worse offenses in the history of the sport—which has already gotten the OC fired. Our new DC has tried to switch to a 4-3 without the proper personnel in place—which has predictably backfired, as we’re getting gashed by the run and are prone to big plays via the pass. We have a first-year head coach who routinely blows elementary decisions and seems on the verge of losing the locker room. We can’t run, throw, catch, or tackle, we consistently commit boneheaded penalties in all phases of the game, and we just got stomped 45-10 by a 2-4 team in our only nationally televised game of the season.

And, oh yeah, our best player, defensive captain, and a pillar of this team and community for the past seven years just asked for a trade. At this rate, Cardinals fans better pray Larry Fitzgerald retires now before he, too, asks for a trade.

We’re a joke, an embarrassment, a disgrace. I’ve rooted for this team for over 20 years, and this is the first time I’ve been ashamed to be a fan.

Talk about dire times.


During the Sun Devil Stadium years, that shame wasn’t possible. No one cared about the team, not really. They had only been in the Valley for 10 years, and Phoenix has always been a transplant city, so there were no homegrown fans. Plus the Suns and Diamondbacks were challenging for NBA titles and winning the World Series.

But a lot has changed since then—since the new stadium opened, since the Super Bowl run. Since we drafted Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson, since Bruce Arians and his Kangol and undeniable swagger strolled into town. Since Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer and their aerial prowess. Since David Johnson’s dual threat abilities and Chandler Jones’s reign of QB terror.

People actually care about this team now. Younger fans have grown up on the team. The national media has started paying attention. The Valley’s first love—the Suns—have been mired in the league basement for years now, leaving a void in Valley sports fandom that the Cardinals have admirably filled since time ran out on the Seven Seconds or Less teams.

Expectations have been built, hopes raised, allegiances strengthened.

And now, all of that could come crashing down.

We could be at the dawn of a new dark ages for the Arizona Cardinals. Our players seem like they’re giving up, our coaching staff is utterly incompetent, our front office comically inept, and our ownership seems oblivious to it all.

At 1-6, we’re on pace for a 2-14 record, which would be the worst record in a 16-game season in the history of the franchise—even worse than that hopeless 2000 team, the team that sent the franchise into a multi-year downward spiral that actually had the team considering relocating.

With the talent we have on this team, the goodwill it has built with the fanbase, and the specter of Larry Fitzgerald’s impending retirement hanging over everything, a 2-14 record would be unforgivable, the lowest of possible lows.


But here we are, facing down that grim reality. Can anything be done to avoid it?

No.

That’s the painful truth. This dumpster fire of season is a lost cause. There is no hope of salvaging it. None.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for the future. There’s still a chance this season can be a (particularly ugly) black mark in this recent era of team success. But things have to be handled very carefully from here on out.

First, the team needs to take a hard line and refuse to trade Patrick Peterson—for now. The last thing we need is a trade rumor circus in the middle of the season. Rather than make a panic trade now—when we have no reason to do so—wait until the offseason and reevaluate then. Perhaps the drastic changes to come will allay Peterson’s concerns and convince him to stay—and remember that quick turnarounds are commonplace in the NFL. Just look at the Rams last year, or the Bears this year. And Peterson’s trade value isn’t going to change between now and the offseason, even if he gets hurt. So hold off on that.

Then, the second Week 17 is over, Michael Bidwill needs to clean house. Fire EVERYONE, including head coach Steve Wilks and his staff and GM Steve Keim and his staff. It couldn’t be any more clear that Wilks is in over his head and isn’t cut out to be an NFL head coach. Full stop. And Keim is the architect of this collapsing house of Cards and needs to be let go as well. Thanks for leaving us with Josh Rosen, but the rest of this mess is on his hands.

To fill the coach and GM vacancies, we need to pluck an executive from the front office of one of the league’s marquee teams—the Patriots, Steelers, Saints, Eagles, and the like. Someone with football acumen and vision—and who is equally comfortable with crunching numbers as they are with listening to scouting reports. For coach, hire the brightest offensive might you can find, whether from the pro or college ranks. Add a young OC who understands the concepts of the modern NFL (and can build one of these new pinball offenses around Rosen) and a DC who can adapt his scheme to the talent on the roster and we might have a shot at a turnaround in the next season or two.

We’ll talk which players should go and who we should add in a future article, but suffice to say that the new GM and head coach should be in lockstep when it comes to player evaluation, tendencies, and skill sets. We need a unified vision of our team’s culture, offensive/defensive philosophies, and mental makeup—something this year’s patchwork team sorely lacks.

But what about the fans? What can/should loyal Cardinals fans do as the team stands on the brink of a 2-14 abyss?

Honestly?

Stay away.

Don’t go to games, cancel your season tickets, switch to Red Zone and rooting for your fantasy team on Sundays. These 2018 Arizona Cardinals don’t deserve your support in any capacity.

But what will that accomplish?

The only thing that might actually convince Bidwell to make the changes we discussed above.

End the sellout streak.

End the madness.

End the ineptitude.

End these new dark ages before they really start.

Combat the darkness with a raging fire as we burn it all down…

…and rise from the ashes like our city’s namesake in 2019, ready to set fire to the rest of the league and draw the fans back like moths to flame.