At the tender age of eight, I became a Cardinals’ fan. My uncle Michael took me to my first pro football game. It was November 24, 1963, the New York Giants versus the St. Louis Cardinals at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
When we walked up the ramp and I caught my first glimpse of the field, the Cardinals were warming up. There was something about the look of their milk white helmets and the fiery red cardinals emblazoned on the sides that drew me in.
There was also something about the Cardinal wearing #8…FS Larry Wilson…and the acrobatic way in which he patrolled the deepest recesses of centerfield. Uncle Mike took it well when I told him I was rooting for the Cardinals and after the Cardinals won the game, Uncle Monk, as my sisters and I affectionately called him, bought me my first Cardinals pennant. From that point on, Uncle Monk invited me to join him whenever the Cardinals were in town.
Interestingly, a few years ago while waiting to get a haircut, I read in a magazine that Joe Maddon, the manager of the Cubs, is a life-long Cardinals’ fan and that it all started for him at Yankee Stadium on November 24, 1963.
The major problem growing up in New York was getting to see the Cardinals on TV. The best I could hope for was a handful of times a year. I will never forget the Halloween night the Cardinals were on MNF versus the Bears playing under a full moon at Bush Stadium. I was in kiddy heaven---eating snickers bars while sitting on the rug of the den in a pool of sweat watching my new idol CB Roger Wehrli seal the late-night victory with a perfectly timed interception.
When the Cardinals’ games were not on New York area TV, I would sit and watch the crawl of out of town scores on whatever game was televised. 4th quarters in tight games were excruciating seeing the Cardinals behind 21-24 and praying to see the score change to 28-24 and then watching it come up as a final score…or not.
For years I did this every Sunday…until years later I learned that there was a bar in town that could show all of the NFL games…and I would be relegated to a small TV in some remote part of the bar where I could watch the Cardinals without being able to hear the broadcast because they were blaring the Giants’ game over the loudspeakers.
After one game, when K Neil O’Donohue shanked what would have been a game winning FG that could have brought the Cardinals record to 3-4 instead of 2-5, I sat in the car afterward, and in dealing with the reality that the Cardinals were going to have yet another lousy year and no shot at the playoffs, I sat in the cold and quietly fought back tears.
Another extremely frustrating thing was trying to gather as much information as I could about the Cardinals’ draft prospects. Each year in March I anxiously checked my mailbox each day hoping to receive Mel Kiper’s Blue Book, Ourlad’s annual NFL Draft Guide and Joel Buchsbaum’s Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide.
Back then, of course, the internet wasn’t what it is today---no Google and YouTube to turn to. Just the draft guides. Mel Kiper would get me fired up about my favorite prospects, but then Joel Buchsbaum would temper my enthusiasm with his sobering critiques.
In his Blue Book, Mel Kiper used to include his phone number so that fans could order his guides directly from him. Thus, I used to call him on an annual basis and on a few occasions, he would actually answer the call and he would graciously spend ten minutes talking about the Cardinals with me.
But the most amazing phone call I ever made was two days following the 1989 NFL Draft. The draft was 12 rounds back then and the Cardinals had drafted some players that weren’t featured in the draft guides. Thus, starving for information and insight, I took a chance and called the Cardinals’ headquarters. I said I was a reporter from the New York Daily News---that I was writing an article about the draft classes of the NFC East teams---and asked if they would please connect me to the Cardinals’ GM George Boone.
Amazingly, within seconds George Boone was on the line! I asked him if he could provide information about all the Cardinals draft picks. He spoke very positively about LB Eric Hill from LSU and T Joe Wolf from my alma mater, Boston College. And he spoke for over five minutes about how he thought he got steals in TE Walter reeves from Auburn and G Mike Zandofsky from Washington. Then he spent five minutes explaining how great an athlete 5th round pick LB Richard Tardiff from Georgia was---and that yes---he was unusually light for a linebacker, but his speed was off the charts.
I will never forget how soft-spoken and matter of fact George Boone was. And how accommodating he was. The phone call lasted 40 minutes.
Thanks to advances in technology in recent years I can watch every Cardinals’ game in the comfort of my own den---I just wish DirecTV wasn’t the only provider of NFL Sunday Ticket because of all the hassling it takes to receive it at an affordable rate.
Thanks to Twitter and Google and YouTube, I (and every one of us) can be our own Mel Kiper or Joel Buchsbaum. We can get instant update, detailed draft profiles and then on NFL.com we can go watch coaches’ tapes of any game we want (for $99 annually).
This time of year is a bonanza for a Cardinals’ fan. I know today that I am going to race home after teaching my creative writing class at Foxborough High School and quickly get to my iMac to find out whether the Cardinals have signed CB E.J. Gaines or whether the Chiefs have signed RFA DT Xavier Williams to an offer sheet that the Cardinals will have to decide to match. Then, I have it in mind today to keep up my film study of the top prospects in this year’s draft. Today I am going finish studying DT Taven Bryan of Florida and LB Lorenzo Carter of Georgia.
As a semi-retired high school teacher and coach, one of the biggest daily battles I (and all teachers) have is with students tuning into their cell phones during class. My students know that I am an ardent Cardinals’ fan, because I proudly wear my Cardinals’ hat to school each day. They also know that I will confiscate kids’ cell phones if I catch them texting or checking their phones during class. These kids are incredibly adept at peeking in on the latest info. Heck, if Tom Brady was just spotted at the local Whole Foods store, they’d know it.
Well, the other day at the end of class, one of my favorite students, Mike Henri, one of the captains on the football team, rushed up to me and said, ‘Hey, Mitch, the Cardinals just signed Sam Bradford.”
I hadn’t heard yet. “Were YOU---on your cell phone, Mike?”
Looking a little chagrined, he said, “Yeah, but I thought you would want to know.”
“Here, Mike, give me your phone,” I demanded.
“You are really gong to confiscate it?”
“Yes. Here---I want you to follow a broadcaster named John Gambadoro on Twitter. He’s usually the first to report Cardinals’ signings. Just don’t let your classmates see you peeking in. Got it?”
Sometimes we have to make exceptions, right?
Postscript---the best cry I have had as a Cardinals’ fan was watching Arian Wilson’s tears of joy amidst showers of red, white and black confetti as he hoisted the Halas Trophy. The Cardinals were heading to their 1st ever Super Bowl.