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The Social Study of Being an Arizona Cardinals’ Fan

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NFL: DEC 15 Browns at Cardinals Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Are some NFL teams actually shaped by their fans?

Absolutely.

Some teams and cities appreciate and respect their fans more than others.

Such is the case where I live, just three miles from Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA.

To begin with, thanks to social media, radio talk shows and fan blogs such as ROTB on SB Nation, never before has it been so easy for fans to become engaged in discussing the day-to-day vicissitudes of their favorite NFL teams.

Here in New England, what Patriots fans have going for them is:

  • A Boston sports media that holds the Patriots to the highest of standards and is not the least bit reticent when it comes to offering praise and strict criticism of the the team owner, the GM, the coaches and the players.
  • Boston sports radio stations such as WEEI regularly open the phone lines to callers—-not just to take a few, perfunctory, token calls—-but to earnestly engage knowledgeable fans in constructive discourse.
  • On Channel 4 in Boston every Friday night at 7 PM there is a viewing of “Patriots’ All Access”, which is so popular that the station bumps Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy for it (the millions of fans of those shows have to tape the 2:30 AM replays of the Friday episodes on Channel 38). “All Access” offers comprehensive interviews of the Patriots’ players, a highly popular weekly film study with Coach Belichick at the “Belistrator” and a segment where coaches and players answer questions sent in by the fans.
  • “Pats Pulpit” is one of the most popular, widely visited fan sites on SB Nation.

In comparison—-what we Arizona Cardinals’ fans are dealing with:

  • An Arizona sports media that, more often than not, kowtows to and fawns over star coaches and players—-and the Cardinals’ organization itself..
  • Arizona sport radio stations that occasionally open the lines to fans, but it is usually for just 3-4 calls at a time and the interaction between the radio hosts and the callers often feels superficial.
  • The vast majority of the TV and internet access that Cardinals’ fans have to interviews with Kliff Kingsbury and the players are conducted by the Arizona Cardinals’ organization. The Cardinals’ own website offers an array of daily articles and podcasts—-but—-in recent years they have eliminated the fans’ comment sections and the reporters are employees of the Cardinals who are the least likely to offer critiques of the front office, coaches and players.
  • Revenge of The Birds (SB Nation), under the leadership of editor Seth Cox, has been steadily growing in size, scope, daily viewership and fan interactions. Meanwhile, former ROTB editor Jess Root, does an excellent job running Cards Wire.

The major difference between New England and Arizona, as I see it, is that the Boston media and the fans hold their sports teams to the highest standards and levels of accountability to the point where they actually help to shape the competitive outlooks of the organizations.

This is one of the major reasons why all of the Boston professional sports teams are in the hunt for championships on a year to year basis.

Plus, a major reason is—-the media’s and fans’ stubborn refusal to accept mediocrity in any shape or form.

For example, had Terrell Suggs played as listlessly as he did after the first few games for the Cardinals, if he was playing that poorly for the Patriots, he would have been released before the trading deadline and the Patriots would have made a corresponding move to acquire an upgrade at the position.

Furthermore, in New England, a head coach who only produces one playoff win in 5 seasons, would not be hailed by the media or the fans as an icon—-no matter how popular he was in the media.

The social study for being a Cardinals’ fan is one that is squarely centered around the fan’s overwhelming sense of suppression.

If you are a Cardinals’ fan, it’s difficult enough to cope with the fact that your favorite team is often viewed across the nation as a laughing stock and a paragon of dysfunction—-where one-time stars (other than Larry Fitzgerald) seek the first available ticket out of town in order to go play for a team that is “serious about winning” (courtesy of Tyrann Mathieu).

Yes, for a Cardinals’ fan, it’s difficult enough to feel the weight of such demoralizing stigmas, but then it makes it all the more difficult for us to be treated by the media like we don't know jack shit about football, especially when we dare to try to hold the team, its front office, its GM, its coaches and players to a competitive level of accountability.

And, as a result, there is the acrimonious way we fans sometime treat each other.

The social study there is a simple one.

All you have to do is go back to the “blue eyes versus brown eyes” experiment that Jane Elliott, a 3rd grade teacher in Iowa, conducted in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King. Elliott divided her class into two groups—-a blue eyes group and a brown eyed group.

She then informed the class that the blue eyed group was cleaner, smarter and more civilized—-and because of that—-the brown eyed students were forced to wear special colors so that they could be readily distinguished from their superiors.

As you might imagine, the blue eyed students became self-righteous, self-confident and smug, while the brown eyed students wallowed in despair and s sense of abject dejection. The suggestion was so strong that the blue eyed students began to excel in their studies in unprecedented ways, which coincided with a significant drop-off in achievement by the brown eyed students.

However—-one of the most telling ramifications of Elliott’s experiment was the startling contrast of the camaraderie among the blue eyed students with the acrimonious behavior of the brown eyes students.

People from groups that are suppressed tend to take their frustrations out most aggresively against each other.

And then Elliott turned the tables and announced that she had gotten it wrong—-that actually the brown eyed students were the superior ones. What was most remarkable about the switch was how quickly the blue-eyed students succumbed to their sudden suppression.

This is what we are as Cardinals’ fans—-we are suppressed—-and we are angry and often bitter. We envy and even loathe 49ers’ fans right now, who suddenly have the most rosy-eyed outlooks in the NFL.

So when we argue amongst each other—-it’s only natural.

But—-the bottom line is—-we need to stick together by admiring the one common denominator that binds us all together—-despite our suppression—-we remain fiercely loyal to our team. We are not quitters. We are not fair weather fans. And whether we want to admit or not, we cling like mad to hope. As Emily Dickinson wrote:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -That perches in the soul -And sings the tune without the words -And never stops - at all -And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard...”

That’s right—-and “sweetest in the Gale is heard” because for birds such as ourselves, it is in storms where hope is needed the most.

Man, think of the storms we have already endured—-I can so vividly remember back in the early 90s when I moved back to Boston and having to go to a sports bar to watch the Cardinals play on some small tucked away TV, without sound—-and I can remember a game where the Cardinals had a chip shot FG to win in overtime and I believe it was Neil O’Dononhue who shanked it—-and minutes late the Cardinals’ lost—-yet again—-along with any remote hope of the playoffs.

I will never forget sitting out in the cold of my car in the thick of night and being so upset to the point of crying and wondering why and how my team could continue to be this bad.

But, as we know, each new season brings new hope.

While it seems like ages ago, we have celebrated a Halas Trophy together—-and we have seen our Cardinals take the lead with a little over 2 minutes to go in its only Super Bowl on that magical post pass from Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald—-yes Larry Legend—-who amazingly is still on our team in 2020.

Hope kept us together back then—-and it will keep us together now.

Yes, right now we are in the suppressed, bickering mode—-but we can respectfully pull ourselves out of the dark—-we have that kind of respect in us—-because we have that loyalty that perhaps only we can understand.

Thus, please permit me to finish by saying something I have been meaning to say for quite some time—-

I have been writing on Cardinals blog sites for almost 25 years now—-and I can say with 100% certainty that the Cardinals’ fans here at ROTB are an assembly of the most knowledgeable Cardinals’ fans i have ever rolled my sleeves up with.

And—-even though we are battling extreme frustration—-this is still the most civil and respectful blogging site for Cardinals’ fans anywhere in cyber space. By far.

I would tout the insight of the Cardinals’ fans here as equally or in many cases, even more competent than the local pundits who have spent years trying to silence us.

I thoroughly believe that Michael Bidwill is paying close attention to us. Sometimes, it may not feel like it—-but—-just as we are evolving, I believe he is evolving and the franchise is evolving. Maybe not as quickly as we would like—-but the wheels are in motion.

For the first time ever, I feel like the Arizona Cardinals are catching up with the modern NFL of the 21st century.

Therefore, we can be excited in continuing to do out part in helping the Cardinals move forward and upward—-

As Walt Whitman would say, let’s shout our “barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.”

Eventually, at our current rate, we are bound to be heard.

Can an NFL team be shaped by the passion and insight of its fans?

You bet.