Cardinal PuffsForget how New Englanders feel this morning. Pats fans wake up expecting victory on every Game Day, and why not? The record shows they're only wrong once a month.
My question, and it's a serious question, not pure snark, is if fans of any one of the 30 other NFL franchises who don't anticipate that their team will win a game against the Arizona Cardinals? Does anybody except Bill Belichick spend the week the Cards appear on the schedule genuinely worried that defeat is a live possibility?
This applies even to teams at the bottom of vicious down cycles. The Rams are horrible and have been so for several years now. They play Arizona twice a year. And yet, I'll bet a decent sum of money that conversation in the offices, taverns and fan message boards of St. Louis prior to Rams-Cardinals games consists of variations on the theme "Geez, if we can't beat THESE guys, we must really suck."
This is of course unfair, and I'm sure Belichick would say unwise. The Cardinals do win games, after all. They won just last week. They went to a Super Bowl with some, OK, a very few, of the players on the 2012 team just four seasons ago.
And yet, I can remember the NFC Championship Game the Cards won that year to get to the Super Bowl. They beat the Eagles, my team, insomuch as I have won. And my reaction was shock and indignation at the utterly unsurprising event of a home team winning a playoff game.
Such is the power of the Cardinals' image. They are the NFL symbol of feckless failure, even when they're succeeding. They are assumed to have an anti-dynastic power to defy the laws of parity. No one in the football community is shocked the Lions went from winless to a playoff team in short order. That's how the system is supposed to work. But if the Cardinals make the playoffs in 2012, folks will react as if Phoenix had two feet of snow in June.
Images rest in fact. The Cardinals have been a lousy team for many of the more than 50 years I've followed pro football. But images are also caricatures of reality Chicago/St. Louis/Phoenix has probably just been mediocre for more years than it's fielded truly rotten squads. And for brief periods, on the handful of occasions the Cards have employed a quarterback who didn't make one avert one's eyes in embarrassed sympathy, they've even been decent.
In 2012, the Cardinals have a controversy between two quarterbacks decent folk feel badly about watching. If there's a person in the world who doesn't draw a paycheck from the team who thinks it can beat the Pats on the road today I haven't met him or her, and how I wish I could if they like to gamble. But hell, the Pats losing at home is always an upset, no matter who they're playing.
My belief, moonshine though it may be, is that the Cards' image of failure matters when they play the other mediocre/lousy teams, not the good ones. I can't help but think that Arizona has lost some of those eminently winnable contests through the years because their opponent could not accept such a humiliating blow to their own image. Desperation and anger are positive emotions in football.
NFL image is a fragile thing. Look at the Jets. A pair of 9-7 seasons in which they won tough road playoff games, and they were thought of as a Super Bowl contender. An 8-8 season in which in they missed the playoffs, and the Jets became the league's comical dysfunctional Modern Family. That's a lot of assumption off a one-game swing.
The Cardinals are exceptions to that rule. Their image has power. It's how I thought of them as a kid, and it's how I think of them now. Weirdest of all, should by some miracle the Cards beat the Pats today, fans in Philadelphia (including exile fans), whose Eagles are Arizona's opponent next Sunday, will spend all week assuring talk radio and each other that "Come on. There's no way we can lose to THOSE guys."