Most of us who lived in eastern Missouri in the 1970s and early 1980s who followed the St. Louis football Cardinals have strong, and sometimes highly ambiguous, feelings about the team, even though it's been more than 15 years since they moved to the Arizona desert. I have fond childhood memories of rooting for the Cardiac Cards of Hart, Metcalf, Wehrli, Gray, Dobler, Dierdorf, and Coryell with my father and grandfather.
I also remember the precise moment that I gave up for good on the Cardinals, three years before they ever left St. Louis. Oh, I bet you do, too, if you remember. 1984, last game of the season, Neil O'Donahue with a potential game-winning kick to beat the Giants [correction: it was, in fact, the Redskins they lost to that day; the loss put the Giants in playoffs, hence my mistake, and remember kids--alcohol kills brain cells!] and put the Gridbirds into the playoffs. Miss it, and we miss the playoffs.
Oh, of course. Wide of the uprights. No good. No playoffs. No hope. I had to give up on them. My first football love was the Minnesota Vikings, and I couldn't tolerate twin heartbreak every season. It was just too painful.
So they left, and we watched the fiasco that was NFL Expansion pass us by. By this time, I lived in St. Louis and worked downtown. I watched them build the dome stadium day by day, and I waited while it stood empty. Then came the Rams. As Chris Berman might say, the bumbling, stumbling Rams. How perfect for St. Louis--another inept, hopeless football team.
But then came 1999: Vermeil, Faulk and Kurt Warner. Who? An arena league QB? You know the rest of the story. Two MVP awards, one Superbowl win, one heartbreaking Superbowl loss, and a fall from grace as quick and as stunning as his rise to glory.
While I don't hate Marc Bulger (I never have), and can admit that he does have some skills at the position, he just doesn't have the same magic that Warner did. Now Warner's going to get the chance, it seems, to see if lightning can indeed strike twice. He'll probably be the starter this year for the Arizona Cardinals, whose head coach is Dennis Green, who used to coach the Vikings. Coincidence? I think not. It's more like a harmonic convergence for me.
My dad has never stopped rooting for the football Cardinals, even though to this day, just like 25 years ago, he gripes about how much they suck. But the Rams sucked, too, before Kurt Warner took over as their QB. Does Arizona have the right ingredients? Can they pull off another remarkable "worst to first" NFL success story. All of the so-called experts--and a half a century of utter futility by a franchise--loudly say "no."
But you know what? I believe that anything is possible. And as I watch the NFL draft next month, and training camps in July, pre-season games in August, and finally, the start of the season, I'll be doing something I haven't done in more than 20 years: rooting for the football Cardinals, led by my favorite quarterback since Fran Tarkenton still had hair.