TAMPA – At 29, a veteran of eight pro seasons, Adrian Wilson is the longest-tenured member on the Cardinal roster, a fact that speaks to the inglorious history of the NFL’s franchise in Arizona.
“I always thought it could change,” he said Monday.
Such belief required extraordinary contempt for the odds, not to mention an ignorance of history. The Cardinals have been terrible and mismanaged wherever they called home: Chicago, St. Louis, and since 1988, Arizona. Their last championship came in 1947. Their last divisional title was 1975. Going into this season, the team owned by Bill Bidwell had managed to win a single playoff game in 61 years. Coming from High Point, N.C., Wilson said he didn’t know much about the team or its shameful record across the decades. Perhaps it was better that way.
The Cardinals were a spectacular 7-9 in Wilson’s rookie year, but dropped to 5-11 the next. In 2003, they were 4-12, and 6-10 the following year. Still, after all that, given the chance to re-up with Arizona, the strong safety signed before the season was even over.
He was called “stupid.” He was called “crazy.” And that was his own friends talking.
A more sober assessment was rendered by the comedian Lewis Black, who just last year appeared on HBO and suggested the franchise should move to Los Angeles and call itself the Implants.
I remember thinking that wasn’t such a bad idea. No, really. Even this season, as the Cardinals tried to maintain a respectable record in an unrespectable division, I figured they were doomed to return to joke status. Sure, the Kurt Warner comeback was a nice story. But they were still the Cardinals. What’s more, they had been so bad so recently. A serious team does not allow the Jets to score 56 points. A contender does not lose back-to-back games to the Vikings and the Patriots by a combined 61 points.
That’s not ancient history. That’s last month.
If the Cardinals are among the most disrespected teams ever to play for a title, that’s only because they’ve earned that distinction.
But now the Cardinals, who weren’t even sure they could sell out a playoff game, have hosted two. They are 3-0 in January. Their arrival in Tampa as the NFC’s representative in the Super Bowl has them at the precipice of, well, greatness. A great team, after all, is only one that gets hot at the right time.
The Cardinals can undo 61 years in a month. Adrian Wilson believes. Now you wonder if his teammates are just as crazy.