Because I'm the only Arizona fan many people know, I've been asked often to comment on the utter ridiculousness of Glendale hosting the NFC Championship game. For brevity, I've put together a Buzzsaw FAQ.
I consulted with my Anonymous Lifelong Buzzsaw Season Ticket Holder Friend for this, to make sure I was getting the little details right. (He does live there, after all.) So let's get right into it. And sorry, Steelers and Ravens fans: This is replacing the Countdown column this week. We've got a lot to get to.
Did Arizona fans see this coming?
Well, no, obviously, but that doesn't mean we're totally shocked. Contrary to popular opinion, this was not the worst playoff team in NFL history. They breezed through the NFC West — something Dallas, Washington, and the Jets can't say, three teams that definitely wouldn't have been called The Worst Playoff Team in NFL history had they sneaked in — and hammered both the Bills and the eventual AFC East champion Dolphins. Now, to be sure, this is not the most sterling regular season resume you'll ever see, and skepticism was deserved, and shared by Buzzsaw fans. But this team was capable of doing something like this. It's just that no one thought they would.
Why does every person I see on television have a smirk on their face anytime they discuss the Buzzsaw?
1. The Arizona Cardinals have been so horrible for so long that no media members have even the slightest inkling of respect for them. The majority haven't paid attention to them in two decades and have been waiting for the Cardinals to lose so they don't have to do any more research. The best example of this was Cris Carter, who, on Sunday night, called Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby, alternately, "Dansmon," "Dockett" and "Darnell Dansby." (Amusingly, Carter tried to cover his tracks by pointing out that Dansby was "great at Florida State." Dansby went to Auburn; defensive tackle Darnell Dockett went to Florida State.) It's difficult to blame anyone for this. There are 32 teams in the NFL, and each team has 53 roster spots. That's 1,696 players to keep track of. You have to end up ignoring somebody, and for the last 30-some-odd years, the most efficient team to ignore has been the Arizona Cardinals.
2. The Cardinals struggled down the stretch, but, most important, they struggled against East Coast teams down the stretch. The losses to Philadelphia and New England were probably the two most-watched Buzzsaw games of the season — with the possible exception of the "Monday Night Football" win over a pantsless Mike Singletary and the 49ers — and they were the two games in which the team played the worst. Fortunately, the Cardinals won't be playing any more games in the snow or with only three days rest. But after the Patriots' loss, NFL Planet decided that the Cardinals weren't worth paying attention to anymore. So they didn't.
Did Cardinals fans exist prior to this month?
Surprisingly, yes. When they moved to Arizona in 1988, blind excitement led the locals to sell out Sun Devil Stadium. Then they began to play, which did nothing to help ticket sales. For almost two decades the Cardinals consistently sold only 20-25,000 season tickets in a stadium that held 72,000.
That all changed in 2006. Even though the team went 5-11 in 2005, the new stadium brought 63,000 newly minted Cardinals fans. There have been 30 consecutive sellouts since the new stadium opened. So yes, there were fans before this month, before the team started winning playoff games. How many of them are "longtime" Cardinals fans? Probably only a third. Tops.
The bandwagon's definitely grown this month. But it's not like the Tampa Bay Rays having 13,000 fans at games in May and a packed, mohawked house for the World Series. The Cardinals have been selling out games for several years now.
How does the Pink Taco differ from Sun Devil Stadium?
(Note: This question's obviously being answered by the Anonymous Lifelong Buzzsaw Season Ticket Holder Friend)
It was like moving from H.I. McDunnough's trailer to Nathan Arizona's hacienda. Sun Devil Stadium is a concrete kiln with aluminum benches, trough urinals and ancient concession stands. Between the 108 degree heat, the alcohol, and the play on the field, watching fights was the more entertaining second half activity. The Pink Taco is an air conditioned oasis, with high backed chairs, jumbo video screens and ice cold beer from the "Chill Chamber." The only downside: Sun Devil is located just off Mill Avenue in Tempe next to ASU's mix of coeds and college bars, while the Pink Taco is in far west Glendale, next to big box stores and a Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville." (Emeritus Note: I was almost kicked out of one of these Glendale bars after the Falcons game for smoking a cigarette and "looking drunk." Worth it!)
Do you guys have any history? The Eagles have never won the Super Bowl. What's on the line historically here? Who is considered the greatest (post-Chicago) Cardinal of all time? Is there anyone particularly beloved who might do the coin flip to a raucous crowd?
As mentioned before, the Cardinals' history is a endless succession of dreadful, irrelevant seasons, both in Arizona and in St. Louis. But, for the sake of discussion, considering everyone else other than me who grew up or lives near St. Louis moved on from the Buzzsaw years ago, let's stick with the last two decades in Arizona.
The most popular player is, without question, Pat Tillman, but he's sadly not making any guest appearances. (There's a statue of him outside the stadium.) The only other post-St. Louis Cardinal to make the Pink Taco's Ring of Fame is Aeneas Williams; it wouldn't surprise me to see him make an appearance Sunday. As you might suspect, he had only one winning season in a decade at Sun Devil Stadium.
But history, as a team? Losing, losing, losing, with few fans around to witness it. With the Buzzsaw's win over Carolina, there is now only one team in the NFL that has never reached its conference's championship game in the Super Bowl era: The Houston Texans. (Even the Lions have made one, back in the 1991-92 season.)
Why did they change their name from the "Phoenix" Cardinals to the "Arizona" Cardinals?
The Cardinals changed their geographical affiliation to "Arizona" in 1994 in an effort to win fans statewide. They even put the state flag on the jersey sleeve. Without polling fans in Kingman, Eagar and Ajo to see if that worked, I'm pretty sure it didn't.
Are there any famous Cardinals fans?
Yes. Our famous fan base includes Rays manager Joe Maddon, failed presidential candidate John McCain and Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme.
Why are they called the Buzzsaw again?
I just made it up. To quote WikiAnswers: "The Buzzsaw is an affectionate name given by Deadspin editor Will Leitch, an unabashed Cardinals fan. They are called the Buzzsaw pejoratively, because the Cardinals have won exactly one playoff game in the last 60 years. In short, they are the anti-buzzsaw." I decided to call them the Buzzsaw in a weekly fantasy football newsletter sent out to 10 friends more than a decade ago, and I stuck with it, with the idea that if there were any team in any sport that I could just arbitrarily give a nickname to, and have a possibility of it sticking, it would be the identity-less Arizona Cardinals. I'd say we're 30 percent of the way there.
Do Cardinals fans wish they still had the "happy — perhaps neutral" Cardinal helmet logo, rather than the current "angry" version?
I'm fairly certain you and I are the only people who noticed.
Who are the names most associated with the franchise's futility?
Bill Bidwill, Andre Wadsworth, Stan Gelbaugh, Bill Bidwill, Randall Hill, Buddy Ryan, Tom Tupa, Kevin Kasper, Stoney Case, Milford Brown, Buddy Ryan, Bill Bidwill, Thomas Jones, Wendell Bryant, Timm Rosenbach, Leonard Davis, Bill Gramatica, Buddy Ryan, Bill Bidwill.
Oh, and Kelly Stouffer, who earns special commendation for being the Cardinals' first-round pick in 1987, only to sit out a year because he refused to play for the Cardinals, eventually signing with the Seahawks. Kelly f-ing Stouffer pulled an Eli/Elway on us.
Of all of your many humiliations as a franchise, which is the greatest?
So many to choose from, but here are the worst three, in no order. Perhaps not coincidentally, they all involve "Monday Night Football."
1. The Monday Night loss to the Bears, the "They Are Who They Thought They Were" game.
2. The Monday Night loss to the 49ers back in 1999. This is noteworthy because it was the year after the playoff appearance and their first MNF game in many years. They not only lost, but ended Steve Young's career.
3. In 2003, fires in California forced a Chargers-Dolphins game to be moved to Sun Devil Stadium. This lead to a succession of local fans with ABC signs that all had some variation of "Anything Beats the Cardinals."
Are there going to be more Eagles fans than Cardinals fans on Sunday?
No. The guess here is around 90 percent Cardinals fans, 10 percent Eagles fans. (As opposed to the 99-1 ratio of the Falcons game.) Not quite a regular season Cowboys game, but with their somewhat well-documented obnoxiousness, Eagles fans could be pretty visible. There's a lot of frontrunning excitement surrounding the Cardinals that inspires hope that locals will go themselves rather than sell their seats. (The papers are worried about this too.) You also have to remember that just about everyone from Arizona is from somewhere else, so there are plenty of locals who will be out in force for Philly, regardless. And yes: I will be one of those Buzzsaw fans in attendance. I can't fathom missing it.
What would a trip to the Super Bowl mean for this fanbase?
Considering the notion of even making it this far — even making the playoffs at all — is beyond my ability to comprehend, it's difficult to pretend any Cardinals fans would be angry if they lost Sunday. (One suspects Eagles fans would have a different reaction, were they to lose.) No matter what happens Sunday, this is the best Cardinals season in the Super Bowl era, by a factor of about 40. No one will ever look back at this year with disappointment.
But to get to this point, hosting an NFC Championship Game against a No. 6 seed, and then to fall short would be tough to stomach in the short term. These opportunities don't come along often. (Say, once every 61 years.) Earlier this year, I said that if the Arizona Cardinals didn't win the NFC West this year, they're never winning the NFC West. Circumstances as they are, I could make the same statement now: If they don't make the Super Bowl under these conditions, they're never making the Super Bowl.
But yes: A Super Bowl berth would be redemption for the thousands of dollars and hours spent by fans following this team for 20 years, through all the infuriating front office moves and on-field collapses. Every year, a brave NFL prognosticator will pick the Cardinals as their surprise team, only to have them finish 4-12. The Cardinals have been their hardcore fans' surprise team for 20 years. And they'd still be surprised.
Compared to Eagles' fans, though? Well, Eagles fans actually have expectations for their team on a yearly basis. We don't. It's much sadder to have expectations unfulfilled than expectations far exceeded. That's what Cardinals fans are telling themselves, anyway.
I hope this serves as a helpful guide to all media members who have wisely ignored the Arizona Cardinals for the last 30 years. This should sum up just about everything you missed. Which is to say: Not much.