Believe it or not, folks, the NFL season is much closer than you can possibly imagine. So close, in fact, that, if we're going to fit in every NFL team preview by the start of the season, we have to go this early. So there you have it.
Last year, we asked some of our favorite writers to opine why Their Favorite Team Was Better Than Yours. Ultimately, we found this constrictive, and it also might have killed James Frey. So this time, we've just asked them to just run free, talk about their team, their experience as a fan, their hopes, their dreams, their desires for oral sex. All our teams are now assigned; if you sent us an email and we didn't get back to you, we're sorry, and we accept your scorn. But today: The Buzzsaw That Is The Arizona Cardinals.
Your author is Will Leitch, the editor of Deadspin. His words are after the jump.
So here's something strange: I've never been to the state of Arizona.
This is strange not because I am unable to travel; there are scores of states I've never been to, ranging from Maine to Utah to Alabama. This is strange because I've met several people from Arizona, most of whom sports fans, and not a single one of them likes the Arizona Cardinals. They are from Arizona, and root for the Cowboys, or the 49ers, or even (gasp) the Jets. I have never been to Arizona, and every NFL Sunday, I'm the lonely guy in the back of the bar, watching the tiny television, grimacing as the Raiders eke out an 11-6 victory in which the teams combine for five field goals and a safety.
I've already explained why I wrote for a team that plays in a state I've never visited, so there's no use rehashing it here. But it seems odd to cheer so passionately for a team entirely from afar. I don't know what it's like to actually attend an Arizona Cardinals game. I don't know who the dopey local sponsors are. I don't know what kind of halftime shows they have. I don't even know who the radio broadcasters are.
Compare this, if you will, to being a St. Louis Cardinals fan. One of the things I love about being a St. Louis fan is how much like home Busch Stadium always feels. It's such a warm, Cardinals-centric environment that I'm honestly surprised when they lose. It seems like 50,000 people just united and welcoming. The game itself feels housed in this palpable biodome of Cardinals Land; you can tell the difference the minute you walk in the stadium. When I think of the Cardinals, I think of that Busch feeling as much as I think of the team itself.
I have no idea what this is like in Arizona. I know every player on the team, I know the depth chart, I know the coaches' tendencies, I even know how many different running backs Marcel Shipp has backed up. (Four: Thomas Jones, J.J. Arrington, Emmitt Smith and Edgerrin James. Despite being the backup, he has led the Buzzsaw in rushing three of the last four years. Sigh.) I obsess about this team, yet, in a way, I don't know them at all.
So I decided to try to fix that. I mentioned once on the site that I didn't even know any Arizona Cardinals fans, and beckoned any that existed and read the site to email me. Shockingly, a few emails actually trickled in. One of whom, who wishes to remain anonymous because he has a real job, emails us regularly about all matters Buzzsaw. He goes to "seven or eight games a year. I usually skip one of the preseason games because everyone who can leaves Phoenix in August, and then I sell or give away my tickets for December games if they don't mean anything. Which is every year. I've had season tickets myself for four years, but I've been going to games since the beginning. When they came to town I was ten years old. My Dad got season tickets, and we went to every game together until 1994. My dad didn't like new coach Buddy Ryan's attitude, and canceled the tickets when they hired him. From 94 to 02 I'd go to about 2-3 games a year. I got season tickets in 03."
So the guy's a real, loyal, season-ticket holding fan. I wanted to know what it's really like there. So I asked him.
Are there really more fans of the opposing team than of the Buzzsaw at the games? It looks that way on TV.
Yeah, but it's not as bad as it used to be. The new stadium has changed things quite a bit in that department. Obviously, going from 23,000 fans a game to 60,000 fans makes a big difference. There are still visiting teams that are well represented — last year's Cowboys and Bears games come to mind, as well as the Steelers preseason game — but I think those are just teams that travel well.
Gone are the days where you could go to the stadium on Sunday and get lower-bowl, sideline seats from the ticket window. For now, the Cards fans in the new stadium greatly outnumber opposing fans. Once the novelty of the new stadium wears off, and if the team continues to have double-digit losing seasons, season ticket sales will tumble and I imagine it might go right back to the way it was at Sun Devil Stadium.
So that's changed a bit. But the thing that still kills me is that visiting fans never, ever get harassed by people here in Arizona. I've been to other stadiums where you wouldn't dare wear the opposing team's colors, much less a jersey and some sort of headwear. I know this isn't Philly or something, but Jesus, can someone at least have a smart comeback to the screaming, mulleted Cowboys fan in the Bill Bates jersey?
At Sun Devil, there were times where the visiting teams' fans outnumbered Cardinals fans. The Cardinals would get overwhelmingly booed during introductions. When the cards were in the NFC East, and the cowboys came to town every year, the games would be near-sellouts with 75 percent Cowboys fans. Which makes sense, considering that Arizona was Cowboys country before the Cardinals came along.
The demographics here are a factor ... just about everyone (except me) is from somewhere else. So like you, Will, they don't lose their team allegiances. So there are always smatterings of locals who will come out and cheer on random teams like Jacksonville.
I can't believe I root for a team that was booed at home during player introductions. Is there a good vibe there? Does the team get a sense that the locals have their back?
True story. I went to the first home preseason game against the Texans this year. The Cardinals have a new pregame feature, the "keys to the game," a bullet-point list of things the Cards must do to control and/or win the game. It's displayed on the scoreboard and spoken by the PA announcer at full volume. It is done after team introductions, while both the Cards and their opponents are on the field.
It's a fine enough idea, getting the very casual Arizona fans at least mildly interested in the game. The problem is, all of the "keys to the game" were written in the negative.
"Don't let the other team score first," instead of "Score first."
"No turnovers" instead of "Control the ball."
That sort of thing.
So the players are standing out there, after all the anthems, introductions, fireworks, etc., and some douche PA announcer is telling them about all the things that could go wrong. Really gets a team fired up.
The starting defense promptly gave up a touchdown on an 85 yard drive, after a turnover on downs.
Sitting there, I realized this was the essence of being an Arizona Cardinals fan.
Are there wacky little local promotions that they have? Who's the local fan favorite that everybody loves? And what's the jersey most Buzzsaw fans wear?
Wacky promotions: They have the typical stuff at the games...the mascot shooting t-shirts out of a cannon, the randomly chosen fan who gets to try and throw a ball through a hoop, etc. Nothing really comes to mind about the things they do around town, which is probably because they don't do a whole lot of promotion around town. Promotions involve spending money, young man, and we can't have that (even while we were $10 million plus under the cap last year). Come to think of it, the prizes for their on-field promotions always suck ... like 5,000 frequent flyer miles or something.
Back when they were only selling 23,000 tickets a game, they came up with a different marketing slogan each year to try and drum up ticket sales. A couple years ago the slogan was "It's time to see red!" So they appreciate irony.
Fan favorite: I don't think a true fan favorite has emerged, but Leinart probably gets the most press. The local news always covers his various exploits around town. He's in a couple of low-budget local commercials. One of them captures the general apathy toward the Cardinals: Leinart's using a local credit union's card to make a purchase at a convenience store. The clerk doesn't believe he's Matt Leinart, so the clerk puts shoe polish under Leinart's eyes, like eye black, and then recognizes him. Leinart then asks for a "Cardinals discount." The clerk says, "nah, I'm really more of a Broncos fan." The Cardinals' starting QB gets disrespected in his own commercial. That about sums it up.
If there was a random role player who has become a fan favorite, in the Kurt Rambis or Craig Counsell mold, it would probably be Deuce Lutui. They always have him out doing local promotions and Public Service Announcements. ("Hi, this is Deuce Lutui for recycling...") That guy just looks jolly.
Jersey: At the games, the jersey you see the most is probably Pat Tillman. Fuckin' A right. A close second would be morbidly obese white guys looking sleek in Boldin and Fitzgerald jerseys. There are also a number of young ladies with bleached blond hair wearing light pink form-fitting Leinart jerseys, which may also be color of Leinart's actual "no-hit" training camp jersey. Seriously, the rising sentiment here is that the guy is kind of a douche. But I digress. Edge has some fans, and Neil Rackers also gets a lot of love. Only occasionally will you see a jersey that pre-dates 2005 (other than Tillman), but you know those are the "hardcore" fans. Plummer jerseys are here and there, and the occasional jersey of obscure former players (I'm looking at you, guy in the Timm "two m's" Rosenbaugh jersey) from the "Phoenix" Cardinals era.
You know, you've brought up a good point about Leinart: I just can't shake this feeling that the franchise savior is a complete douchebag. That's a terrifying feeling.
OK, so here's what I REALLY want to know: If the Buzzsaw went crazy and won the Super Bowl this year, I'd run down Henry Street here in Brooklyn naked, screaming about the Buzzsaw. It would be a breakthrough moment; I've always said that being a Buzzsaw fan, and watching all the horrible losses, will be worth it when they finally win it all. I will have earned it.
Will the town have that sense? Are there long-suffering fans like you and me who will cry in the streets? Or is it gonna be the Pink Hat Red Sox syndrome? (Or Pink Taco, if you will.) Paint a picture for me of what happens there if the Buzzsaw actually, you know, gets good.
Leinart: This could just be the tip of the douche-berg. Right now he just faintly smells of vinegar. But there seems to be a growing number of fans who think he's going to waste a lot of potential by trying to be a legend in his own mind. There's that rumor about him firing his representation because he was upset Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning hosted SNL and not him ... he values notoriety over on-field success. He showed up flat-footed at camp this year, after a well-documented off season of partying. And Travis Henry aside, I think he's way too casual about the whole baby out of wedlock thing; local news caught him in a lie about how "involved" he was with the kid, simply by talking to the mother and her family. I am glad we have him, but part of me thinks, in the long run, we might have been better off with the double-chinned, stoned-looking, staying-home-and-eating-a-bag-of-Funyuns style of Jay Cutler.
Super Bowl: People will go crazy here, but unfortunately in the Pink Hat Red Sox way. Phoenix is a very "new" city. The population has grown exponentially over the years. There are very, very few longstanding traditions here. This holds true for local sports; with the possible exception of the Suns, the "fans" are extremely fair weather. For example, when the Diamondbacks won the Series in 2001, the whole town went crazy. Everyone was a D-Backs fan. Three years later, when they lost 111 games, the BOB was an absolute ghost town. Fans are only recently starting to get mildly interested, but just because the team is playing well. It will be the same way with the Cardinals: if they win, everyone in town will talk about how big of a Cardinals fan they are, and how they have always been fans. But three years ago they had 20,000 fans at their games. Where were you then, Mr. Number One Fan?
On the bright side, if the Cardinals win the Super Bowl, at least there won't be any goddamned Bob Costas human interest stories about Jimmy Patrick O'Flannery, the 94 year old blind barber who's worked across the street from the Pink Taco for 82 years, and this is his beloved team's first championship. God I hated that in '04.
If they win, I too will run naked down Camelback Road. And like you, I will feel like I would have earned it.
You know what? I think I'm better of just enjoying the Buzzsaw from afar. I could lament that my celebration when they actually succeed will be a lonely one, but it will be mine, and unsullied by the Pink Hat Pink Taco fans.
Fortunately, it'll never happen, so I'll never need to worry about it.