Wherever the NFL’s Cardinals franchise is based, be it in Chicago, St. Louis or Phoenix, this bird is rarely very good at all. Those of the 31 fanbases located outside the desert southwest may look with schadenfreude on this team and hope that all this futility is due to the lingering ghosts of those wonderful Pottsville Maroons…
The franchise played as the Racine Cardinals in 1920, the first season of the NFL precursor American Professional Football Association (APFA), but the Cardinals’ roots may be traced back to *1898*. The team played in the pre-APFA/NFL days in spells as the Morgan Athletic Club, the Racine Normals and the Racine Street Cardinals. When the APFA became the NFL in ’22, the Racine Street Cardinals became the Chicago Cardinals.
In 1925, the haunting of this franchise would begin – and ironically, it’s not at all the fault of anyone ever associated with the Cardinals. The record shows that the 11-2-1 Cardinals were crowned champion of the 1925 season, but only due to a screwjob perpetuated on the Pottsville Maroons.
The story goes like this: The 10-2 Maroons scheduled a late-season exhibition game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Philadelphia, a city considered part of what we’d today refer to as the Yellow Jackets’ media market. The Yellow Jackets filed a complaint after the game was held and league officials found in favor of Frankford, temporarily suspended Pottsville, and awarded the title to the Cardinals despite a 21-7 beatdown given them by the Maroons in the final week of the regular season. The plucky, working-class, would-be everyman’s champion Pottsville Maroons were dead four years later, surviving only as an early specter over the Cardinals for a century to come.
The Cardinals were comically bad thereafter and straight through the war years, bottoming out with a run during the 1942-45 seasons which included two full winless seasons, a 29-game losing streak and a stretch of 2-37. Once the roster was restocked following World War II’s end, the Cardinals won the NFL title after the ’47 season, the ultimate in NFL parity to date: The league’s worst team finished just six games back of the league-best Cardinals at 9-3.
While some may cite the ’47 championship as evidence that the Haunting of the Cardinals is myth, note that the championship game pitted the Cardinals against the Philadelphia Eagles – the team built from the defunct Frankford Yellow Jackets. Also note that the 11-1 Cardinals of the following season were denied the title by … the Eagles. Damn, Frankford fans were sad in those days, and the Maroon ghosts awoke.
Over the next 11 seasons, the Cardinals managed two winning seasons as Chicago’s fans turned more and more to the far superior Bears. For 1960, the franchise relocated to St. Louis, perhaps at the encouragement of NFL owners seeking to block establishment of a rogue AFL franchise in the Gateway City.
As for the team’s fortunes in their second city, let’s just say that fewer teams in NFL history have as bleak and empty a history as the St. Louis Cardinals. From 1960 to ’87, St. Louis made the playoffs three times, including after the strike year of ’82. On two of these occasions, the head coach was Dan Coryell, who’d go on to do much more interesting things with the San Diego Chargers. The St. Louis football Cardinals’ all-time playoff record is 0-3, and their GOAT is OL Dan Diedorf.
The Cardinals came to Arizona in 1988 and were rechristened the Phoenix Cardinals – despite playing their first four years in Tempe, mind you. They wouldn’t become the Arizona Cardinals for seven seasons, but this bird of a feather wasted no time in reaffirming the mediocrity this club has long stood for. Through the 2007 season, the Cardinals managed just one winning season and one playoff bid, though breaking the playoff-win drought begun in the 40s with a 20-7 thumping of the Dallas Cowboys to satisfyingly send that club into its own postseason doldrums. At least.
In 2008 came the Miracle in the Desert. Born-again QB Kurt Warner, resurrected from a disastrous stint with the New York Giants, said “Hey, you’ve got this dude Larry Fitzgerald who’s an awesome receiver” and produced just enough heroics to get the Cardinals into the Super Bowl. However, not even the saving grace of Jesus Christ Our Lord And Savior could overcome the combined force of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pottsville Maroons in Super Bowl
Finally, in 2015, the Maroons ghosts pulled off some of their finest poltergeistery yet. After propelling Carson Palmer to miraculous nigh-impossible heights, the Maroons yanked the superpowers from Palmer’s throwing arm for the NFC championship game against the Carolina Panthers. Here’s to thinking that this loss, coupled with the rise of the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers, heralds another good long spell of futility, perhaps followed by a fourth relocation to, likesay, Toronto.
For the official Arizona Cardinals website, click here.