- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2000

They have had only one winning season since Ronald Reagan's first term.

At 2-6, they are well on their way to another sub-.500 finish.

They have been to the playoffs just once since 1982 and have won a lone playoff game over the past 52 years.

They are the Arizona Cardinals at least for the rest of the season.

There's a critical referendum on Tuesday's ballot in Maricopa County, Ariz. If voters defeat a proposed tax on hotel stays, rental cars and stadium events, proceeds from which would pay for a new stadium, the Cardinals might well move as they did from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960 and from St. Louis to Phoenix in 1988.

If the Cardinals bolt, the leading rumored landing possibilities are San Antonio, a small market the Houston Texans already have claimed as theirs, and Los Angeles, which lost both of its NFL teams after the 1994 season and hasn't shown much interest in replacing them.

Arizona hasn't been that interested in the Cardinals during their their 13 years in the desert. An average of fewer than 37,000 fans have attended their past two games at Sun Devil Stadium, their 42-year-old home on the Arizona State campus where they will entertain the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

"It's different when you're playing in front of 30,000 or 40,000 people, half of whom might be rooting for the other team, compared to 80,000 cheering you here," said Redskins halfback Adrian Murrell, a Cardinal the previous two seasons.

The fans who do show up haven't had much to cheer about this year. Quarterback Jake Plummer, who other than his 12 fourth-quarter comebacks is 5-27 as a starter, has thrown an NFL-high 14 interceptions. The injury-riddled defense which in 1998 seemed to have the league's best young line is the NFL's worst on third down and second-worst against the run while recording the third-fewest sacks and allowing the third-most points.

The Cardinals have forced a league-low seven turnovers while committing an NFC-most 23. A 48-7 pounding at Dallas on Oct. 22 the Cardinals' worst loss in 19 years cost fifth-year coach Vince Tobin his job the next day.

"You hate to see it happen, because it means we're playing like crap," Plummer said. "Sometimes trying too hard is my worst enemy. Eventually, I have got to stop doing that. It's time to become the quarterback I want to be."

Dave McGinnis, who spurned Chicago's offer to become its coach in the winter of 1999 when the Bears announced his hiring before the deal was signed, finally has the chance to run a team after 15 NFL seasons as an assistant.

"My main goal [when I took over] was to get the team headed in another direction, at least get them flipped in their psyche," said McGinnis, who was promoted from defensive coordinator to replace Tobin, his longtime mentor. "We were pressing, not playing, for a couple of weeks prior to the Dallas game."

Arizona lost to visiting New Orleans 22-10 in McGinnis' debut, but Plummer has seen a difference in the team since the change.

"There's a lot more positive attitude around here … to be able to do that on a team that was 2-5 is impressive," Plummer said.

But McGinnis isn't expecting a quick turnaround for a team that has won just a third of its games since recording three straight dramatic victories in 1998 to win a playoff berth and then stunning the host Cowboys in a first-round game.

"You can't sit back, wring your hands and say, 'Pity us. We used to have …' " McGinnis said about being minus 10 starters from 1998. "You've got to make do with what you have. You can't play this game and be detached. This thing has to be emotional. The focus is trying to finish up these last eight weeks on as high a note as we can."

Which in Arizona usually isn't very high.

"They have talent and some good coaches, [but] you have got to look within the organization," Murrell said. "It trickles down from the top."

As in owner Bill Bidwill, whose family has run the Cardinals for 69 mostly fruitless seasons. The franchise's only NFL title came in the league's dark ages of 1948.

"You have to have an owner who is committed to trying to win," said Redskins fullback Larry Centers, a Cardinal from 1990-98.

It's more like the Cardinals are committed to being the NFL's most incompetent organization.

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