- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002

Those endless plane rides to the East Coast will soon be a memory. A stadium of their own finally appears to be a reality. They have one of the NFL's biggest playmakers in wide receiver David Boston.
Have the Arizona Cardinals, winners of one playoff game in 54 years, turned the corner?
Nah.
Thanks to realignment, Arizona will no longer have to endure annual road trips to Washington, Philadelphia and New York, but that travel is easier than playing four games a year against NFC West powers St. Louis and San Francisco, who were a combined 26-6 in 2001. The schedule-makers didn't do the Cardinals any favors by making them play the Rams and 49ers back-to-back twice this season. And the fourth NFC West team, Seattle, 9-7 last year, is no slouch.
"Teams are going to cycle in this league and it just so happens that the Rams and 49ers are at top of their cycles," said coach Dave McGinnis, who inherited the Cardinals at midseason 2000 and is 8-17 since. "And [coach] Mike Holmgren is in his fourth year in Seattle so they're at the top of their development, too. That's just the way it is."
The stadium proposed last week for suburban Glendale had previously been slated for Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa. It must be approved by Gov. Jane Hull by Thursday, two days after Mesa voters go to the polls on building the facility in their town instead. Even if the stadium is approved, it won't be ready before 2005, the Cardinals' 18th year in Arizona.
"It's kind of crazy to think it has taken so long," said quarterback Jake Plummer, a sixth-year Cardinal who also spent four years in Sun Devil Stadium playing for Arizona State. "Hopefully it will get built as fast as possible and I'll still be here when it's built. It's good for the organization, something positive happening for us."
In a league where sellouts are the norm, Arizona averaged a league-low 32,912 fans last year — a paltry 45 percent of Sun Devil's capacity — despite a better than usual 7-9 season. The Cardinals have only averaged as many as 60,000 fans one year in Tempe and as many as 50,000 in three seasons. So who's going to fill the proposed stadium is very much in question. The local interest in the Cardinals is so low that Plummer actually said, "Even if they're not Cardinals fans, they're excited about the NFL starting up."
Such talk would be heresy in Pittsburgh, Denver or Green Bay, but the Cardinals have been a joke almost since their inception. An original NFL franchise in 1920, the Cardinals were winners in each of their first six years, but finished over .500 just 18 times in the 76 seasons since.
They won two championships during their 40 years playing second fiddle to the Bears in Chicago, made the playoffs three times (losing their opening game each time) during 28 seasons in St. Louis and have one postseason berth (and one victory) to show for their first 14 years in the desert.
"Every team has its problems and we've had a little run of bad luck," Plummer said in one of the great understatements in NFL history.
While Boston has become dominant, Arizona is relying on halfback Thomas Jones — a bust of a top draft pick out of Virginia in 2000 — to take the pressure off the passing game. The NFL's fourth-worst defense in 2001 now has five regulars with less than two seasons of starting experience and has yet to be bolstered by unsigned first-rounder Wendell Bryant. What's more, massive offensive tackle Anthony Clement and new strong safety Adrian Wilson (replacing Pat Tillman, who joined the Army) will both be out at least a month with injuries suffered during a 1-3 preseason which ended with a 31-3 rout in Oakland.
"We're going to be the youngest team in the NFL [only six starters are over 27]," McGinnis said. "I'm trying to build this thing back up. The enthusiasm for what's gone on here for the last 18 months is very high, but we have to produce on the field. What really makes optimism grow is if you win games. Our first units did a good job in preseason. We lost [Wilson] and [Clement] and that put a damper on things, but this is a no-pity league. Nobody else cares. We've made the adjustments. We're going on."
To yet another losing season, no doubt. After all, even in today's topsy-turvy, parity-driven NFL, they're still the Cardinals.


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