Now, I mean absolutely no disrespect whatsoever to the good fans of the Arizona Cardinals — you have as much right to a Super Bowl victory as anybody. You’re fine folks and having endured summers where it is too hot to swim and the inconceivable traffic between Peoria and Chandler, you deserve all good things.
But this idea that has been roaming the Internet and radio shows lately that the Cardinals now move into the America’s Sweetheart slot because they have the longest title drought is, what’s the word I’m looking for here, oh yeah: LUDICROUS.
It is true: The Cardinals have not won a championship since Paul Christman and Charley Trippi and Elmer Angsman led them to the title in 1947. That makes the Cardinals’ drought one year longer than Cleveland’s baseball drought. So, by definition, the Cardinals do have the longest streak without a championship. And this is probably why you should be a little bit weary whenever someone uses that phrase, “by definition.”
Because the Cardinals’ streak is completely bogus.
Why do I say this? Well, you already know: The Cardinals are not one team. They are three. They were the CHICAGO Cardinals when they won the championship in 1947 and then lost to the Eagles in the title game in 1948. They were the Chicago Cardinals for another dozen years, going into 1959.
Then, in 1960, they became the St. Louis Cardinals. Now, how many Chicago Cardinals fans do you think went along with the team to St. Louis? Answer: None. I mean, yes, you probably can find a handful of unicorns who stayed with the team — I’m sure reporters WILL find a handful of people when, and if, the Cardinals ever threaten again to end the drought — but realistically, uh, no. Chicago fans don’t become fans of St. Louis teams and vice versa. I know a Cardinals fan, an empathetic and wonderful soul who LIVES for baseball; she did not watch one inning of the World Series this year. That’s how upset she was that the Cubs were on the brink of finally winning.
“OK,” I have told her many times, “I get it, I do. You despise the Cubs, but don’t you think that, being the kind-hearted person that you are, maybe after 100-plus years you could endure one Chicago Cubs championship?”
She smiled and pretended to think about it. “No,” she said.
Anyway, that was only the first move. After 28 doomed seasons — the St. Louis Cardinals only made the playoffs three times (once in a strike season) and lost all three playoff games — the Cardinals moved again, of course, to Phoenix.
Now, ask yourself again: How many Cardinals fans made the jump to Phoenix?
Answer: Only those St. Louisans old enough to retire there.
So, no, there are no long-sufferers in this one. The Arizona Cardinals have only existed since 1988 (well, technically they were the Phoenix Cardinals for a while) and they’ve had quite a bit of recent success, reaching the NFC Championship Game just last year and making it to the Super Bowl less than a decade ago. Lovable losers? Not a chance. They’re basically the Jacksonville Jaguars but with more success.
So, let’s dispel with the fiction that the Cardinals are now America’s underdog.
If we have to pick a new underdog — and I’m not sure we really do, but maybe we as a nation need one team to refer all loser jokes and non-partisan hope to — I think it’s very obvious who it should be:
The Detroit Lions.
I don’t think it’s even close.
There are two longstanding NFL teams that have not reached a Super Bowl. One is the Lions. The other is the Cleveland Browns. The Browns have their argument for being America’s underdog. They’ve had heartbreak. They’ve been yanked away from the city that loved them. For the last 17 years, they have been the very essence of atrocious.
I still think the Lions are the right choice.
One, I think people have tired of the Cleveland underdog thing. We as Clevelanders had that for a half-century, but now the Cavaliers are champions and the Indians just played one of the greatest World Series Games 7s ever; our cup runneth over.
Anyway, while the Browns have not won a championship since 1964, which is a ridiculously long time in football, the Lions have not won a championship since 1957 (when, coincidentally, the team of Tobin Rote and Hopalong Cassady and John Henry Johnson pounded the Browns). Cleveland went to three AFC Championship Games in the 1980s and while all three ended badly, the Lions had losing records all three of those years.
The Browns have won six playoff games since the Super Bowl began.
The Lions have won ONE.
That one victory in 1991 — a 38-6 victory over an ascending but not-quite-ready Dallas Cowboys team — put the Lions in their one and only NFC Championship Game. They never led. Their star, Barry Sanders, gained 44 yards. Quarterback Erik Kramer threw an interception and fumbled on the Lions’ first two possessions and later was replaced by Andre Ware, who threw a pick-six to Darrell Green on his first pass. They lost 41-10. That is the high moment of the Detroit Lions in the Super Bowl Era.
The Lions have not won a division title in 23 years. Lions fans have the 0-16 season. They hired Matt Millen, whose team lost the first 12 games of his tenure and then lost all 16 games in the year he was fired. And so on. As a lifelong Browns fan, I have intimate knowledge of every terrible decision, comedic loss and heartbreaking moment of their history. But even as a non-Lions fan, I can name a whole bunch of Detroit pratfalls.
They once had quarterback Dan Orlovsky roll out and voluntarily (and quite nonchalantly) run out of his own end zone for a safety. The Lions lost by two, of course.
They once lost a playoff game against Dallas because the referees called an obvious pass interference penalty on the Cowboys’ Anthony Hitchens, announced it, and then, with no explanation or logic, just nullified the call. It was and is stupefying. Then the Lions, being the Lions, decided not to go for it on fourth and one, their punt went TEN YARDS and the Cowboys drove down the field and won.
(The NFL would also concede later that they totally missed a holding penalty on the Cowboys on their fourth-down conversion on that drive).
The Lions once had a coach, Marty Mornhinweg, who — back when overtime really was sudden death — decided to KICK OFF in overtime. The thankful Bears happily drove down the field and kicked the game-winning field goal.
They once lost a playoff game when one of the greatest kickers in NFL history, Eddie Murray, missed a 43-yard field goal.
And they once lost a regular-season game on a missed extra point.
In one of the Lions’ heartbreaking losses, referees ruled Calvin Johnson did not catch a pass he so obviously did catch, leading to a whole new rule everyone would call “The Calvin Johnson Rule,” a rule that so confused everyone that it threatened to turn the entire world theoretical.
Another time they lost after Calvin Johnson had the ball knocked out of his hands at the one-yard line as he was going in for the game-winning score.
Detroit fans could give you a lot more of this. There are a lot of fans these days who have endured a lifetime of pain. They could make impassioned and convincing arguments that their team deserves to be America’s new underdog. Buffalo Bills fans. San Diego Chargers fans. Los Angeles Clippers fans. Milwaukee Brewers fans. Certainly Toronto Maple Leafs fans if you want to go into Canada. The list goes on. But I think two things are clear:
1. Detroit Lions fans probably have you beat.
2. Life ain’t that bad as an Arizona Cardinals fan … except for the traffic.