Flipping The Bird

An Arizona Cardinals fan comes to his senses.

A few seasons back, there was an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer's neighborhood declared itself to be the independent city of New Springfield. After having done so, the people asked Homer what they should do next. He said, "Now, we'll just sit back and wait for an NFL franchise to come a'calling."

Just then, a guy in a suit walks up and says, "Hi, I'm from the Arizona Cardinals," to which Homer shoots back, "Keep on walkin', buddy." His neighbors, obviously relieved at having averted a disaster, say, "Quick thinking there, Homer," and then elect him mayor of the new town.

Such is the derision with which that abominable organization is seen pretty much throughout the country. The NFL is always touting itself as the best-run and most successful sports league in the world. But as long as the Cardinals exist in their present form, they'll be like a giant red pimple on the butt of this beauty. And we Arizonans, proud of the long-term success of the Phoenix Suns and the meteoric ascension of the Diamondbacks to the top of the baseball world, will have to continue to suffer in silence as we await the arrival of a real professional football team.

The story is well known. Phoenix was in line for an NFL expansion franchise. There was already an ownership group in place, headed by NFL legend Bart Starr. They were going to name the team the Arizona Whatevers in honor of the entire state and they had plans to build a privately funded stadium south of Chandler so that Tucsonans could be an important part of the fan base.

But along came Bill Bidwill, who had inherited the Cardinals and had then proceeded to squander a ton of money and virtually all of the good will that the team had built up over the decades in St. Louis. So he started touring the country, pimping his team as though it were a hooker on Miracle Mile.

Suddenly, he came upon Phoenix, which didn't have the common sense to wait for the expansion franchise, and an unholy union was forged. In a way, it was like two hookers selling themselves to each other.

The only time we Tucsonans ever gave a thought to the Cardinals was when the NFL broke its own rules by including Tucson in the Phoenix TV viewing area. A couple times a year, we'd wait all week for a Packers-49ers game, only to find that contractual obligations forced the local affiliate to carry the Cardinals-Jaguars fiasco.

It was only a minor annoyance since nobody down here cared even a little bit. Nobody, that is, except Bob Kurlander.

Do you want to hear something sad? This is sadder than Bambi's mom getting shot, the Wildcats losing to Duke in the 2001 NCAA Finals, and Republicans trying to dance to soul music--all put together. Long-time Tucsonan Bob Kurlander has had Cardinals season tickets season tickets since the team moved to Phoenix. Perhaps even sadder than that: he uses them.

He and his family go up to Phoenix on a Saturday evening, stay in a hotel room, and then go to the games the next day. He's been pumping money into the super-heated Phoenix economy for a decade and a half and what does he have to show for it? "Well, I've had beer spilled on me several times."

Kurlander, who attended Arizona State University on a golf scholarship, says that he has endured 110-degree temperatures, a succession of God-awful teams, completely unwarranted ticket inflation and the ironic double-edged sword of pathetically small crowds made up of an inordinate number of rowdies. Sometimes he'll go up to an ASU game, spend the night and then attend the Cardinals game the next day.

If you believe in reincarnation and karma, this guy had to have been Hitler's Meaner Brother in an earlier life.

Well, Paddy Chayefsky wrote the words for him a quarter-century ago and Bob Kurlander has finally gotten around to saying them. He's mad as hell and he's not going to take it any more. "I'm done," he says. "No more season tickets, no more wasted Sundays."

He swears it has nothing to do with the losing, at which the Cardinals are especially proficient. Since Bidwill moved his team to Phoenix in the late 1980s, every other team in the league (except this year's new team, the Houston Texans) has been to the playoffs. Heck, the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars both reached the playoffs by their third years in the league. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have won a grand total of one playoff game since Harry Truman was president.

His list of gripes is a long one. Rowdy fans, lax security, free-flowing alcohol. This year, he swears that they've reconfigured the seating so that they're trying to squeeze 11 people onto a bench that's made for only eight or nine.

They shouldn't have been playing in Sun Devil Stadium all these years. (A long-debated bond issue was narrowly passed by voters in 2000, but for the past two years, they've been trying to find a Valley suburb that will accept the new stadium.) Because the team is perennially crappy, they never get the plum NFL (Sunday or Monday) night-game slots, so what few fans they have must endure brutal heat on September and October afternoons.

This forces people like Kurlander who have been loyal fans for years to choose to sit far away from the field in hopes of catching some shade from the overhang section. That means that when the weather finally gets decent, it leaves the great seats on the sun side of the field available to the likes of the 30,000 rabid Raiders fans who showed up last Sunday to root for the visiting team.

And now he's had it. "I've got better ways to spend my money and better ways to spend my time."

Good for you. Now, about that ASU sickness...

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