When the NFL schedule comes out every April, the first thing most players look for are three words that speak for themselves: Monday Night Football.
MNF broadcasts stand above the rest each and every week. From the ESPN audience to the prime time billing, there’s nothing like being the No. 1 attraction around the league. For a few hours, all eyes are solely on you.
For the Arizona Cardinals, though, maybe that’s not such a good thing.
In the history of the franchise, the Redbirds are 6-14-1 in Monday night games. And, since coming to the Valley in 1988, the team is a measly 1-7.
From a vicious career-ending hit to a late-game goal line stand to a fourth quarter choke job to the infamous post-game tirades of Dennis Green and Derek Anderson, the Cardinals have certainly had an interesting time of it under the bright lights of Monday night.
Monday night, the Cardinals — in the midst of a three-game losing streak — will host the division-leading San Francisco 49ers at University of Phoenix Stadium, with the hopes of adding a new, and hopefully positive, chapter to what has previously looked more like a nightmarish jinx than a 60-minute celebration.
Incidentally, this will not be the teams’ first matchup in prime time. Of the Cardinals’ eight MNF appearances since 1988, five have come against rival San Francisco. They are just 1-4 in those games.
Here’s a look back at the “challenges” the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals have endured on Monday Night Football.
September 12, 1988
In their first-ever home game at Sun Devil Stadium, the fans were treated to a head scratching decision to end the first half.
Trailing 10-7, the Cardinals sent Al Del Greco on to attempt a 41-yard field goal to tie the game. Instead, they ran a fake with holder Cliff Stoudt flipping the ball over his shoulder to Del Greco, a stocky 5-foot-10, 200-pound kicker. Was Del Greco supposed to take it to the house? He didn’t. He was stopped after an 8-yard gain and time ran out in the half.
“(Del Greco) wasn’t kicking that well tonight,” Cardinal coach Gene Stallings said following the game. “He’d already missed one. He wasn’t even kicking real good in practice (before the game).”
Dallas quarterback Steve Pelleur ran for a second half touchdown and Herschel Walker ran for 149 yards and a score in the Cowboys’ win.
Final score: Cowboys 17, Cardinals 14
December 25, 1995 – at Sun Devil Stadium
The Cardinals, coached by Buddy Ryan, limped into this Christmas night affair with the mighty Dallas Cowboys having lost six of their last seven games. Ryan’s job security was pretty much nil, and the team played like it.
Troy Aikman hooked up with Kevin Williams on two first half touchdown passes en route to a 37-13 win at Sun Devil Stadium.
Ryan actually left the sidelines before the final gun and the game ended with him in the tunnel to the Cardinals’ locker room. It was symbolic; he was fired the next day.
If there’s a silver lining, this game was captured on film for the movie Jerry Maguire, and the Cardinals beat the Cowboys on a Rod Tidwell touchdown catch that sent the team to the playoffs. That might help some forget the pain of what really happened that night.
Final Score: Dallas 37, Cardinals 13
September 27, 1999 – at Sun Devil Stadium
Another Monday Night Game, another unfortunate event. This game would be the last in the brilliant career of 49ers quarterback Steve Young. Young was drilled by blitzing cornerback Aeneas Williams with :28 left in the first half. At the time, it was considered a mild concussion, but Young would never play again — he retired at the end of the year.
In the game, the 49ers rushed out to a 17-0 lead, only to see the Cardinals creep back to within seven in the third quarter on a Mario Bates’ touchdown run and a field goal by Chris Jacke.
But Lawrence Phillips, who incidentally missed the blocking assignment on the play where Young was injured, iced it with a 68-yard touchdown run with only 1:42 left to play.
Final Score: San Francisco 24, Cardinals 10
October 16, 2006 – at University of Phoenix Stadium
The Cardinals brought an unsightly 1-4 record with them to their first-ever MNF game in their new home in Glendale. To add to their problems, they were playing the 5-0 Chicago Bears.
But it looked like the Cardinals would finally get over the hump and win a Monday Night game. Rookie quarterback Matt Leinart threw first quarter touchdown passes to Anquan Boldin and Bryant Johnson and Neil Rackers added two field goals as Arizona built a 20-0 lead. The teams traded field goals in the third quarter and the Cardinals led 23-3.
Then it happened. A total collapse. With eight seconds left in the third quarter, Leinart was sacked by defensive end Mark Anderson. The ball came loose, former Saguaro High star Mike Brown scooped it up, and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown, shrinking the Cards’ lead to 23-10.
Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman would throw two interceptions (his third and fourth of the game) in the fourth quarter, but the Cardinals couldn’t capitalize. Following the latter of the two picks, Arizona took over with under six minutes to play. On first down, Edgerrin James fumbled and Charles Tillman scooped up the ball and rumbled 40 yards for a touchdown. On the play, James appeared to have his forward progress stopped, but the officials never blew the play dead. Arizona 23, Chicago 17. Uh-oh.
The ensuing Cardinals’ drive ended at their own 33-yard line, forcing a Scott Player punt to dangerous Chicago return man Devin Hester. Uh-oh again. Hester took the punt back 83 yards for a touchdown, and without scoring a point on offense, the Bears had erased a 20-point deficit and taken a 24-23 lead.
Amazingly, there was time left, and with that time, the Cardinals drove into field goal territory. Almost fittingly, Rackers missed a 40-yard field goal wide left and one of the most improbable comebacks in league history was complete.
And, of course, this followed from Arizona head coach Dennis Green.
Final Score: Chicago 24, Cardinals 23
September 27, 2007 – at Candlestick Park
With new coach Ken Whisenhunt at the helm, the Cardinals traveled to San Francisco to open their 2007 campaign, and once again disappointment followed.
Arnaz Battle scored on a one-yard touchdown run with just :22 to go as the 49ers won 20-17. It was Battle’s only carry of the ball game.
The 49ers managed only 194 yards of offense in the game, but 86 of them came on the last touchdown drive
Final Score: San Francisco 20, Cardinals 17
November 10, 2008 – at University of Phoenix Stadium
Kurt Warner threw for 328 yards and three touchdowns, two to Anquan Boldin, and the Cardinals’ defense stopped 49ers fullback Michael Robinson on a third and goal at the one-yard line as time expired, and finally Arizona won a Monday Night Football game.
On the final play, Frank Gore, who had run for 99 yards on 23 carries, was split out as a wide receiver.
The win pushed the Cardinals’ record to 6-3 as they were on the way to the divisional title and their first-ever Super Bowl appearance.
Final Score: Cardinals 29, 49ers 24
December 14, 2009 – at Candlestick Park
On the Cardinals’ fourth play from scrimmage, Tim Hightower fumbled and it was recovered by San Francisco’s Dre Bly. That would set the tone for the rest of the evening.
Frank Gore ran for 167 yards and a touchdown and Alex Smith threw two TD passes while the Cardinals committed seven turnovers in an ugly 24-9 loss. In all, Arizona lost five fumbles with Kurt Warner, Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Anquan Boldin getting into the act.
Final Score: San Francisco 24, Cardinals 9
November 29, 2010 – at University of Phoenix Stadium
Frank Gore carried just five times for 52 yards before breaking his hip. But without him, the 49ers’ running game didn’t miss a beat. Brian Westbrook, who hadn’t had a 100-yard rushing game in two seasons, ran for 136 yards and a touchdown in the 49ers’ win.
It had been four years since Dennis Green’s postgame meltdown, so Cardinals’ quarterback Derek Anderson got into the mix. Anderson was asked about being caught smiling by ESPN’s cameras on the sideline during the loss. Here was his epic response.
Final Score: San Francisco 27, Cardinals 6