TEMPE, Ariz. – The first meeting between the 49ers and Cardinals was on November 18, 1951, which the Chicago Cardinals won 27-21. Their most recent matchup was on December 30, 2012, which the 49ers won 27-13.
In all, the franchises have met 43 times, with the team from the Bay holding a 26-17 series lead.
When the rivalry officially began is not exactly known, but it probably started sometime around 2002 after the Cardinals moved from the NFC East to the NFC West, thus playing the 49ers twice a season. Since then, the Cardinals have won just eight of 22 games between the teams.
The teams have gone through multiple coaching staffs, players and management figures over that time, but while the faces have changed and the reasons for disdain may be different, the rivalry is still going strong.
“I don’t see why it would change, man,” Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby said. “Why would it change?”
Dansby has been a Cardinal for 12 games between the teams, with six being won by each side. He took a few years off from the feud, but is back now and says nothing has changed.
“The rivalry is always there,” he said. “And that’s what it’s all about, the tradition, the two teams.”
In all fairness, the two teams have been on completely different planes the last few seasons. After winning six of eight from 2005 to 2008, the Cardinals have dropped seven of the last eight matchups, with most of the games not even being close.
As far as some may be concerned, the rivalry has been akin to that between the hammer and the nail. But that matters little to the Cardinals, as Sunday represents another opportunity to claim a big win over a team that has run the division the last few seasons.
“Everybody says it’s just another game, but if you’ve been here for history, it ain’t just another game,” defensive lineman Darnell Dockett said. “It’s one of those games where you’re going to have to put your big boy pads.
“It ain’t going to be no Arena Football; it’s going to be man up and they’re going to test your will. That’s what they do.”
Said linebacker Daryl Washington: “This game’s more personal than anything, and we’ve got to be ready to play. It’s a division game; both teams are 3-2. We’re on the road. We need this game.”
The Cardinals are expecting a physical contest, and if history is any indication, that’s exactly what they’re going to get. The 49ers reached the Super Bowl last season behind the arm and legs of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, but this is still the same smash mouth group that wants to bludgeon its opponent for 60 minutes.
The biggest difference is now one of the men who used to fight for the Cardinals, receiver Anquan Boldin, will be on the other side Sunday.
“That’s going to be different, man, to see him in that uniform in this rivalry,” Dansby said. “It should be fun. He’s a great competitor; we’ve got a lot of great competitors over here, so it should be a good matchup.”
For his part, Boldin said this is “just another game” for him, and that being four years removed from playing in Arizona means this game is not a big deal for him.
“I barely know any of the guys there,” he said.
But while Boldin may not feel any different about this game compared with any other, the Cardinals have been waiting for this one.
“It’s circled, everyone looks forward to it,” center Lyle Sendlein said. “Obviously if you can win a division game on the road, it’s that much better.”