TEMPE, Ariz. — In 1997, the Arizona Cardinals ended a 13-game losing streak to the Dallas Cowboys when Kevin Butler’s 20-yard field goal bounced off the goalpost and through, lifting the home team to a 25-22 overtime win at Sun Devil Stadium.
The fans stormed the field and pulled the aforementioned goalpost out of the ground in celebration before carrying it down Mill Avenue.
It was Week 2 of what would be a four-win season for Arizona.
If you were a Cardinals fan living in Arizona during the 1990s, you were very brave.
Or maybe you were a masochist.
At any rate, anyone who followed the Cardinals during those days could tell you that things did not exactly go too well. A member of the NFC East from the time they moved to Arizona in 1988 until the NFL realigned its divisions in 2002, the Redbirds faced off with the Dallas Cowboys twice per season (and thrice in 1998), with the results rarely going their way.
Dallas held a 20-9 series over that time, a mark that included those 13 consecutive wins for the Silver and Blue during one disastrous stretch for the Cards. The Cowboys were winning Super Bowls while the Cardinals were lucky to win six games. Hell, the first Super Bowl ever hosted by Arizona, Super Bowl XXX, was won by Dallas.
Though most home games at Sun Devil Stadium saw fans dressed up as metal bleachers, you could always count on the Cowboys game to be packed.
“I do have a memory of going to Arizona in the past and there being a lot of Cowboys fans there, but by the same token there were a lot of Arizona fans there, too,” Cowboys coach and former QB Jason Garrett said. “We always felt like that was a tough environment to play in.
“If you think back to the ’90s, I think we had a pretty good record against them, but if you look at those games, every time I went out there it seemed like it was a grinder-type game for us.”
The average score in the games the coach is talking about was Dallas 22.57, Arizona 16.57, so he’s not wrong. However, what sticks in the mind of most Cardinals fans is just how much Silver and Blue they had to suffer through in those games. Yes, it made the victories that much sweeter, but you could not help but notice how badly the hometown fans were outnumbered.
“I just remember an overwhelming amount of Cowboys fans,” Cardinals center Lyle Sendlein, who grew up in the Valley (though did not grow up a Cardinals fan), said. “Right off the bat, I think of ’98 and the playoffs. They used to be in the same division, so it’s a big game for people who know about the history.”
Oh, the ’98 playoffs.
That season the Cardinals really dealt their “rivals” a blow with a 20-7 stomping of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin in the Wild Card Round at Texas Stadium. The Cowboys had won the two regular season meetings between the teams (the second one in controversial fashion), but the Cards took the game that really mattered.
In fact, since Butler’s boot in ’97, the series has been more balanced, with the teams splitting their last 18 meetings, though Arizona has not won in Dallas since that playoff game. The Cardinals have won the last three and clearly no longer plays the nail to the Cowboys’ hammer.
Even though the teams no longer play in the same division and, thus, do not face off twice every season, the memories are still very fresh for many in the Valley.
But Sunday’s tilt between the Cardinals, who are 6-1 and leading the NFC West, and the Cowboys, who are 6-2 and on top of the NFC East, is about much more than that.
“It’s just another game — you can’t make things bigger than they are,” Sendlein said. “It’s a big game. We’re all fighting for standings in the NFC so it’s the type of game you don’t want to nip you in the butt later on down the road.”
Even still, there is no doubt this game has a different feel than most played between these teams. It will be one of the few times in the 87-game history between the organizations where the matchup features two of the conference’s best teams, and thus the playoff implications that come along with it.
It may only be Week 9, but there will be plenty on the line when the teams take the field at AT&T Stadium Sunday for an 11:00 am. kickoff.
“Oh yeah, just in general, it’s two teams with a lot of success,” Sendlein added. “So it will be fun to slug it out.”