Cardinals’ MNF history features some notable and weird moments
The Arizona Cardinals will make their 14th appearance on Monday Night Football when they take on the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
It’s also the first time the Cardinals will suit up for a Monday night tilt since 2017, when they lost to the Cowboys 28-17 in Week 3 at State Farm Stadium.
Although they’ve posted a meager 4-9 record on Monday Night Football since 1988, the Cardinals have provided some memorable (and some forgettable) moments on the national stage.
The then-Phoenix Cardinals’ first-ever regular season home game was a Monday night affair. In Week 2 of the 1988 season, America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys traveled west to face the Cardinals of head coach Gene Stallings.
The game featured some weirdness.
Despite being the first NFL game for a Valley team, 5,036 tickets went unused. In fact, a television station had to buy up the last 3,000 seats to satisfy the NFL’s blackout rule and ensure the game was shown in the Phoenix area.
It was 98 degrees at kickoff.
And it featured one of the weirdest play calls you’ll ever want to see.
With Dallas leading 10-7, the Cardinals had the ball at the Cowboys’ 24-yard line with three seconds left in the first half. Stallings called for the field goal team to take the field, but instead of trying a 42-yard attempt, holder Cliff Stoudt pulled off a fake, flipping the ball over his shoulder to kicker Al Del Greco, who had earlier missed a 40-yard attempt. Basically, Stallings was counting on the 5-foot-10, 200-pound kicker to outrun everyone 32 yards (where Del Greco took the pitch) to the end zone.
It didn’t happen. Del Greco, with Joe Bostic as his lead blocker made it to the 16, before he was rudely crushed by Dallas’ Ron Burton and Robert Williams.
“What,” ABC play-by-play man Al Michaels exclaimed at the conclusion of the play. “What was that,” echoed Dan Dierdorf, a Cardinals legend who served as one of Michaels’ two color commentators.
Stallings claimed Del Greco, in addition to his miss, “wasn’t kicking well before the game.”
“I’m afraid that’s where the players go to the locker room looking over their shoulders and saying ‘who the heck called that play,'” Dierdorf added.
So, who called it?
“Blame me,” owner Bill Bidwill said, according to a newspaper article the next day. “I get blamed for everything anyway.”
Wouldn’t you know it? The Cardinals lost by three, 17-14. Welcome to the Valley.
Here is a fantastic video breakdown of the play, which the producer of the video calls “the WORST fake field goal ever.”
It would be seven more years until the Monday Night Football crew would head back to the desert.
Same two teams, but this time, a Christmas night affair.
There’s an alternate version of this game — the one depicted in the 1996 film Jerry Maguire, in which contract-hungry Cardinals receiver Rod Tidwell make an acrobatic, last-second catch to beat the Cowboys only then to “awaken from being knocked cold” and then uncork a TD celebration that in 2020, would draw an immediate lifetime suspension. Tidwell goes viral before it was a thing, and he and Maguire, his agent, cash in on a gigantic four-year, $11.2 million deal (hey, it was 24 years ago).
The reality of this game was far different, and way uglier.
The Cowboys strutted into town with an 11-4 record. The Cardinals, 4-11. Just two years into his tenure, Arizona head coach Buddy Ryan was on thin ice.
Dallas jumped all over the Cardinals, exploding to a 24-0 lead on their way to a 37-13 win. Receiver Kevin Williams had nine catches for 203 yards and two touchdowns and the Cowboys’ defense held the Cardinals to 285 yards, no offensive touchdowns, forced three turnovers and sacked Arizona quarterback Dave Krieg three times.
In the late stages of the game, the Cardinals continuously threw the ball to fullback Larry Centers and burned timeouts to give him more opportunities to pad his impressive stats. After a timeout was called with one second left in the fourth quarter, Ryan left the field, running into the tunnel alongside several security team members.
That was the last image of Ryan as the Cardinals’ head coach. He was fired the next day with two years remaining on his contract.
“Four and 12 isn’t good enough,” Bidwill said after the firing.
In the late stages of the 1995 Christmas Monday Night Football loss to Dallas, the broadcast crew of Michaels, Dierdorf and Frank Gifford discussed the future of the Cardinals’ franchise.
Bidwill wanted a new domed stadium, they said, but was having trouble getting anyone to get involved politically. They spoke of Bidwill’s frustration at being promised a new facility when he agreed to move the team to the Valley in 1988, and seven years later, there was still no movement. They speculated that the Cardinals could move again.
Bidwill and his son, Michael, finally did get that stadium, but had to wait 11 more years for it to happen.
In Week 6 of the 2006 season, the Cardinals welcomed Monday Night Football and the Chicago Bears to what was the newly-constructed University of Phoenix Stadium. What transpired on that October night stands as one of the most improbable comebacks in National Football League history.
Behind rookie quarterback Matt Leinart and a stout defense, the Cardinals surprised the undefeated Bears, jumping out to a 20-point lead. Leinart threw touchdown passes to Bryant Johnson and Anquan Boldin in the first quarter. Kicker Neil Rackers booted two field goals in the second for the halftime margin.
Robbie Gould put Chicago on the board with a 23-yard field goal in the third, but Rackers answered with another of his own, this one from 29 yards, and the Cardinals led 23-3. At that point of the game the Bears had done nothing on offense. Outside of the field goal drive, Chicago had 50 yards and had turned the ball over four times. Game over, right?
Things got very interesting very quickly.
In the closing seconds of the third quarter, the Cardinals faced a 2nd-and-10 from their own 15. Leinart dropped to pass and was blind-sided by rookie defensive end Mark Anderson. The ball came loose and was picked up by Mike Brown, who waltzed into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown.
The fourth quarter started with three straight drives that ended in punts. With 9:25 to go in the game, Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman threw his third interception (his fifth turnover) to Arizona defensive lineman Darnell Dockett at the Cardinals’ 26-yard line. Arizona punted back to Chicago and with time becoming a factor (7:20 remaining), the Bears started another drive. With under six minutes to play, Grossman threw another interception — this one to Robert Griffith at the Arizona 41. That had to be the back-breaker, right?
On second down, Edgerrin James fumbled and Charles Tillman picked up the rock and raced 40 yards into the end zone as exactly 5:00 showed on the game clock.
Arizona was still in control, but needed a strong drive to put the game away. They didn’t get one. After getting one first down, the Cardinals got a negative run by James and two Leinart incompletions and had to punt. Scott Player unleashed on a 50-yard punt right down the middle of the field. Rookie Devin Hester, who would become one of the most devastating return men the game has ever seen, caught the ball at the 17, and then ran untouched to the end zone for an 83-yard touchdown.
The Cardinals still had time. Leinart drove them from the 38 all the way to the Bears’ 23, where the drive stalled. Rackers trotted on to the field with :52 left, facing a very manageable 40-yard attempt to erase a nightmarish second-half collapse. At that point of the season, Rackers had been perfect on attempts inside 50 yards, but in keeping with the night’s theme, he missed, wide left.
The Bears completed the comeback, winning 24-23, without scoring an offensive touchdown in the game. They won the game despite committing six turnovers (including two in the fourth quarter) and being minus-4 in that category. Since the beginning of the 2006 season, coinciding with the opening of State Farm Stadium, NFL teams have compiled a 7-271-1 record while being minus-4 or worse in turnovers.
And, who could forget this?
November 29, 2010
Last bad one, I promise.
Dennis Green isn’t the only former Cardinal to provide a postgame rant. Just four years after Green’s viral offering, Arizona quarterback Derek Anderson gave the world his version.
During the course of a blowout at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers, ESPN cameras caught Anderson on the Cardinals’ sideline, apparently having a lighthearted conversation with offensive lineman Deuce Lutui. Jon Gruden, then a color commentator for the network, admonished Anderson.
“You know, one of the things that I don’t like to see walking down on these sidelines, is the demeanor sometimes of your players on the bench when they’re playing bad,” Gruden said. “When you’re down 18 points and you’ve had five first downs, I want it to bother you. I want it to really bother all of us. Not that it doesn’t bother D.A. there, but I don’t even want his teammates to see that, nor do I want any of the fans to see that.”
That’s an interesting thought, because the footage was captured and played back specifically so Gruden could make that point to the fans, but that’s neither here nor there.
The Cardinals went on to lose the game 27-6 and their record dropped to 3-8 on the season. It was ugly. The Cardinals finished with eight first downs. Their 13 yards rushing set a new franchise low for a single game since moving to Arizona in 1988, and would incidentally be broken two years later in a 24-3 Monday night loss to (you guessed it) the 49ers.
Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic asked Anderson about the cameras capturing him and Lutui yukking it up, and let’s just say Anderson didn’t like the question.
The game would be Anderson’s penultimate start with the Cardinals. The next week, another slog of an offensive performance sent him to the bench, replaced by John Skelton, who was then replaced by Max Hall in a 19-6 loss to the Rams.
The next year, Anderson was “taking this s8%# seriously” as a backup to rookie Cam Newton in Carolina.
The Arians era
Before Bruce Arians became head coach in 2013, the Cardinals were almost a sure bet to lose on Monday Night Football. Arizona was 1-8 in such games, with the only win coming over San Francisco in the 2008 NFC Championship season.
But under Arians, the Cardinals went 3-1 on the Monday stage, beating the San Diego Chargers in Week 1 of 2014, the Baltimore Ravens in 2014 and the New York Jets in 2016. The winning streak came to an end in Arians’ last year — a Week 3, 28-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in what was the franchise’s last appearance before Monday’s tilt in Arlington.
The 2014 win was a good one. Carson Palmer hit John Brown on a wide receiver screen, and the rookie weaved through Chargers defenders for a 13-yard touchdown with just 2:25 left. The Cardinals defense then dialed up pressure on the Chargers next possession. Facing a 4th-and-2, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers inexplicably took a delay of game penalty, but it was then ruled the Chargers got a timeout before the play clock expired. On the second fourth down, linebacker Larry Foote deflected Rivers’ pass at the line and receiver Keenan Allen couldn’t make the catch on the carom, killing the Chargers’ chances and the Cardinals won 18-17, coming back from 11 points down.
The 2015 win over Baltimore featured Chris Johnson’s 62-yard run on which the entire Baltimore defense thought he was down.
Johnson’s run set up a Chandler Catanzaro field goal and the Cardinals went on to win 26-18.
The 2016 Monday night win over the Jets featured David Johnson at the height of his powers. On his way to a league-leading season total of 2,118 yards from scrimmage, Johnson ran wild on the Jets for 111 yards and three touchdowns including a 58-yarder to open the scoring in the first quarter.
The Cardinals went on to an easy 28-3 win that pushed their record to 3-3 on the year.