The Fat Boys Stink It Up Against The Chargers

William V. Bidwill seemed lost.
The Phoenix Cardinals' owner strolled forlornly about the shiny new press box at Sun Devil Stadium. He wore an expression of extreme melancholy.

Bidwill's press box sits so high an occasional visitor might think he was looking out the window on a flight into Sky Harbor Airport.

It is eerie. And inside those sealed windows last Sunday, it was quiet as a tomb during the depressing game which Bidwill's Cardinals lost to the San Diego Chargers.

Sportswriters, normally a raucous group of free spirits, spoke to each other only in whispers all afternoon. Instinctively, they knew they were attending a wake. Just one year ago, football fans in Arizona were clamoring to buy Cardinal tickets. They were desert rats. They were toughened to the heat. They didn't care that they were buying the highest- priced seats in all North American sports.

But that's all changed now. They saw last year's Cardinals drop their final five games in a row. They learned how boring a losing team can be. Futility plus 100-degree weather can suddenly make one think a lot about how high-priced the tickets are, too.

So on Sunday, at game time, there were 30,000 empty seats in a facility that seats 74,000. The upper decks on the east side and north end were barely covered with spectators. This was the kind of sparse turnout that made life miserable for Dr. Ted Terrific when he owned the Arizona Wranglers and George Allen was his coach exceeding still one more unlimited expense account.

It was the same kind of crowd that drove out the Tatham family who not only had Frank Kush, the legend, as coach but Doug Williams, the future Super Bowl most valuable player, as quarterback.

Bidwill left St. Louis because his team had to play games in Busch Stadium where some 30,000 seats remained empty.

"It's too cold here," Bidwill used to say. "We should have a domed stadium where the fans can be comfortable." One year out of St. Louis, Bidwill is singing another chorus.

"It's too hot here," he says. "People won't buy seats in the east stands that face into the sun. We need something to cover them." Sunday he was hinting at special promotions. But nothing that will get "out of hand," he quickly added. Bill Bidwill is a cautious man with a buck. The only sensible answer for the National Football League is to allow the Cardinals to play night home games until mid-October.

However, what the fans may actually need is something to cover their eyes. They are being driven away by something much more elemental than searing heat.

It's bad football. Boring football.
And the Cardinals' key trouble is actually simple to define. All they need to do is open their eyes. Read the scales.

Their offensive linemen are too fat. They are overweight to the point where they can't make the necessary athletic moves to block for the running backs. They lack dexterity. They are so encased in suet, they are like knights imprisoned in armor.

They look like a gang of sumo wrestlers imported from Japan. They are built for a tug of war, not for the National Football League. Coach Gene Stallings pronounced the running game would come alive last Sunday. Well, the Cardinal runners accounted for all of 69 yards against one of the worst defensive teams in the league.

That's coming alive?
John Madden, the television commentator, spotted this problem in the Cardinals game with the New York Giants the week before.

"Look at those guys," said Madden, who was coach of the former Oakland Raiders. The camera panned the huge, overlapping midsections of the Cardinal linemen. "These guys may be able to push you forward, but they sure can't go sideways," Madden said.

Here are some examples:
Todd Peat, the left guard, is listed at 294 pounds but must weigh 310.
Derek Kennard, the center, says he weighs 285 but looks closer to the 318 pounds he was when drafted several years ago.

Luis Sharpe, who came into camp late because of a salary dispute, must be close to 300. He was forced to leave the game last Sunday because the heat became too much for him.

They call the Cards' offensive line The Wide Bodies. Is this what is supposed to serve as a role model for physical fitness? Is this part of George Bush's "kinder and gentler America"? The Cardinals could trade tomorrow for a running back as excellent as Roger Craig of the San Francisco 49ers and he wouldn't be able to gain yards behind this motley collection of suet, either.

All losing teams complain about two things: There are too many injuries; the referees are making wrong calls.

The Cardinals' problem isn't so much that they have an unusually high incidence of injuries.

Their biggest problem is that they've somehow managed to acquire--at vast expense--the services of Gary Hogeboom, widely acknowledged to be the most inconsistent quarterback in the league.

It's not surprising they went too long with Neil Lomax. Lomax was, after all, probably the league's best pure passer. But it was to protect Lomax that they brought in all the fat offensive linemen who could remain stationary and protect against a rush.

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