THE CARDINALS, MODELS OF CONSISTENCY

Joe Bugel is too easy a target. He is the quintessential Bozo. He is a caricature of the simpleminded football coach.

Unfortunately for Bugel, he was the man who was forced to face the television cameras last Sunday. It was Bugel's job to explain why the Phoenix Cardinals had dropped yet another game.

This time, however, they had been beaten by the New England Patriots, regarded as the worst team in all of professional football.

Certainly, even for the Cardinals, something of a low point had been reached.
"We really stunk out there today," Bugel said. "We had a lot of people just standing around." Bugel's face adopted a look of great sorrow.

"We got some things that are broke, and we gotta fix them." Even the few diehard Cardinals fans realized that. One fuming fan called in to a radio sports talk show and growled: "I'm tired of being embarrassed at work defending these guys. I'm gonna go home and burn every Cardinal souvenir I have." It seems pointless at this late date to list the many sins of the Cardinals. Those who are deeply interested in this kind of thing already know what went wrong.

It is sufficient to say one thing. The Cardinals are not only a bad football team--they are also an incredibly boring team to watch. If every club in the National Football League played like the Cardinals, the league would not have a television contract.

The cause of the problem is simple: Bill Bidwill, the Owner. The Cardinals' front office has once again screwed up any chance this football team had of becoming an efficiently operating machine.

Bidwill the Owner fired Gene Stallings as coach because Stallings couldn't win with the Cardinals' front office, and now Stallings has gone on to win a national title at Alabama.

The Cardinals' front office, made up of Bidwill the Owner's lackeys, has no skill at either picking players or signing them after picking them. The only skill the front office seems to have is the ability to alienate every player on the roster.

Consequently, the Cardinals are a team without loyalty. Not one of the players really cares about winning. Would you be willing to break a leg for Bidwill the Owner?

The only concern the players have is their paychecks. This is evident in their every move out there on the field.

The only one on the sidelines who gives a damn about winning is Bugel, who sees his own paycheck on the line. At this point, Bugel is a pathetic, haunted figure.

Last Sunday, even Bugel admitted his players aren't putting out for him.
"From now on, we're gonna line up the people who wanna play," Bugel said ominously. "We don't need spectators on the field." Yet Bugel is the same pumped-up blowhard who roared into town as the new coach several years ago, promising a rejuvenated Cardinals team.

"Let's put on our helmets and go to war," Bugel shouted for the television cameras. "We're going to show Phoenix some smash-mouth football." I was intrigued by Bugel's characterization of the brand of ball he would teach as "smash-mouth" football. I had no real idea what that meant.

But there was a violent, romantic ring to it. I was prepared to be enthralled.
So was Bidwill the Owner. Bugel proved perfect for him. Bugel was a boisterous type, willing to stand out in front of the carnival tent and make ridiculous, almost farcical promises.

Bidwill the Owner is an old hand at discarding coaches. When things went downhill, the heat would be directed at Bugel. It would be a simple thing to fire Bugel and hire another lackey to cool the fires.

No one would be coming after Bidwill, demanding to know why he had such a lousy and uninteresting team. No one would start asking embarrassing questions as to why Bidwill has himself on the payroll for $1.3 million per year.

On Sundays, Bidwill would be free to move about the press box and the team dressing room after the games without being attacked by writers demanding that he explain the futility of the franchise.

One Sunday in 1991, Bugel realized what he was up against.
"This is awful," he said. "There's no fun unless your team wins at least once in a while."
Then, last year, in the midst of another dismal season, Bugel said:
"This is the lowest I've seen our football team." But that was before last Sunday's loss to the Patriots. The game was blacked out locally on television. Thousands of season ticketholders opted to stay home. Sun Devil Stadium had lots of empty seats.

But no matter how many abysmal performances the Cardinals deliver, Bidwill the Owner is still free to turn up wearing his tight-fitting Brooks Brothers outfits and his aloof smile.

For Bidwill the Owner, things couldn't be better.

 
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