If you haven't bought Phoenix Cardinals season tickets, you might not want to bother, local sports analysts are gossiping. But local sports fans seem to know that already.

Fans are passing on season tickets despite lower prices and a major advertising campaign to boost sales. According to the Cardinals front office, sales are down 10 percent from last year. Only 32,000 season tickets have been sold so far this year. This is a far cry from the near sellout in 1988 when the Valley lured the team from Saint Louis.

"They were five and eleven last year and there's nothing on the horizon to suggest they're going to do any better," says one depressed jock reporter. "They haven't signed anyone, and they are counting on people who are still limping from last year."

Unfortunately for Phoenix fans, bad news from training camp has been accumulating at a faster pace than touchdowns the Cardinals defense allowed last season.

Going into Sunday's veteran camp opening in Flagstaff, numerous veterans have yet to sign. Names like running backs Stump Mitchell and Ron Wolfley and Pro Bowl punter Rich Camarillo remain question marks. Only six of the Cards' twelve draft choices have signed for the 1990 season and backfield savior Anthony Thompson, the NCAA record-breaking Indiana running back, has not settled on a contract. Rookie coach Joe Bugel says he's concerned but can't do anything about it. "If you sit there and worry, you break out in a rash," Bugel is quoted as saying. "I'm not going to sit down and suck my thumb. I'm going to coach the daylights out of the guys who show up."

In the National Football League, it's commonplace for players to sign up at the last minute, but with a brutal opening schedule, even the coach is questioning whether the team will be ready.

At the Cardinals' request, their first three games will be played in other NFL cities because of the Phoenix heat in the early fall. They will play the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, and New Orleans Saints--all playoff contenders. It would be a tough schedule even for a strong Cardinals team. "Their season could be screwed before Joe Bugel ever coaches a home game," a local sports beat writer laments.

Cardinals executive vice president Joe Rhein isn't quite so glum, but admits it could be a rocky road for the team.

"Zero and three is a possibility," he admits. "It's a tough schedule. Last year, we were in the same situation. We won two games and then went downhill. If we can get through the first three games, we'll have a competitive advantage for the rest of the year."

As for the negative press the Cardinals have received, Rhein shrugs it off saying, "You get negative press. You get some positive press. This is the NFL. You got to expect it."

Meanwhile, ASU's Sun Devils--who share their stadium with the Cardinals--are on the upswing with fans. An athletic department representative says ticket sales are up substantially over last year, when the college football team saw a sales slump attributed to the new pro team in town.


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