Swill Avenue

"Woo-hoo, the Cards are in the playoffs, Jack," yelped the red-nosed gent whose thick, round head sported a white hardhat with a snake glued to its top. He wore an Arizona Cardinals jersey with the number 16 pulled tightly over a belly that looked like it was stuffed with a basketball. The guy waved a bottle of Bud Light in the air and was surrounded by similar-looking men with similar builds drinking identical beers.

"Yeah," cried another whose distorted tone rose straight from his gut, sounding like some primitive mating call, while both of his arms pushed straight into the air like an official touchdown signal. His outward appearance suggested an IQ matching the temperature of his beer. He kept on repeating as if by rote, jerking his head down and up with each syllable, "Yeah, yeah, yeah."

These matronly men were crowded around a table at a bar on Mill Avenue around 7 p.m. on Sunday, December 27. The bar was stuffed with like-minded drunks, ones who normally don't get drunk, but given that day's event, they would take exception, regardless that the next day was a workday. And no wife or girlfriend or mom was going to stop them--not on a day when the almighty Arizona Cardinals made the playoffs, goddamnit. No way.

These guys were oblivious to their surroundings, and they were loud, rude and obnoxious, like sailors on shore leave. They made some people--the bartenders and waitresses, specifically--miserable. They made others, like me, ashamed of our gender.

And most of the men there weren't the frat-house type of loudmouths, either. No, these guys were more pathetic. They are the new breed of Cardinals fans, the ones who arrived at the games, and in the bars, when they heard the Cards were a winning team. These men are middle-aged with dangerous, amateur drinking abilities, and apparently are not afraid to make complete asses of themselves. But don't expect them to be associated with losers.

"I've never seen anything like it," said an employee of Long Wong's, obviously not digging the scene. "We had to throw out a bunch of older guys, middle-aged guys. They were totally out of control. It was weird. I don't remember ever having to do that. This is worse than any college game."

Earlier that day, "The Wild Cards" squeaked past the gimpy 5-11 San Diego Chargers in a manner that was consistent with all the other teams with losing records that the Cards squeaked by this season. Rarely did the Cards win a game by more than three points, and when they did, it was in spite of their mediocre performances. By the end of the season, the 9-7 Cards were still outscored by their opponents.

Really, when you get down to it, it's all about mediocrity.
After the game, Mill Avenue was overrun with a portion of the 70,000-plus neophyte Arizona Cardinals fans whose barbaric, mawkish behavior was only surpassed by their appearances, which included the torturing of the red and white Cardinals colors. And many of the hundreds, if not thousands, terrorizing Mill that evening had been drinking all day.

Some of these sycophants had perfect Arizona Cardinal logos painted on their faces, done with such detail and care that I had to wonder about the craftsmanship, the time and energy. Don't they have anything better to do? Others had temporary tattoos of Cardinals insignia carefully placed in odd locations on their bodies--on their lower backs, on their bloated and visible bellies, on their fingers or on the sides of their heads in clearings of shaved hair. And I saw one guy tottering along Mill with "Jake" in capital letters on his forehead like a brand, and the number 16 on each of his cheeks; and with his bulging eyes, burping mouth and his bi-level hairdo, he fit right in.

And we live in a place where this is acceptable behavior. Where a guy like Jake Plummer--a man with a history of sexual misconduct, and one who tosses more interceptions than touchdowns--is regarded as the new messiah. We live in a meritocracy where a genetically blessed guy like Jake Plummer can be rewarded with $15 million for signing his name on a contract. Do we really need Jake Plummer? If he went away, would our lives change much?

What would happen if the guy who picks up our trash stopped coming around? That would be a problem. But our trash collector doesn't get $15 million. He gets squat.

And what about the local sports press and sportscasters who have taken Cardinals action to superlatively hackneyed extremes since the Cards inched past the .500 mark? What's their story? What's in it for them? Vicarious glory, perhaps?

Who cares?
By 9 p.m. on Mill Avenue, the fair-weather sports buffs were clearing out from bars like Long Wong's, Ruby Tuesday and the Chicago Bar. All those men, all of those alcohol-lubricated butt-slappers with dubious social skills and fashion sense were finally disappearing, leaving the bar employees to resume their regular duties tending the more mannered customers.

And above Mill Avenue on the hill next to Sun Devil Stadium is a lighted scene of a star guiding the three wise men. And it all shines down on those Cardinals fans making their DUI-troubled drives homeward.

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Brian Smith
Contact: Brian Smith