Empty farewell - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Empty farewell

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Posted: Saturday, December 24, 2005 1:24 am | Updated: 8:42 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Eighteen seasons. One hundred and forty-two games. (Mexico City doesn’t count). Sixty wins. Eighty-two losses. Zero playoff games. Hundreds of thousands of empty seats. Not quite as many fond memories. The Cardinals will play their 143rd and final game at Sun Devil Stadium today.

It won’t be an emotional goodbye. Arizona has been trying to move out ever since it moved in.

But even if Sun Devil Stadium hasn’t been home sweet home — or, as the Cardinals would have preferred, dome sweet dome — its narrow concourses, metal bleachers and cramped locker rooms are a treasure trove of stories, statistics and memories.

So sit back, relax and take a trip through time.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll shake your head in bewilderment. These are the Cardinals, after all.

Ten things we’ll never see again at Sun Devil Stadium

1. The Super Bowl

2. The majority of fans cheering for the visiting team

3. Scalpers counting their losses

4. Bill Bidwill

5. Cleveland Browns fans wearing milk bones and barking at the concession


6. Cardinals painted over Sun Devils in the end zone

7. 45,000 empty seats

8. Drunken Oakland Raider fans

9. NFL cheerleaders

10. Big Red

Top five Cardinal moments at Sun Devil Stadium

1. Chris Jacke’s game-winning field goal against San Diego in 1998 vaults Cardinals into playoffs: Bill Bidwill leaped for joy on the sidelines. Thousands of fans stormed onto the field. Arizona was in the postseason for the first time in a non-strike year since 1975.

2. Cardinals remember Pat Tillman: Sixteen days after his death, under a bright, warm sky, the Valley honored its fallen soldier. Said former Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis: "It is our duty to keep his spirit alive in our world."

3. Phoenix Cardinals make their debut: The Cardinals lost, 17-14, to the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 12, 1988, and the game will forever be remembered for Al Del Greco’s fake field goal attempt. But the NFL was here to stay.

4. Cardinals rally from 23-0 deficit to beat San Francisco 49ers, 24-23, in 1988: This couldn’t happen, could it? Against the eventual Super Bowl champions? But after linebacker E.J. Junior stopped Steve Young just inches short of a first down, Neil Lomax led the Cardinals downfield and hit Roy Green for the gamewinning touchdown with nine seconds left.

5. Josh McCown and Nate Poole break Vikings’ hearts: Final game of the 2003 season. Fourth down at the 28-yard line. Four seconds left. McCown rolls right, finds Poole in the back of the end zone and Minnesota is knocked out of the playoffs.

Bottom five Cardinal moments at Sun Devil Stadium

1. Kansas City quarterback Steve Bono scores on a 76-yard bootleg: You had to be there on Oct. 1, 1995, to believe it. Bono, who was about as fast as Sonny Bono, faked a handoff, rolled right and Buddy Ryan’s vaunted 46 defense appeared to fall off the face of the earth. It was the longest scoring run by a quarterback in NFL history.

2. Buddy Ryan has places to go: Seconds remained in the Cardinals’ 37-13 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 25, 1995, but Ryan had seen enough. He ran into the north tunnel, leaving his players and coaching staff on the field. Ryan was fired the next day.

3. Al Del Greco’s fake field goal attempt: For some reason, coach Gene Stallings thought Del Greco, a scratch golfer but a 25-handicap athlete, could run 42 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half in the Cardinals’ first game at Sun Devil Stadium — a 17-14 loss to Dallas. He got eight yards before the Cowboys smothered him.

4. Josh McCown and Nate Poole break hearts of Cardinals’ fans: Poole’s touchdown crushed the hopes of two teams. Minnesota was out of the playoffs, and Arizona lost the No. 1 overall draft pick. Of course, Eli Manning might have said no to the Cardinals like he did the San Diego Chargers.

5. If they play a football game and no one comes, does it still count? Arizona beat Detroit, 23-20, in overtime in 2002 in a tight if not terribly important game between two bad teams. So why is this on the list, you ask? Because a record-low 21,292 fans showed up to watch it.

Riding into the sunset

These three NFL greats played the final games of their respective careers at Sun Devil Stadium: Steve Young: San Francisco QB, on Sept. 27, 1999 Emmitt Smith: Cardinals RB, on Jan. 2, 2005 (vs. Tampa Bay) Jerry Rice: Denver WR, on Sept. 2, 2005 (preseason)

Top five crowds

73,025: Sept. 19, 1993, Dallas Cowboys 72,439: Nov. 22, 1992, Dallas Cowboys 72,394: Dec. 25, 1995, Dallas Cowboys 71,670: Dec. 27, 1998, San Diego Chargers 71,233: Oct. 28, 1990, Chicago Bears

Bottom five crowds

21,292: Dec. 8, 2002, Detroit Lions 23,127: Sept. 14, 2003, Seattle Seahawks 23,217: Dec. 14, 2003, Carolina Panthers 23,312: Sept. 29, 2002, New York Giants 23,531: Nov. 2, 2003, Cincinnati Bengals


"It was empty. I can remember the first game I played there. I remember walking into the stadium and looking around and thinking we get more people for the spring game at Nebraska than we do for a regular season game here," — Bill Lewis, center, 1990-92

"The one memory I have of Sun Devil Stadium that just seems to typify what I experienced there was the Denver Broncos game (a 37-0 loss in 1989). The Broncos fans had the wave going inside Sun Devil Stadium. I remember it was 37-0 and looking up and seeing the wave going. It was the ultimate glove to the face," — Ron Wolfley, special teams, 1985-1991

"It’s just hard to get up for a game, man, when you go to the game and you see three-quarters of your stadium is empty. Not even half full, man. . . . Getting hyped up and running out into Sun Devil Stadium, man, that’s the worst. The absolute worst." — Michael Pittman, running back, 1998-2001

"I don’t focus on the negative. I never do that. The fans that were there were great fans. They were there every weekend whether it was hot or kind of hot. I loved playing there because that’s where I played in college." — Jake Plummer, quarterback, 1997-2002

"It was the last game of the season, my rookie year, and the playoffs were on the line. . . . We were known as the Cardiac Cards. So Eric Metcalf — one of my idols — returned the kickoff 46 yards (after San Diego scored), and Jake completed a 10-yard pass to Frank Sanders, and then Chris Jacke kicked like a 52-yard field goal to win the game, with no time on the clock. There were 76,000 fans in the stands, and they just rushed the stadium. I got mobbed on the field. It was one of the most unbelievable experiences I’ve had since I’ve been in the league. You really saw the energy, when the fans come out there, like you can get on Saturday afternoon, with Arizona State football." — Corey Chavous, safety, 1998-2001

"What was unique about Sun Devil Stadium was there were more people following the opposing team. We’d play the Cowboys and it was a sea of silver and blue. Play the Broncos and it’d be a sea of orange. When I came back as an Eagle late in my career, it was wonderful to come into Sun Devil Stadium and see a sea of green." — Vai Sikahema, punt returner, 1986-1990

"Let’s see, my memories of Sun Devil Stadium . . . Keep it positive, L.J., keep it positive. We did have some fun times playing there. A lot of times we’d look up in the stands and not see many people, but the fans we did have were loyal." — L.J. Shelton, tackle, 1999-2004


2 p.m. today, Sun Devil Stadium

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