They are two organizations reeling from their own bad football, trying desperately to climb from the ranks of the NFL’s weakest teams.
The Arizona Cardinals and San Diego Chargers meet today in one of the least compelling sporting events of the year, a preseason game between two struggling franchises.
The Cardinals have their own messy history, marked mostly with losses. The Chargers, though, may be in worse shape.
No. 1 draft pick Philip Rivers, the quarterback of the future, remains unsigned three weeks into training camp, bad news for a team still trying to live down the time they took another quarterback (Ryan Leaf, 1998) and the time they didn’t (trading away the pick for Michael Vick, 2001). Coach Marty Schottenheimer is likely in his last season, unless the Chargers shock everyone with a big season.
The Cardinals may feel the 1998 playoff run is ancient history, but the Chargers haven’t been to the postseason since 1995, the same year the team last had a winning record.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals hired Dennis Green as coach and have started the slow rebuilding process.
"We understand in order to erode the negative perceptions we have to win," Cardinals vice president Rod Graves said. "While the negative atmosphere from time to time can be a little distracting, most of us have been through it before."
That statement would work for either team tonight.
The Chargers’ worst part of the offseason came at draft time, when prized quarterback Eli Manning went public to say he refused to play for San Diego, basically because he didn’t believe in the organization.
But the Chargers also have purged their team of veteran starters the past couple of seasons — linebacker Junior Seau, safety Rodney Harrison, defensive end Marcellus Wiley — who carried with them a leadership quality that is still lacking.
At least the Chargers still have star running back LaDanian Tomlinson, who decided to sign a contract extension instead of pulling a Manning.
"In my opinion, that is what losers do," Tomlinson said. "They bail out on a team. (They say), ‘So this team is not winning, it’s not going anywhere, I got to get out of here.’ I’ve never been that way so why change now?"
The Cardinals, hoping to leave the Chargers at the bottom of the league as Green tries to revive the franchise, have already hit multiple speed bumps this preseason, mostly with injuries. The offense is ineffective without wideouts Anquan Boldin, Bryant Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald and doesn’t look like it will get better anytime soon.
"I don’t know if you have the Colts take out their top three receivers, that they would be as effective and Peyton Manning would (still) be MVP," Green said. "I seriously doubt that."
And if both teams struggle again in 2004, it’s likely another version of this lesser preseason matchup will be played again in 2005.
"The name Dennis Green is not going to change perceptions," Graves said. "The name Emmitt Smith is not going to change perceptions. Winning is really the only thing, and we are focused on that."