The Arizona Cardinals are the oldest NFL team. Yet even with a history dating back to 1898, the Cards haven’t won a single Super Bowl. This isn’t to say the team has had no success during its extremely long tenure. In fact, the organization has won quite a few crucial games over the years.
Let’s dive into the story of the Cardinals before the “Arizona” part came in, their winding three-city history, and the last time they came close to winning it all.
The Cardinals’ pre-NFL origin story
The Cardinals’ story starts before the days of the NFL itself. The team formed as the Morgan Athletic Club in the Chicago area back in 1898. They inherited used maroon uniforms from the nearby University of Chicago athletics program, which founder Chris O’Brien dubbed “Cardinal red.”
This inspired their re-brand as the Racine Street Cardinals. The team built up to pro-caliber play and joined the NFL precursor, the American Professional Football Association, in 1920.
Unfortunately, another team called the Tigers wanted territory rights to Chicago. The two teams decided to settle things the old-fashioned way: a single game — winner gets the territory. The Racine Street Cardinals became the Chicago Cardinals after defeating the Tigers 6-0.
While the Decatur Staleys eventually became the Chicago Bears, who continue to represent Chicago to this day, for a quarter-century the area was all Cardinals. The Chicago Cardinals began with little success on the field. Fortunately, this changed in 1925.
The Cardinals’ biggest wins of the pre-Super Bowl era
The Cards developed a reputation as one of the weaker teams in the fledgling NFL. But the second half of the 1920s changed this narrative.
In 1925, the Cardinals finally ran their way through the league, culminating in winning the NFL Championship against a team called the Pottsville Maroons. Except, according to some at the time, they might not have deserved it.
The Maroons had the best record that year, but an obscure violation over an unauthorized exhibition game reshuffled the chairs. Otherwise, they likely wouldn’t have faced the Cardinals in the big game at all.
The Cardinals’ next few seasons were defined by this championship-winning team having something to prove. Their biggest mark on the NFL was against the Chicago Bears in 1926. Running back Ernie Nevers scored all 40 of the Cards’ points, well ahead of Chicago’s paltry six. It’s a single-player record yet to be topped to this day.
The Cardinals’ second championship came in 1947. They won 28-21 in a famously exciting game where the Philadelphia Eagles nearly mounted a comeback in the second half. It remains the Cardinals’ final championship title.
The Cardinals’ heartbreaking 2008 Super Bowl loss
The Cards’ history after this win is more about changing locations than winning games. In 1960, long overshadowed by the Bears, the Cardinals moved to a city that already had a Cardinals team, St. Louis. They remained there, playing mostly unremarkable football, until moving to Phoenix, Arizona in 1988.
Yet another move, this time to a new Glendale, Arizona stadium in 2006, finally coincided with major success. This version of the Arizona Cardinals won division titles, culminating in a tense Super Bowl appearance in 2008.
They found themselves on the opposite end of what they did to the Eagles all those years ago. The Pittsburgh Steelers went in hard, scoring first and dominating the first quarter. The Cards brought themselves within striking distance of a win by the final minutes of the first half.
Then disaster struck. Steelers linebacker James Harrison intercepted a pass and returned it for a 100-yard touchdown. The ensuing back-and-forth wasn’t enough to make up for that one terrible moment. The Cardinals, the oldest active team in the NFL, lost their best chance at a Super Bowl win to date.
Their championship drought is now at 70 consecutive seasons, the longest in American pro sports. Let’s hope this changes soon.