The Story Behind The Curse Of The Arizona Cardinals

Sometimes, a team could go without a championship for so long that urban myths pop up about the franchise allegedly being cursed. The Chicago Cubs immediately come to mind, given how they went 108 years without winning a World Series, and so do the Boston Red Sox, whose 86-year title drought was blamed on their decision to sell Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Heck, all of Philadelphia's major sports teams were supposedly cursed for over two decades after it was agreed that One Liberty Place would surpass the height of the William Penn statue atop City Hall.

Most of the curses mentioned above involve baseball teams, and it's easy to understand why, as Major League Baseball has been around for well over a century. But what about the NFL, which has also been in existence for more than 100 years? One need look no further than the Arizona Cardinals, a team that has the third-worst winning percentage in NFL history (via The New York Times), with only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Jacksonville Jaguars performing worse among the league's active teams. They have also gone 75 years without a title as of this writing, marking the longest ongoing championship dry spell in major U.S. sports. Similar to the Cubs and the Red Sox, the Cards have been affected by a purported curse for quite some time, and it all dates back to the mid-1920s, back when they were based in the Windy City.

1925: The disputed NFL championship

Originally, the Arizona Cardinals were known as the Chicago Cardinals (1921 team photo above), and they had a 9-1-1 record at the time they faced the 9-2 Pottsville Maroons on December 6, 1925. The Cardinals were hosting the Maroons that day, and as the nascent NFL seemingly played fast and loose with the rules for championship qualification, their matchup was considered a title game. That, despite the fact the Cardinals had two more games on their schedule.

Fielding a combination of former college stars and coal miners hoping to augment their income, the Pennsylvania-based Maroons were, according to the New York Times, one of the first NFL teams that held regular practice sessions. That likely came in handy as they defeated the Cardinals on their home field, winning 21-7 and, as it seemed, bagging the 1925 NFL championship. This was followed by an exhibition game against a team of college all-stars, which Pottsville won, 9-7 — the New York Times described this win as important in helping "legitimize" the fledgling pro football league.

Unfortunately, this win turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory for the Maroons. The Frankford Yellow Jackets — Philadelphia's first pro football team before the Eagles — launched a protest, claiming that since the game took place in Philly, Pottsville was violating their territorial rights and should not be eligible to win the NFL championship. The league sided with the Yellow Jackets, and after suspending the Maroons, decided to award the title to Chicago. The Cardinals, however, felt it wouldn't be right to take the championship from the team that beat them, and for the next seven years, it wasn't quite sure who the real 1925 NFL champs were.

1932-47: A 'stolen' title, a decade-plus of futility, and the Cards' last championship to date

By 1932, the Pottsville Maroons were no more, having moved to Boston in 1928 and completely folded in 1929. The Chicago Cardinals, on the other hand, were still very much in business, though as their Pro Football Reference team page shows, they were already having some trouble winning games after the weirdness of 1925. They had also just been purchased by the Bidwill family, and along with the change of ownership came the fateful decision to claim the disputed title some seven years after the fact, per ESPN's David Fleming, whose 2007 book "Breaker Boys: The NFL¹s Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship" documented the Maroons' story in depth.

The New York Times noted that it's unclear when exactly the Cardinals became "cursed," but they endured an absolutely brutal stretch from 1932 to 1945 where they had only three winning seasons and suffered through a 29-game losing streak — that is not a typo. Oh, and they were also briefly known as "Card-Pitt" in 1944 because World War II had decimated the Cardinals' and Pittsburgh Steelers' lineups, thus forcing a temporary merger (via Steel City Underground). Sure sounds like a team that's been cursed, but good times were about to come to the Windy City, albeit momentarily.

With a star-studded lineup that included future Hall of Famer Charley Trippi, the 1947 Cardinals won that year's NFL championship, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles, 28-21. One year later, the Cards had an impressive 11-1 regular-season record, but the Eagles had their revenge in the title game with a 7-0 victory.

1963-2003: The Cards refuse to surrender, or even share the 1925 title

The aforementioned David Fleming speculated to The New York Times that the Cardinals' curse "probably started in the early 1960s." This lines up with one important event in this drawn-out saga, one that took place not long after the Cardinals moved to St. Louis. In 1963, Maroons fans issued a petition to the NFL, asking the league to award their long-defunct home team the 1925 title. Team president Charles Bidwill Jr. turned down the request, and it wouldn't be the last time the Cardinals frowned upon such an idea.

During the 2003 NFL owners meeting, then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue supposedly backed a proposal that would have allowed for the ideal compromise, in which the Maroons and the Cardinals (who had since moved to Arizona) would be considered 1925 co-champions. The group that lobbied for this compromise included some big names in the NFL, including Steelers owner Dan Rooney and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, as well as Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Pottsville Mayor John D.W. Reiley. Once again, the Cardinals remained adamant, dousing cold water on the proposal.

So how were the Cardinals doing around that time? According to their Pro Football Reference page, they were right in the middle of an eight-year stretch in which they finished each season with anywhere between three to seven wins. Ouch.

2003-present: Are the Arizona Cardinals still cursed?

A look at the Arizona Cardinals' team history page will show you that the 21st century has mostly been kind to the franchise. Sure, there have been some rough patches and some questionable draft picks — quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Josh Rosen, anyone? But the team has found itself making the postseason more often than it did in previous eras, and it can be argued that the Cards did great by selecting Kyler Murray with the first overall pick of the 2019 draft. All things considered, he has emerged as a legitimate threat who could spark his team with his passing as well as his scrambling ability.

However, one still has to wonder if the Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals curse is still a thing, what with the title drought continuing with the Cards' 34-11 trouncing at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams in their NFC wild-card game on January 17, 2022. If you ask the residents of Pottsville, time hasn't healed those old wounds just yet. "I was pretty excited to hear that the curse still goes on, that they're still running a little scared," Schuylkill County Historical Society executive director Diana Prosymchak told WFMZ ahead of the Cards vs. Rams wild-card game.

Cursed or not, the Cardinals have a talented young quarterback in Murray, and only time will tell if he helps break the so-called curse by finally leading Arizona to a Super Bowl victory.