Negative energy dominates the Valley. Transplanted fans are more eager to criticize local teams than cheer for local teams. Most of Arizona’s professional sports franchises make it far too easy to keep our emotional distance, prompting too many residents to remain loyal to teams from back home.
That’s why the 2019 Cardinals are off to a good start.
Talk to some of the players, and you’ll hear great things about Kyler Murray. Veterans have complimented his attitude and his leadership. Wide receiver Kevin White said the rookie quarterback approaches his offensive teammates after practice, eager to reconcile the plays that went wrong. He’ll ask receivers what he can do better next time in terms of ball placement.
“It is next-level stuff,” White said.
Meanwhile, there are no complaints about new head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who arrived in the NFL under heavy clouds of suspicion.
Many respected NFL types have raved about Kingsbury’s football acumen and tactical brilliance, ranging from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to Rams head coach Sean McVay. But Kingsbury has never coached a down in the NFL and is coming off a failed tenure in college. By old-school standards, he has done nothing to earn one of the 32 most coveted, glamorous, high-paying jobs in the NFL.
One player described him as “self-aware,” revealing Kingsbury’s reluctance to feign omnipotence or act like something he’s not. He’s smarter than that. And if he fails, it won’t be due to hubris.
Still, there is great pressure on Coach Bro to light up the NFL, something only a handful of tacticians have ever done consistently well. Kingsbury knows he must produce an electrifying offense, something that looks dramatically different than the conventional stuff we see on any given Sunday. Otherwise, what’s the point of his hire?
That’s hard enough. Now consider all the opposing coaches who want to stick it to Kingsbury and the Cardinals for defying tradition and conventional wisdom, a list that starts with Saints head coach Sean Payton.
Kingsbury understands all of this. He puts in long hours, speaking to a man who believes in film study, the grind and the powers of innovation.
McVay said Kingsbury is riveted by the chess game, the X’s and O’s and plays scribbled on the back of bar napkins. That would suggest he’s spent countless hours scheming up wrinkles, assimilating his version of the Air Raid offense into the constructs of professional football.
Yet the Cardinals’ newest head coach is giving few clues and zero details about what’s to come. Some think it’s because Arizona wants to surprise the Lions in Week One, which is nonsense and a long way to go to beat a historically bad opponent.
Truth is, the Cardinals have learned how excessive optimism cuts both ways, a lesson they absorbed the hard way under the departed Steve Wilks. They know their current burden of proof cannot be satisfied now with reckless chatter, when football players are practicing in shorts.
Remember, it was only last season when players and executives raved about the new regime, and how it would button up all the loose ends that had sprouted under Bruce Arians. Larry Fitzgerald was so astounded by predictions of a five-win season that he implored Cardinals fans to rush to Las Vegas and bet the over.
They were wrong. We were wrong. The national experts were right. Moving forward, the only appropriate response is deeds and actions, not words.
That’s especially true in Arizona, where fans are notoriously fickle and mean-spirited. Whenever a local team disappoints or underachieves, putting a collective foot in its mouth, that team feels the wrath of Arizona residents who are constantly hedging their bets, looking for reasons not invest in Arizona teams.
Arizona teams that consistently fail, pushing transient fans back to their roots and their long-held loyalties, inflating the value of nostalgia and diminishing the power of solidarity, where the right team and the right community can form an alliance that transcends sports.
That must change if the Valley ever wants to become a true sports mecca. And the 2019 Cardinals are a good place to start.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.