Here are three words you never associated with the Cardinals in the past: Home. Field. Advantage.
Only four times (1994, 1996, 1998, 2004) in 18 seasons at Sun Devil Stadium did Arizona have a winning record at home.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt remembers coming to town as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers and not having to worry about the crowd disrupting his team.
“It was quiet,” Whisenhunt said. “Noise wasn’t an issue.”
It is now.
University of Phoenix Stadium and the 64,000 fans who pack it on Sundays have given the Cardinals an honest-to-goodness home-field advantage.
Arizona is 3-1 at home this year, and all three victories have come against teams with winning records. It suffered its only loss when quarterback Kurt Warner was injured in the first quarter of the Oct. 14 game against Carolina.
“The fans are helping us win games,” team president Michael Bidwill said.
Obviously, the roar of the crowd isn’t the only reason Arizona suddenly has become inhospitable at home. The Cardinals sold out every game last year at University of Phoenix Stadium and were 3-5.
It helps to have a quality coaching staff and motivated players.
But there’s no doubt the energy inside the dome has done wonders for Arizona.
The crowd noise was directly responsible for the Cardinals’ 23-20 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the home opener. Coach Mike Holmgren said a botched exchange between quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and running back Shaun Alexander with less than two minutes left — the Cardinals recovered the fumble, and Neil Rackers kicked the game-winning field goal — was attributed to Alexander not being able to hear Hasselbeck’s audible.
“It was so loud,” Holmgren said.
When’s the last time you heard that about a Cardinals’ crowd?
More tangible evidence:
In 2005, the Cardinals’ final season at Sun Devil Stadium, opponents were whistled for 10 false starts in eight games.
This year, in just four games, Arizona’s foes have been flagged for false starts 12 times.
That’s hardly a coincidence.
“They’re creating such an atmosphere that the opposing offenses aren’t able to concentrate as much as they can and they’re making mistakes,” Bidwill said.
Defensive end Darnell Dockett said both San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis and Seattle defensive tackle Rocky Bernard told him how difficult it was to play in the Cardinals’ new digs.
“When teams have to waste timeouts just because they can’t communicate on the field, that’s all because of the fans,” wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. “We have nothing to do with it.”
Boldin was asked how big of a difference it is to play before 64,000 screaming Cardinal fans inside University of Phoenix Stadium and 35,000 fans at Sun Devil Stadium, 10,000 of whom were cheering on the other team.
The look on his face — and his terse response — said it all: “You can’t even compare the two.”
The fans’ fervor is not only making life miserable for opponents, it’s giving the Cardinals an emotional lift.
The empty seats in Tempe were disheartening. The sea of red in Glendale is inspiring.
“It energizes our team,” Whisenhunt said. “Our guys get excited about it.”
The San Francisco 49ers step into the dome today. Sometime during the game, their offense will break the huddle, walk to the line of scrimmage and quarterback Trent Dilfer won’t be able to hear a thing.
Ain’t it grand?
Listen to Scott Bordow every Monday at 3:25 p.m. on The Fan AM 1060 with Bob Kemp.