Flashback: 1998 Arizona Cardinals

Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports /

The 1998 Arizona Cardinals ended a drought of losing for the franchise

The history of the Arizona Cardinals is filled with disappointing seasons. In the 97 year history of the franchise in the NFL, there have only been 28 seasons where the team finished over .500, and their all-time record as an NFL team is 542-732-40. There have been just 11 playoff trips .

The Cardinals made the playoffs in 1982, and finished just over .500 in the next two seasons, but then things went south. Over the next 13 years, they became a league doormat, averaging a record of 5 1/2-11 1/2.

The 1996 squad finished 4-12, and in last place in their division. They were near the bottom of the league in every major category, and not much better on the defensive side of the ball. Things were bad, and 1998 didn’t look like it would be much better.

Head coach Vince Tobin returned, though he did change offensive coordinators in the offseason. Quarterback Jake Plummer was back under center, but they made some moves around him. Thousand-yard rusher Adrian Murrell was brought in from the Jets, and the offensive line was retooled. Defensively, they didn’t make any big moves, instead relying on players to improve their play.

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The season started off looking like another year of futility. They opened 2-0, and were blown out in both games. Then things started to turn around. They won their next two games, with Plummer settling in, while Murrell rushed for 200 yards between the two games.

The team continued to be inconsistent, but displayed a mental toughness that was missing in previous seasons. After a 34-7 loss to the Giants, they rebounded and won their next two. After advancing to 6-5, the season stood on the brink, as they lost two in a row, and at 6-7, were on the verge of another disappointing finish.

Things didn’t play out that way. They got their record back to even with an overtime win over the Eagles. A field goal with six seconds remaining gave them a win the following week. Week 17 was even an even closer call, with a field goal once again deciding things, this time with just three seconds left. After closing the season with three straight wins, the Cardinals were 9-7, and headed to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.

The magic continued in the postseason. Against a Cowboys team who had beaten them by a combined score of 73-38 during their two regular season meetings, the Cardinals got revenge. The defense had four sacks and three interceptions, and won 20-7. It was the franchise’s first playoff win since 1947, 50 years before.

They would lose the following week, but it didn’t matter. The drought was over, and fans finally had a reason to celebrate. There was hope surrounding the franchise for the first time in a while.

There was something special about that 1998 team. It was truly a team atmosphere, with few stars, but wins nonetheless. Plummer’s numbers were average at best. He had more interceptions than touchdowns, and complete less than 60% of his passes. Murrell rushed for just over 1,000 yards, while Frank Sanders was the leading receiver with 89 catches for 1,145 yards. On defense, they forced the third most turnovers in the league, and Simeon Rice had 10 sacks. Aeneas Williams was the team’s lone Pro Bowler.

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The 1998 season has been somewhat forgotten, as the Cardinals have since established themselves as a top-tier franchise, and have even made it to a Super Bowl since then. However, for those who do remember, it was significant. It was unexpected, frustrating, and illogical at times. In the end, though, it was magical.