The Arizona Cardinals inaugural season in the desert was ultimately derailed by injury to the starting quarterback
The Arizona Cardinals, originally named the Phoenix Cardinals, had their brand spanking new fan base excited. After an 0-2 start, the Cardinals rallied to win seven out of their next nine. Through their first 11 games in the Valley of the Sun, the team’s record stood at 7-4.
The squad was led by an underrated quarterback named Neil Lomax. A signal-caller who had the luxury of throwing to one of the greatest wide receivers in Cardinals’ history, Roy “Jet Stream” Green. The sparkling duo caused many a nightmare for defensive coordinators around the league throughout the 1980’s.
The passing attack also featured wideout J.T.Smith, along with the double-tight end threat of Jay Novacek and Robert Awalt. The running game was led by Earl Ferrell, and also current Arizona running backs coach, Stump Mitchell.
The ’88 season featured one of the greatest games ever played in the state of Arizona. In week 10, the eventual Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers came to town. Phoenix entered the contest at 5-4, while San Francisco came in at 6-3.
For the better part of three quarters, the game was a mismatch. Niners’ quarterback Steve Young, playing in place of Joe Montana, had his squad up 23-0. Things were looking bleak for the Cardinals.
What followed was one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. Late in the third quarter, Lomax hit Green for a 35-yard score, cutting the deficit to 23-7. The rally continued in the fourth quarter, when Al Del Greco booted a 24-yard field goal and Lomax found Ernie “Indiana” Jones for a five-yard touchdown.
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With San Francisco’s lead cut to six points, Lomax showed how clutch he could be. A scintillating, final-minute drive ended with the Portland State product again finding Green with seconds to play. The nine-yard touchdown strike completed the comeback, and Phoenix won 24-23.
Unfortunately, the Cards would win just one more of the final six games of ’88. Lomax suffered a knee injury in week 11, causing him to miss the follow three contests, all losses. They ended their first campaign in Arizona with two more defeats, when a gimpy and ineffective Lomax returned.
The excitement of the Cards being in town took a big hit the following year, in 1989. A chronic hip condition forced the 30-year old Lomax into an early retirement. The team limped to a 5-11 clip, suffering through the trio of Gary Hogeboom, Tom Tupa and Timm Rosenbach at quarterback.
If not for Lomax suffering the knee injury, 1988 could’ve turned into a successful first season in the desert for the organization. After 11 games, the club was playing as well as any team in the league. Who knows what heights the Cardinals could’ve reached.