The Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals met all the time when they were division rivals until 2002. Of course, Eagles fans like myself used to look past them, back when they were the Phoenix Cardinals, always finished in last place and defied geography by being in the NFC East. Now the Cardinals are in the NFC West, manage to win every once in a while - and have become far greater rivals to the Birds.
Philadelphia and Arizona have played some very notable games over the last few years. The latest one will come on Sept. 23, when the surprising 2-0 Eagles visit Kevin Kolb and the surprising 2-0 Cardinals. If this meeting is anything like the last few, it will have lasting repercussions throughout the season.
The rivalry began in earnest on Thanksgiving 2008, back when the Eagles were 5-5-1 and Donovan McNabb's days appeared numbered. But to everyone's shock, McNabb ran up the Cardinals for 48 points and jumpstarted a stunning run to the NFC title game. The only thing more stunning about it is that the Cardinals got to host the Eagles in that title game.
Since Philadelphia was so hot going into that rematch, and since it was facing lightly regarded Arizona, it looked like the Eagles would breeze into the Super Bowl. Instead, the Cardinals won their first ever conference title by 32-25, in what may be the most inexcusable NFC title loss of the Andy Reid era. It was also the last time the Eagles came close to the Super Bowl under McNabb, as the loss was the beginning of the end of that era.
A few years passed until the next notable Eagles-Cardinals game, which only got bigger in retrospect. Going into their battle on Nov. 13, 2011, Philadelphia was already on life support but still figured a win over 2-6 Arizona would stabilize it. Since ex-Eagle Kolb wasn't able to start, it looked like it would be even easier - but John Skelton proved otherwise.
As it turned out, the 21-17 loss would go on to keep the Eagles from the postseason. If they had just held on, they would have finished 9-7 and won the NFC East over the future Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Of course, that could be said about any last-minute loss Philadelphia suffered last season, although this was more mind boggling than most.
The Cardinals have rarely been killers, yet they did manage to destroy the Eagles in both 2009 and 2011. For all we know, a loss to Arizona this year could wind up keeping Philadelphia from a top playoff seed, a division title or even a playoff berth. As such, the Eagles have to stop taking the Cardinals lightly, unlike their predecessors, as this unlikely rivalry takes another step forward.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Eagles since he was eight years old.
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