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Redskins / Cardinals Rivalry Runs Deeper than Many Realize

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This Sunday will mark the 122nd game between the Redskins and Cardinals. Tom takes a look at this long-standing (albeit dormant) rivalry.

Patrick Smith

Sunday will be the 122nd game between the Redskins and the Cardinals.

It might confuse younger fans to learn that Washington has played more games against the Cardinals than it has against any team besides the Giants and Eagles.

For die-hards, old-timers, and NFL history buffs, this comes as no surprise.  The Cardinals are not only the oldest professional football team still in existence, but they were also a charter member of the National Football League (then called the American Professional Football Conference) in 1920.

The Cardinals, who were actually named for their team color, and not for the bird, began life in Chicago.  They moved to St. Louis in 1960 largely as a way to block the fledgling American Football League from setting up shop in that market.  Now in a town with a baseball team also called the Cardinals, the football Cardinals embraced more bird-related imagery, placing their familiar logo on their helmets for the first time.  The team moved again in 1988, this time to Phoenix.  They've remained in Arizona ever since.

The Redskins' history with the Cardinals goes all the way back to 1932, when Washington played its first season as the Boston Braves.  The Braves split a pair of games with the Cardinals in that inaugural year.

The NFL hadn't yet organized into divisions at that point.  When it did, the Chicago teams were naturally in the West, and the Redskins remained in the East.  However, two big events dramatically changed the NFL in the late 1940s.

First, the Rams moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles.  Before that move, the westernmost team in the NFL was the Green Bay Packers.  The Rams' migration to L.A. was at least as profound a change as the Jaguars moving to London would be today.

Secondly, the rival All-America Football Conference dissolved after the 1949 season.  The NFL absorbed three of the AAFC's teams, the Cleveland Browns, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Baltimore Colts (who folded after one season, and were a different franchise than the Colts who still exist today).

Those changes to the NFL's geographic footprint necessitated a realignment for 1950.  The league placed the teams into "National" and "American" conferences, with the two Chicago teams being separated for the first time.  The Bears remained with their traditional rivals in the National Conference. The Cardinals wound up in the American Conference with the old Eastern teams, including Washington.

The Cardinals and Redskins remained in the same conference or division from 1950 through 2001, except for a brief, three-year split from 1967 through 1969.  At the birth of the "modern," post-merger NFL in 1970, both teams were in the NFC East.

Thus, for several generations of Redskins fans, the Cardinals were a familiar foe, not some mysterious team from a faraway desert.  Washington and Chicago / St. Louis / Phoenix / Arizona were aligned together for the better part of a half-century.  Once the Cardinals moved to Phoenix, the rivalry made less sense, but it nonetheless persisted for 14 more years of twice-annual divisional clashes.

As I said, this Sunday's game will be the 122nd meeting between the two franchises.  Although they played twice a season for decades, this weekend's contest will be only the sixth time the two have matched up since the NFL realigned 12 years ago.  Washington leads the all-time series 75-44-2.  The last time the Redskins lost to the Cardinals was November 5, 2000, when the teams were still in the same division.  Washington is 8-0 since.

The most recent meeting was in 2011, in the final year of the Pre-RGIII Era.  The Redskins scored twice in the final six minutes to beat Arizona 22-21.  Rex Grossman(!) threw for 291 yards and two touchdowns, while Tim Hightower(!!!) ran for 96 yards on 20 carries.  Things change pretty quickly in the NFL, don't they?

The biggest game in the series was probably December 16, 1984.  Washington had been to the Super Bowl each of the previous two years, but began 1984 with losses to great Dolphins and 49ers teams.  The NFC East schedule was the usual minefield as well.  The Giants, Cowboys, and Cardinals were all playoff contenders.  Four teams in the division wound up with winning records.

Coming into that final game, Washington was 10-5, while the Cards were 9-6.  A win would give St. Louis the divisional title on a tie-breaker.

The Redskins took an early 13-0 lead on a pair of Joe-Theismann-to-Art-Monk touchdowns.  After the Cardinals got on the board via a one-yard Neil Lomax run, the Redskins built their lead to 23-7 at the half following a John Riggins touchdown run and a Mark Moseley field goal.

St. Louis made a furious comeback in the second half, however.  The big play was a 75-yard bomb from Lomax to Roy Green that got the Cards to within 23-17.  A second touchdown pass to Green put St. Louis ahead 27-26 late in the fourth quarter.

Washington drove down and Moseley kicked a 37-yard, go-ahead field goal with 1:33 to play.  Lomax and company got one final possession, though.  The Cardinals maneuvered to the outskirts of field-goal range with the clock ticking down to nothing.

As time expired, St. Louis kicker Neil O'Donoghue missed a 50-yard attempt.  The Redskins held on for a 29-27 victory and claimed another NFC East crown.  The Cardinals missed the playoffs, losing on a tie-breaker to the Giants.  Washington overcame a monster effort by Lomax, who finished 37-for-46 for 468 yards passing.

This was one of the fiercest battles in the long rivalry between the two franchises.

It's not realistic to call Redskins / Cardinals a "rivalry" anymore, but the two teams are linked in a way that tracks several decades of NFL history.