If I were born ten years earlier than I was, I would probably read this headline and think to myself, well, I guess it's a rivalry. In light of the 49ers-Cowboys rivalries of old, this rivalry seems pretty young. To a slight degree, I think this rivalry is also a tad artificial, produced by the NFL in order to boost ratings between two weak teams in a very weak division.
But, to be honest, when I was growing up this rivalry seemed more real to me than any other. Now that I have studied 49ers history, I understand and appreciate the rivalries of the ‘80s and ‘90s. And looking back upon my childhood, I realize how atrocious the Packers are for knocking the Niners out of the playoffs almost daily. At the time, I just hated Brett Favre. I never really thought of two teams developing a mutual narrative.
For the most part, that was because I did not understand the logic of sports - or perhaps the illogicality of sports. That's the beauty of rivalries, and sports in general: they don't have to make sense and, frankly, I prefer if they don't.
I don't mean sports analysis. I think statistics have a huge role to play in an attempt to objectively evaluate players and teams. That sort of rationalism really appeals to me.
Rather, I enjoy the escapist nature of sports precisely because it rejects the rationality of normal life. In life we need explanations for why we do things. Bleh. Just bleh. It's stupid, I say. Stupid!
Rivalries? They are the exact opposite by their very nature. I hate the Cardinals because, well, I do. Do you want an actual reason? Umm. 42. How's that work? It is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything - so it should work in this situation too.
When the 49ers and the Cardinals sucked they decided to play against each other in Mexico. 2005 was a hard time to watch Niner football, but as usual my Dad and I sat down to watch the game.
I was honestly pumped for the game: the 49ers may have been a dismal team, but I was convinced that Arizona was the much more pitiful. I mean, Titanic is a horrid movie, but I would rather watch it than every other James Cameron movie.
As such, I knew, just knew, that the 49ers were going to win in front of the international community. If everybody in America knew the sucked, then at least everybody in Mexico could think they were amazing. At 15, I was more stupid than I am now. For some odd reason I never thought that the Mexican populace would ever watch American football. Gosh, I was stupid.
Regardless, I started to watch the game with a zeal for victory and was subsequently disappointed. Very disappointed.
Josh McCown of all people decided that he knew how to play football: he threw for a career high 385 yards and two touchdowns. Man, I was pissed. It doesn't hurt McCown's chances that he has a possessed Larry Fitzgerald and a "get-me-off-this-team" Anquan Boldin. They both caught a TD; it sucks.
And no, our collective hero Tim Rattay couldn't save us. I know, we all thought he was elite level (I mean, maybe not Alex Smith status), but apparently the kind citizens of Mexico will never know. The only cool thing about that game was Brandon Lloyd. He was cool.
Anyway, ever since that game, I have just harbored an intense hatred for the Cardinals. Can't explain it. Don't won't to explain it. And that's the point: I can hate the Cardinals because, well, I hate the Cardinals. I think their uniforms are ugly, and their players are ugly, and the whole team is ugly. Arizona is ugly. Ugly.
In actuality I respect the crap out of Larry Fitzgerald. He is really good. But, officially, I think he is ugly. In the offseason, there was a part of me that was interested in trying to get Kolb on the 49ers. I wasn't convince, and I really thought bring Alex back would be the best course of action, but I was curious. When the Cardinals signed him, however, I laugh my behind off. What a stupid trade, I thought, that was the worst decision made in the history of football; he makes Ryan Leaf look like Ryan Awesome, amirite?!
The hardest player for me to hate, however, was Kurt Warner. What a class act and a man with an incredible story to boot. He was a joy to watch, even if he did play for two division rivals. So, for pretty much his entire career on the Cardinals, I just ignored his existence. When he retired, I was actually relieved. Not because he could no longer pull some sort of Niners killing play out of his bum, but because I could actually admit that I admire him to myself.
Fast-forward a few years, and Vernon Davis and Darnell Dockett are going fisticuffs on twitter. Personally, I love the fire that Davis has in his game and I like that he is totally willing to take it out on a rival player.
Objectively, the tweets are a tad embarrassing; or, if not embarrassing, then they are a bit juvenile. I get that and I totally respect people who don't pay much attention to the whole affair. I, by and large, leave the whole twitter-verse to other people because, well, I'm too lazy to actually try it out. In this circumstance, however, I find it fascinating.
And because I like how irrational sports make me, I find myself apologizing for Davis or finding his comments witty beyond all belief. Dockett's tweets? They are like monkey poop all over a poop wall. Shakespeare himself could be Dockett's ghost writer and I would still bash ‘em.
This is what a rivalry is supposed to do to people. It's supposed to make them irrational and I like it.
I'm not the first person to write about rivalries this way.* This isn't supposed to be ground breaking material here - and frankly, there isn't much to write about the Cardials-Niners rivalry because there isn't much of a rivalry. At least, there isn't much in comparison to others. But, I still feel this rivalry. I feel it to my bones and my heart of hearts because the Cardinals represented my growing awareness about sports.
Sundays, now, are days of rest, and football helps me escape from whatever woes are plaguing my life. The Cardinals taught me to appreciate the finer points of sports by letting me hate them so much and with such an inexplicable passion. That's how rivalries work and I wouldn't have them any other way. Boy, it feels good.
*Grant over at McCovey Chronicles has written about this. It is worth checking out. He writes about Baseball really well. I mean really, really well. How he writes about sports is how I wish to write about anything.