Betty Jacobs is like a lot of folks in Arizona. She moved from Tennessee to the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale 15 years ago to find a better life, and along the way she became a fan of the state's teams. When Buddy Ryan was hired to coach the Arizona Cardinals in February, Jacobs was so excited that she and her husband, Robert, shelled out $1,600 for a pair of season tickets in the loge on the 45-yard line at Sun Devil Stadium.
After watching a dismal preseason followed by an even more dismal start to the regular season. Jacobs began to simmer. "The defense was awesome, but the offense was the blind leading the blind," she says. "We've been led down the primrose path for so long by this team and this owner [Bill Bidwill], and Ryan came in and promised us a winner, and we were just totally let down."
On Sept. 19, the day after a 32-0 loss at Cleveland that made the Cards' record 0-3, Jacobs called the team offices in Tempe. She told the person on the other end of the line that if she bought a product at a department store and it didn't work, she would take it back and the store would refund her money. She said this was the same thing. The Cardinals were defective, and she demanded her money back. "They thought I had my nerve," she says. "They said they didn't refund money."
It took some doing by Robert on Sunday morning to persuade Betty to give the Cardinals one last chance. The Minnesota Vikings were in town, and the Cards had their third starting quarterback of the young season, Jay Schroeder, at the helm. It was a pleasant day, and so she agreed to go out to the game. In fact, a whole lot of Betty Jacobses decided to give these Cardinals one more chance Sunday. As it turned out, the crowd of 67,950 would be the largest ever to see the Cardinals win at home. The defense clamped down on Warren Moon and the NFC Central-leading Vikings, and Schroeder played the first competent game by a Card quarterback all season as Arizona won 17-7.
Afterward, Betty wasn't asking for her money back. "Today it was like the fans were demanding a win," she said. "If they didn't win today, I'd have traded all my tickets for anything. I guess I've changed my mind."
For now. The Cardinals still have a long way to go before they can back up Ryan's bold off-season boasts. In the spring the 60-year-old coach was sounding off like George Patton, predicting that his team would make the playoffs and touting some very unfamous players as future Hall of Famers. Running back Ronald Moore, one year out of Pittsburg (Kans.) State, reminded him of Walter Payton, Ryan said. Defensive tackle Eric Swann might be better than Reggie White, he said. The front seven was the best he'd ever been around, he said. The entire state glommed on to Buddy and his bragging, and the team doubled its season-ticket base to 48,122.
Then after a winless September, a fan in a pickup truck drove by the Cardinal complex and yelled, "Buddyball sucks!" The sentiment was echoed on radio talk shows from Flagstaff to Tucson and in headlines atop the state's daily newspapers. Yet, through it all, Ryan remained unfazed. If his bluster was somewhat muted, his confidence never ebbed. And all it took was Sunday's win over the Vikings to relight his oratorical fuse. Commenting on Viking runner Terry Allen, who came into the game averaging 5.8 yards per carry but gained only 18 yards in 12 carries against Arizona, Ryan said, "Nobody runs on us."
"How about Emmitt Smith?" someone asked him.
"He's not going to, either," Ryan said.
That's Emmitt Smith of the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys, whom the Cardinals will play twice over the next three weeks. Even with the euphoria of the Viking win still fresh, the Cards know they need to win one of those games to avoid looking like the same old birds.