One of the problems with these season-long road trips is that you really can't choose the matchups you see, and sometimes you have to attend a game that you wouldn't otherwise. Such was the case this week when I had to visit the University of Phoenix Stadium to see the Arizona Cardinals take on their divisional rivals, the St. Louis Rams. This game had zero buzz beforehand and it turned out to be perhaps the least interesting game on a Sunday that saw 90 touchdowns and several unbelievable comebacks. Of course, being in Phoenix in December is not all bad, especially with much of the rest of the country suffering through the first big winter storm of the season.
University of Phoenix Stadium
The Cardinals have been in the NFL since 1920 and are the only team in the league to have retained their nickname since that time. They began play in Chicago, moved to St. Louis when the league introduced blackout rules in 1960, and then retired to Phoenix in 1988. They played in Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, which is really not up to NFL standards, so the team worked with the city of Glendale to build a new venue which opened in 2006. Naming rights were purchased by college University of Phoenix, a for-profit institution that caters to adults and has hundreds of campuses around the country but ironically no athletic programs.
The stadium is now the centerpiece of the Westgate Entertainment District, which also includes another crappily named sports venue, Jobing.Com Arena, home of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Getting here is actually quite easy as you can take the 101 to Northern Avenue, turn right on 91st Street, and park at Kellis High School for free. Shuttle buses are available both before and after the game, or you can walk the mile and a half if you prefer.
Tickets are always available at the box office, but you might do better at the official reseller location across the street. There were at least six scalpers there three hours before game time with what appeared to be hundreds of tickets. You could easily get in for $30 or less if you weren't particular about where you sat.
I ended up getting a lower bowl corner ticket from a gentleman out front for $40, so I was happy with that. Below is the view from my section, although I was a bit lower in row 17.
The Flight Deck is the area around the stadium where fans congregate before gates open. There are a number of food trucks that offer items that are not available inside. There is also a seating area where you can watch the NFL Red Zone Channel. I definitely recommend getting there early and having a grilled cheese sandwich while watching the early games.
All fans enter on the lower level, with the ramps and escalators to the upper level directly inside the gate. The lower level concourse is spacious and you can easily make your way around. Be sure to check the historical displays on the team, its players, and the building itself.
The Cardinals have only made the playoffs eight times in their 93 years, an incredible run of ineptitude. They do have three banners from their most recent run of success.
At the south end zone, there is a special buffet area behind the seats. Known as the Red Zone, this is open to all fans and offers a premium food experience. The concourse behind is used as a standing area during the game, but it is quite far from the field so not a recommended spot.
The upper deck is a bit far away for my liking, and the concourse here is more crowded as well.
The roof was open for the game, despite relatively chilly weather (it was 55 degrees at kickoff). I loved this as it was my second time here and the first time the roof was closed, so it was great to get both experiences.
Late in the game, the moon made an appearance.
Overall, the stadium is aesthetically pleasing but too big to maintain a real atmosphere, especially with a lot of disinterested fans. Far too many were moving around during the action and there were a couple of scuffles nearby. Security was quick to respond, and that wasn't all they were doing as one gentleman in front of me was removed for smoking an e-cigarette. There were many families with small kids here as well; something you do see that often in the league. I'm guessing next week in Oakland will be different.
If you haven't been here, you should go once. It is one of the cheaper experiences in the league where you can see a quality team (well, if 8-5 is quality in your books) and Phoenix is always a great winter destination, even when it is only 50 degrees.
Arizona started with the ball and drove the length of the field, assisted by a personal foul on the Rams, and ending with a Rashard Mendenhall 7-yard touchdown. There was even a fight on the field which resulted in offsetting penalties but no ejections.
St. Louis replied with a good drive of their own, but decided to kick a 34-yard field goal on 4th and 2, a decision that really can't be second-guessed, but would come into play later.
In the second quarter, the Cardinals Jim Dray caught a pass from Carson Palmer (#3 above) and took it to the end zone, only to fumble. It was ruled a touchdown, but this call was reversed on review and St. Louis took over on their 10 after yet another personal foul penalty. The Rams moved the ball well again, but punted on 4th and 1 with 4:38 to go in the half, just a nonsense decision. Arizona took over and drove 80 yards, ending with a 7-yard TD pass to Larry Fitzgerald (catching another ball below).
The Rams began the third quarter with the ball, and on the second play from scrimmage, Kellen Clemens was intercepted by Karlos Dansby who returned it to the house for a 21-3 lead, essentially clinching the game.
Arizona added a safety when Clemens was sacked in the end zone a few minutes later. On the ensuing free kick, rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu received the ball and broke a couple of tackles, only to be run over a few seconds later. He got up but collapsed jogging to the sideline. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending injury on the play, tearing his ACL and LCL. I have seen too many of these on this trip, but I don't know what the league can do. This injury was nobody's fault as Mathieu's leg was planted when he was hit by several Rams but there is an argument that you should go down when you have no real chance to move the ball forward.
Anyway, both teams added meaningless touchdowns in the final frame as Arizona won 30-10 in a game that was overshadowed by all those incredible finishes in the early games. The Rams were terribly undisciplined, taking 11 penalties including 3 personal fouls and an unsportsmanlike conduct on Robert Quinn, who removed his helmet and screamed at the referee. Combined with Coach Jeff Fisher's lack of guts on those fourth-and-short plays and the Rams had no chance at all. See you next year guys.
The Rams are the worst team I have seen on the trip, losing by a combined 65-21 score against two divisional rivals. I see them in the final game in Seattle, but by then the Seahawks should have the conference's top spot clinched by then, so the game might be more interesting.
I'm heading to Oakland this week for next Sunday's game between the Chiefs and Raiders. I'll check out the Warriors as well, and maybe an NBDL game in Bakersfield along the way. As always, updates posted here when I get around to it.