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The Drama Of The Season Opener

Cardinals-49ers rivalry has recent history of making things interesting


The Cardinals toppled the 49ers in the two teams' last meeting with a goal-line stand on the final play of the game.

The NFC Championship banner will be unfurled, Ring of Honor inductee Aeneas Williams will be speaking, and the Cardinals will be finally kicking off the regular season Sunday.

But it's against the 49ers, and really, the two teams probably didn't need anything extra to make things interesting.

"Certainly," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said, "there has been a lot of drama."

In the four games the Cards have played the 49ers since Whisenhunt took over as coach, the teams have seen:

  • A last-second drive by the 49ers to win in San Francisco on "Monday Night Football," one that could have been stopped had the Cards fallen on a fumble in their own end zone with less than a minute left;
  • A crazy affair in Glendale when the Cards came back to send the game to overtime, only to miss a makeable Neil Rackers field goal in the extra time and then have the 49ers recover a Kurt Warner fumble in the end zone to win the game;
  • A back-and-forth game in Glendale that ended with the Cards making a goal line stop on the final play of the game to win by five.

Even the most "normal" game of the four, the Cards' season-opening 23-13 win last year in San Francisco, featured a most unusual (for the Cards) clock-grinding run game at the end, with Warner wondering why the team didn't pass more – and serving as a launching point for the aerial circus for the rest of the season.

"Whenever you lace them up against a team that is very familiar with you, usually it's going to be some sort of outstanding circumstance that decides the game," linebacker Bertrand Berry said. "In the couple games in the past, that's what it's been, a couple crazy plays you can't explain."

The game figures to be close and with it a key division game  -- and the Cards were 6-0 within the NFC West last season – the brewing rivalry would seem to be given another boost. The Cards are trying to prove last season wasn't a fluke; the 49ers are trying to show they can be the breakout team some think they can be under coach Mike Singletary.

But while Berry and Whisenhunt see the rivalry, the 49ers seem to want to play down that angle. Quarterback Shaun Hill said his team doesn't see the Cards any different than fellow NFC West opponents Seattle and St. Louis, although the Cards-49ers seem to have "a dogfight" every time.

Singletary insisted he doesn't see a anything special when the teams meet.

"I see it as a game between a really tremendous football team, tremendously talented, and one that is discovering that they have a chance to be a decent football team," Singletary said. "But I see it as (just) another football game."

That can't be true for the Cardinals, with or without the 49ers. Whisenhunt acknowledged he is excited to start games for real to see what kind of team he really has, after a preseason that started promising for his starters and then moved to something less.

Safety Adrian Wilson called the preseason "kind of a mirage" and the Cardinal players got to the point during the week they were tired of talking about exhibition issues.

"There are still question marks on us," Wilson said, "so we have to go out and prove the naysayers wrong."

Maybe this time the Cards can make it drama-free.

"I'm not going to sit here and talk trash," defensive lineman Darnell Dockett said. "We're going to put on our pads and see what happens."

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