In 1995, when I moved to Phoenix, I was shocked to find how hard it was to find anything related to the Arizona Cardinals. I went from department store to even sports stores and could not find a tee shirt. There was not even much available at the team shop at Sun Devil Stadium. My first visit there was also discouraging. It was October, 110 degrees and people were fainting in the stands and very few people there were Cardinals fans. This was not NFL football, as I had known it growing up in New York City or living in Washington, DC. On May 8, 2014, as I sat surrounded by enthusiastic Cardinals fans at the NFL Draft Party, I realized how much things had changed.
Phoenix, itself, has grown from that small town I arrived in two decades ago, to the sixth largest city and the largest geographically in the US. Likewise its major league sports fan base has increased since the 64,000-seat, air conditioned University of Phoenix Stadium opened in 2006.
Arizona has become a nationally preferred spot of major sports tourism events. It hosted Super Bowl XLII in 2008 and University of Phoenix Stadium has been chosen again to host Super Bowl XLIX and the Pro Bowl in 2015. The Fiesta Bowl and College Football Playoff Games are also coveted events in Glendale. Football is a major economic engine for the Phoenix metropolitan area.
More than the facility has changed. The stadium has been consistently sold out since its opening. The team has had winning seasons, including its 2009 trip to the Super Bowl, and last year’s 11 game-season, third team with that many wins who has not made it to the playoffs. Now the red and black Cardinals paraphernalia dominates television screens during home games.
There was a lot of enthusiasm and hopefulness Thursday as fans sampled a wide variety of foods from local vendors, drank, played games and contests, got autographs, and watched the NFL draft televised on big screens. While there was some disappointment as the Arizona Cardinals traded down and did not make a selection until late in the first round, and their first selectee—Deone Bucannon—did not have the recognition of "Johnny Football" or Jadeveon Clowney, fans trust General Manager Steve Keim, and are optimistic that the Cardinals will be contenders this season.
A lot has changed in the past 19 years.