Cardinals fans get “double thumbs up”

Plenty of media attention is given to the negatives of professional sports these days – the “overpaid bums,” criminal behavior by some athletes, ridiculously overpriced tickets and concessions, unruly and violent fans, PSLs, lockouts…the list goes on.

I’m never too  shy to use my column to focus on the negatives and rips those that deserve it but today, I’m here to focus on the good in sports.  Specifically, the good people and sports fans of Phoenix. Here’s my first-hand account.

For the second consecutive year, I joined my friends/fellow New York Giants fans Darrin and Eddie, along with and my father-in-law (affectionately known as “Gonzo”) on a road trip to see “Big Blue” play.  Last year’s inaugural trip was to Seattle – a great city with nice people and two impressive stadiums next to each other. This time, we decided to go to Phoenix to see them take on the Cardinals, where the weather would be nicer and the plane trip shorter.

We stayed in Glendale, a stone’s throw away from University of Phoenix Stadium. Some of the locals refer to it as “The Big Toaster” or “The Mother Ship,” which are both pretty amusing descriptions. On the other side of the parking lot sits the Westgate City Center, a shopping, dining and entertainment center that’s reminiscent of LA Live in downtown Los Angeles. It’s also home to the Arena, home of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes.

On game day, we literally walked to the stadium, which is an underrated perk in this era of overpriced parking “fees.”  Even the local cops were nice to us as one member of our group nearly crossed the street in front of a “No Crossing” sign.  And no, it wasn’t me.

Photo/Wikimedia Commons

On one side of the parking lot sits “The Great Lawn,” an eight-acre area of turf set up for tailgating, complete with a stage and a live band. Despite the numerous people sporting Giants blue, the home team fans were all cordial. We even ran into a fellow Giants fan we met the night before – “Nathan from The ATL,” whom we speculated was a reject from the “jersey Shore” casting call. We then headed to the stadium.

Right before you enter the doors of the stadium, you feel a nice blast of cold air – welcome relief from the notorious “dry heat.” The concourse area is beautiful and spotless. All of the concessions staff, ushers and other stadium workers were unbelievably nice and helpful – reminiscent of Disney World and I mean that in a good way. The beverages were actually reasonably priced by pro sports standards, as was the food. I give the brisket burger a thumbs-up.

When we got to our excellent seats in Section 231 of the Club Level, I was even more impressed by the stadium. The natural turf field – which is rolled into the stadium before games – is impressive, as are the glass roof and glass windows in one end zone. It makes you feel as if you’re in an outdoor environment, with all the benefits of being indoors.

But the highlight of our visit was the Cardinals fans. We got the good-natured ribbing from those sitting around us about how Larry Fitzgerald was going to have a field day, etc., but not one single fan was rude, confrontational or even used foul language. Despite the huge contingent of Giants fans in attendance, the Cardinals fans wore lots of red and made a lot of noise.

The couple sitting behind us, John and MaryAnn from Tucson, were extremely nice and knowledgeable – even lecturing me on what a mistake I made by having Beanie Wells sitting my fantasy football team’s bench.  Yes, you were right. Luckily, I would have lost regardless. At halftime, they insisted that we joint them for a drink – their treat.  We happily obliged. Somehow, I don’t think this sort of thing happens at NFC East stadiums. Their idea of getting you a drink would likely involve an empty bottle being hurled at you or one poured over your head…

As if that wasn’t nice enough, a fan in front of us, as well as the guy sitting next to us with his family (who went my the name “Murph,”) also offered to buy us a drink. Mind you, he had already told us that he was on the  USS Vinson the day that bin Laden’s body was transported to the aircraft carrier. I thanked him for his kind offer, but told him that his story was enough of a gift.

I won’t bore you with the details of the game and its controversial and exciting ending, which resulted in a 31-27 Giants victory. After the game, the hometown fans were stunned, but were all gracious in defeat. For a brief moment, I actually felt bad. But only for a nanosecond.

On our way out of the stadium, we spoke to ushers, security people, and a Cardinals employee (didn’t get his name, but he said he was originally from Northern Virginia), who all wished us well and asked us how we enjoyed the stadium. A security worker near the stadium exit even pointed out the statue of the late former Cardinals safety and American hero Pat Tillman.

The next day, we stopped by nearby Camelback Ranch, which is home to the Dodgers and White Sox spring training facilities. Beautiful complex. With fans and facilities like these, I think we’ll be bringing the kids back to see the Cactus League in the near future. And I can’t say that about most professional sports cities.

So thank you, Cardinals fans, for being such great hosts. You have a fine city and made this sometimes-cynical observer realize that there are still plenty of good sports fans out there. But if you do go to the “Valley of the Sun,” remember these four words: “it’s a dry heat.”

And special thanks go out to our wives, who held down the fort in our absence.

Used with permission of the author.

Chris Lardieri runs the “West Coast View” column for Sports Climax. A veteran to the keyboard, Chris also covers the Los Angeles Dodgers for and has written about Major League Baseball for Inside Edge, a scouting company that provides content to ESPN Insider and Yahoo Sports. Follow Chris on Twitter for more sports observations.

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