TEMPE, Ariz. – Nobody’s really certain when the Cardinals-49ers rivalry began. Maybe it was simply when the Cardinals moved from the NFC East to the NFC West in 2002, forcing them to play the 49ers twice a year.
Maybe it was born when 2-14 San Francisco posted both of its season wins over the Cardinals – with Dennis Erickson as 49ers coach.
Maybe it was the goal-line stand in 2008 in which Arizona linebacker Clark Haggans stuffed San Francisco fullback Michael Robinson to preserve a 29-24 win after a bad officials’ spot of the ball and an apparent 49ers touchdown had been wiped out one play earlier.
Maybe it was Adrian Wilson’s unnecessary-roughness penalty for a hit on 49ers tight end Vernon Davis in the season opener in 2009.
Maybe it was Darnell Dockett’s Twitter war with Davis.
Whatever the genesis, the teams have certainly played some memorable and marquee matchups. Including next Monday’s game, the 49ers have been the Cardinals’ opponent in six of Arizona’s last seven Monday Night Football appearances.
The 49ers were also the first team to face the Cardinals at newly opened University of Phoenix Stadium in 2006. They played each other in Mexico City in 2005, and the 49ers were the Cardinals’ first opponent in Ken Whisenhunt’s first season as coach in 2007.
That led Wilson to suggest to Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic that it was the league that created the rivalry, but there’s no question it exists.
“I don’t know the history of this rivalry,” said Whisenhunt, who served as an assistant with Pittsburgh before coming to Arizona. “I know the feeling that I have from being around it just these couple years is that it does feel like Pittsburgh-Cleveland, Pittsburgh-Cincinnati.
“This division is becoming a lot like that division … a physical, smash-mouth type, defensive division. These division games become brawls.”
Monday’s game will also be for at least a share of first place in the NFC West.
SPECIAL TEAMS BOOST
Whisenhunt expressed optimism that both of his special teams captains, Reggie Walker (concussion) and Anthony Sherman (knee), would be back on the field for Monday night’s game.
Whisenhunt noted Monday how much of an impact the pair’s absence has had on special teams when someone asked about Sherman’s absence on offense.
“It does affect that area because now, where are you going to get that personnel from? Are you going to spot-play some of your starters in their on special teams?” Whisenhunt asked. “What happens is the consistency that you have from that position, because of the time they can dedicate to it, goes down a little bit.”
Sherman sounded nearly certain he would play Monday.
“We progressed well enough at practice today and hopefully the rest of the week will go well,” Sherman said. “We’ll see how the swelling looks (Thursday).” INJURY UPDATE
The Cardinals did not release an injury report on Wednesday. Because they do not play until Monday, they are not required to release their first until Thursday.
Here are the injuries of note from last week that are or may be a factor: QB Kevin Kolb (ribs), FS Kerry Rhodes (back), RG Adam Snyder (thigh), CB Greg Toler (hamstring) and CB Jamell Fleming (undisclosed) missed at least a portion of the open part of practice.
Other injuries include: TE Todd Heap (knee); FB Anthony Sherman (knee); CB Michael Adams (hamstring); ILB Reggie Walker (head); DT Darnell Dockett (hamstring); TE Jim Dray (knee); OLB Quentin Groves (hamstring); ILB Paris Lenon (knee); and OLB O’Brien Schofield (knee).