49ers, Cardinals are rivals
The San Francisco 49ers have a proud history of success marred recently by futility. The Arizona Cardinals have a lamentable history of futility with recent success.
For some reason, these teams have developed a rivalry that makes their meetings a little more intense, a bit more nasty, than the run-of-the-mill NFL encounter.
''I don't know,'' Arizona defensive end Calais Campbell said, ''but since I've been here, everybody in the locker room has made this game such a bigger deal that I couldn't help but make it a bigger deal myself.''
So while the meeting of two 3-7 teams from the woeful NFC West may not be a Monday night matchup for the ages, the participants don't consider it just another game.
''When you put on that chin strap, you have no friends. It is my team against your team and that's how it is,'' 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. ''Obviously when we're not playing against each other, playing outside our division, we always want each other to do well because it looks good for our division. When it is time to play against one another, you can't have any likes.''
Arizona quarterback Derek Anderson said he was made aware of the special feelings toward San Francisco soon after he arrived.
''I got that sense the first week I was here,'' he said. ''I understood it just talking to the guys that have been here.''
That was when the 49ers were boasting they would unseat Arizona as NFC West champions. That hasn't turned out so well. Of course, the Cardinals have had all kinds of problems in the first year of the post-Kurt Warner era. They bring a five-game losing streak into Monday night's game, their longest skid since 2006.
Perhaps close games have stoked the rivalry. Since 2004, nine of the 12 games have been decided by seven points or less.
In a Monday night game two years ago, Arizona won 29-24 with a final goal-line stand.
''The one that probably sticks in my craw the most,'' Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said, ''is the one where we had the field goal, the extra-point field goal, to win the game and we missed it and then lost in overtime.''
That also was back in 2007, Whisenhunt's first season as Arizona coach.
San Francisco is 4-2 against the Cardinals in Whisenhunt's three seasons as coach, including a sweep of the 10-6 Arizona team last year. The 49ers are the only NFC West team with a winning record against the Cardinals since Whisenhunt arrived.
''They have played well against us,'' he said, ''and they have come out on the winning end and hopefully we can reverse that trend.''
This is the fourth year in a row Arizona has played San Francisco on a Monday night.
Last year, the Cardinals committed seven turnovers in a 24-9 prime-time loss to the 49ers, a defeat that delayed by one week Arizona clinching its second straight NFC West title. That seems like ancient history to a Cardinals team that ranks in the bottom five in all six major offensive and defensive categories.
In a measure of how bad the division has been, the winner Monday night will still be within striking distance of first place.
It is the first of three straight at home for Arizona. But the Cardinals were beaten by Seattle here two weeks ago, a game that left the fans booing and sent many of them to the exits early.
San Francisco, meanwhile, was shut out at home for the first time since 1977, 21-0 by Tampa Bay last Sunday.
The Cardinals lost at home to Tampa Bay, too, but by just 38-35. Arizona was on the Tampa 20-yard line late when Anderson tried to force a first-down pass to Larry Fitzgerald and it was intercepted.
San Francisco coach Mike Singletary is sticking with Troy Smith as starting quarterback, although Alex Smith is healthy and available. Troy Smith led the 49ers to two victories before last week's struggles against the Buccaneers.
Both coaches have talked about how mistakes have cost the teams dearly.
''Forget about expectations, it's disappointing, period, when you're not doing the things you know your should be doing, or you're not at the place you thought you were,'' Singletary said. ''We're a young football team coming into it (this season) and I just felt there were some things we could overcome. Obviously we have not.
''At the same time, I do believe we are still growing. I do believe we are still a good football team.''