Arizona at Dallas

Breaking down the Cardinals and Cowboys

Focal Point: Aikman vs. Plummer

Cowboys fear Snake's bite

Time to play favorites

Inside the Cardinals playbook

Drought is over in desert

Scouting report

  Wednesday, Dec. 30 4:31pm ET
Playoffs no mirage in desert
Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Thousands of ecstatic fans swarmed the field, some hanging wildly on the goalposts and others just running around yelling or looking for someone to hug. And who could blame them.

 Arizona Cardinals
Cardinals fans swarmed the field in Sun Devil Stadium in celebration of their team's playoff berth.

Their team, the Arizona Cardinals, had finally ended the NFL's longest playoff drought.

Chris Jacke's 52-yard field goal as time expired gave Arizona a 16-13 victory over the Chargers, booting the Cardinals into the postseason for the first time in 16 years and sending many of the 70,000-plus fans at Sun Devil Stadium into a frenzy.

Longtime fan Rick Jansen said Monday that the game was the first he has been to where almost all the fans were rooting for the Cardinals.

"I've been there when it was filled before, but 30,000 seats were rooting for the other team," he said.

Fans weren't the only ones celebrating. Some players and owner Bill Bidwill cried in the locker room, overjoyed by ending so many years of misery in the desert.

Linebacker Jamir Miller said the victory was the biggest thrill of his five-year career. It was the first winning season for the franchise since 1984, when they were in St. Louis.

"Everyone thinks that when you come into the NFL that you have a chance to go to the playoffs every year, and that is not so," Miller said. "These opportunities only come by every so often, and you have to seize it."

The Cardinals' last playoff game was in 1982, after a nine-game strike season, and they last made the playoffs in a nonstrike year in 1975. The Cardinals last won a playoff game in 1947, when they played in Chicago and beat the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFL championship.

The Seattle Seahawks, who haven't been to the playoffs since 1988, now hold the distinction as the team with the longest postseason drought.

The victory over the Chargers on Sunday gave Arizona (9-7) the final NFL playoff spot and set up a meeting with the Cowboys in Dallas on Saturday.

The game will give the Cardinals one of their toughest tests. The Cowboys have won 16 of the last 17 meetings between the teams.

"We haven't accomplished anything yet," Arizona coach Vince Tobin said. "We're happy with where we are, but I don't think anybody's satisfied."

The playoffs wouldn't have been possible if not for Jacke's heroics. His last-second field goal against San Diego was his third game-winner of the season on the final play.

The Chargers had tied the score with 16 seconds left on a fourth-down, 30-yard touchdown pass. But Eric Metcalf returned the kickoff 46 yards to the San Diego 44, and Jake Plummer had time for a 10-yard completion to Frank Sanders to the 34.

That was close enough for Jacke, a free agent who signed in the middle of the season.

His teammates are sure happy he joined them.

"I've got to pinch myself to see if this is a dream or not," said fullback Larry Centers, who has played his entire nine-year career with the Cardinals, who moved to Arizona in 1988. "But we're actually in the dance. There were times I didn't feel like this day would come. It's just a great day in the life of a longtime Cardinal. Believe me."

Even Chargers fans seemed to appreciate the moment.

"If you're a Packers or 49ers fan, you take this kind of thing for granted," said Steve Koogle, who was at the game. "But in San Diego we've certainly had our share of times where there hasn't been any success, so it's nice when a team can finally enjoy that, and the people here seem to appreciate it."

Copyright 1995-98 ESPN/Starwave Partners d/b/a ESPN Internet Ventures. All rights reserved. Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form. Privacy Policy (Updated 01/08/98). Use of this site signifies your agreement to the Terms of Service (Updated 01/12/98).