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The History of Detroit Lions vs. Arizona Cardinals

Taking a look back at the history of these two NFC teams.

Arizona Cardinals Pat Tillman... SetNumber: X59132 TK2 R3 F32

Anyone else sick of this matchup? It feels like the Detroit Lions play the Arizona Cardinals every single year, and I would bet that Cardinals fans are just as sick of playing the Lions as Lions fans are of playing the Cardinals. But, alas, here we are again. Lions vs Cardinals. This one doesn’t look like it’s going to be much fun at all.

Let’s take a look back at this weird rivalry and try to understand why it keeps happening. There is no reason. I Googled it and Google asked me to mind my own business. Actually, it’s easily explained: it’s because the two teams typically finish in the same position (see: last) in their respective divisions.

Anyways, let’s get into tit.

The first time

The Lions and Cardinals go all the way back to 1930, when the Lions were the Portsmouth Spartans and the Cardinals played in Chicago.

By the way, gang, there are Cardinals that live in the desert. They’re creatively called Desert Cardinals. So it’s not a situation like when the Lakers moved to Los Angeles and there are no lakes. Also, what’s a Clipper? That’s a conversation for another day.

That game in 1930 was the third game in the Lions’ franchise history. The Cardinals were the first team this franchise played that still exists. They also played the Bears, Packers and Giants that season, too. Oh, and the result of this exciting inaugural matchup between the Spartans and Cardinals that would kick off this electric rivalry? A 0-0 tie.

When the Spartans became the Detroit Lions in 1934, their second game ever was against the Chicago Cardinals. They won that 6-0. Boy, those old timey games were exciting, weren’t they? We’re going to get to the first time the Lions played the Arizona Cardinals soon, but let’s make one more stop.

In 1960, the Cardinals moved to St. Louis and confused everyone in town. Imagine buying tickets thinking you’re going to see the baseball game and wind up a the football game. I’m sure there was some sort of delineation, but I’d prefer to think the entire city was confused for 27 years. Yes, St. Louis had two major sports teams go by the same name for 27 years. The Lions first played them in 1961 and won on a walk off homer in the ninth. See! I’m confused about it. Actually the Lions won 45-14.

Alright, we’re finally here. The Lions played the Phoenix Cardinals in September of 1989 and lost 16-13. Okay, maybe we weren’t quite there yet.

For real this time. The Lions played the Arizona Cardinals for the first time on September 17, 1995. The Lions lost 20-17 in what turned out to be the Dave Krieg revenge game. The good news is that the number one song in America at the time was this masterpiece:

Random stats

The Lions have played the Cardinals 70 times since 1930. They’ve only played four franchises more often in their history (Bears, Packers, Vikings, Rams). Detroit is 36-28-6 against the Cardinals all time. The Cardinals are one of six teams in the league that the Lions have an all-time winning record over.

The Lions haven’t lost to the Cardinals since 2015. They’ve won three of the last four meetings. They also tied with the Cardinals in 2019. You might remember how fun that was. Speaking of ties, the Packers are the only team the Lions have tied with more than the Cardinals. They’ve tied with the Lions seven times.

The Lions are 20-11-3 at home against the Cardinals. They’ve won four of the last six meetings in Detroit. Not bad.

Worst memory

Now I know what everyone is going to say. It’s the 2015 game, right? The one where Matthew Stafford threw three interceptions and got benched in a 42-17 loss. That’s not it, in my opinion.

The worst game was a few years earlier when all the Lions had to do was stop Ryan Lindley and the Cardinals to just eke out one more win in the 2012 season. Instead, the Lions lost 38-10. Matthew Stafford threw three interceptions in this game, too. Beanie Wells scored three rushing touchdowns for the Cardinals. That’s right, Beanie Wells. He was good for a minute. Most of that minute was this game.

Maybe these two moments are tied for worst.

Best memory

That’s easy. That’ll be this Sunday when the Lions shock the world. That’s a joke, by the way. The real best memory has to be when the Lions finally won in the desert in 2018. Holy moly, it’s a Matt Patricia coached game. It wasn’t the prettiest of games. The Lions won 17-3.

It was a long time coming though. The Lions hadn’t beat the Cardinals in Arizona since 1993 before that. That’s 25 years.

Game dive

For this week’s game dive, we’re going with another recent one. The Lions’ last win over the Cardinals in Detroit, a 35-23 win in 2017. This was a patented come-from-behind Lions win that was a whole lot of fun to watch.

The Lions were down 17-9 in the third quarter and then proceeded to go off. The Lions scored 26 straight points off two Kenny Golladay touchdowns, a Theo Riddick touchdown and a Miles Killebrew pick six. Not bad at all.

Matthew Stafford threw for 292 yards and four touchdowns in this game. Kenny Golladay put up a nice 69 yards and two touchdowns. The Lions defense forced Carson Palmer to throw three interceptions. It was just good times all around.

Peep the highlights here.