About five miles directly south of central Phoenix sits a monument in the desert that exemplifies the true spirit of the residents of the valley of the sun. A castle built from nothing but natural materials and another man’s garbage that not only in itself is a thing of beauty but somehow encompasses everything truly southwestern. It is so strategically placed to remind visitors that courage to build a kingdom against the elements can be achieved with your eye to the north an urban oasis of promise, and your eye to the south a literal natural guardian of rugged wilderness, that swears it’s easier to die than try to cross over. The South Mountain Mystery Castle a spectacular reminder of how dwelling near death, a Phoenix can rise, and surpass all expectations if one’s true grit overcomes the elements.
What does this man-made wonder have to do with the NFL Arizona Cardinals? Everything. Phoenix, Arizona is not a place where people settled for an easy life. And even in more recent years with the influx of retirement weather refugees from the midwest and north, ask any of them after spending one Summer here, how easy it is. If it is not for the blistering heat with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees easily from May to October, it is the monstrous dust storms that trash the most immaculate landscaped yard to torrential rain storms that can flood out an entire neighborhood in less than ten minutes. Not to mention, the only other designated area in the world that has as many poisonous critters per square mile as Australia, including rattlesnakes, scorpions and Gila monsters.
No one should have settled here, not to mention a population large enough to support a football franchise, and not just any, but the oldest established NFL franchise in the country. The Chicago, Saint Louis, Phoenix, now Arizona Cardinals. A team that has endured the longest losing streak than any other, starting out as a group of guys from an athletic club in 1898 on the south side of Chicago in hand me down uniforms from a local school. The team existed almost 50 years before they had a championship in 1947, and then would win one more before 1950, long before the Superbowl was even thought of. After losing popularity and trying to find a place to rebuild the team moved to Sanit Louis in 1960, but had little success, and endured a long stretch of mediocrity before the Bidwell family found a place to start anew, with hope and a handshake, moving to Phoenix in 1988, and settling in a city that should have never been settled at all.
Imagine for the man that built the Mystery Castle, to come to the desert on 1930 to live out what he thought would be his last six months of his life, Boyce Gulley ended up spending the next fifteen years finding a way to make a dream castle built for his estranged wife and daughter, and leaving it to them as a testament to a dream and a plan to conquer the elements in a place that no one would have thought you could build a kingdom.
Like the castle as a testament to ingenuity and integrity, built by a man with a dream to build something out of nothing on the edge of his own mortality, the Arizona Cardinals have stood the test of time. They were hardly welcomed to Phoenix with a stadium that did not even belong to them for their first 18 years, and more of the fans often rooting for the visiting team in the early years. The Cardinals were often the butt of the joke in the NFL that struggled to obtain players and plays that exemplified anything worth cheering for year after year, having endured the elements, and proven themselves in time. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some great players and moments, especially in more recent years, but they, the oldest team in the NFL have yet to get that ring and have hung in there longer than anyone else.
Hanging in there, building a fan base by proving themselves that the glimmer of hope turned into a hint of excitement and players that came to the desert to brave the elements like the natives and transplants looking for a fresh start and better opportunity. Knowing it wasn’t the land of milk and honey, but rather dust and dry rot, they somehow tenaciously stayed strong through the bad years proving to build a franchise, a city, a kingdom, like the Mystery Castle, it takes more than just your average bird.
It takes a cardinal, as Native American myth often referred to the daughter of the sun, flying high with prosperity and good luck, what could be more appropriate for us desert dwellers. This bird literally means to point oneself in the right direction, with a strong foundation to build on, in time, against all odds and elements, the cardinal stays true, steadfast, and shows up year round to prove it. Much like the Phoenix, that can’t be put down, the Cardinal’s rise to the top may have taken time, but in the end, no team has been brought up, beat down, moved and put to the test more than the Arizona Cardinals. Slowly building that Kingdom in the desert proving people can create a championship if they believe they can achieve greatness even when facing near death and the toughest of elements.
Robin L. Stockmar M. Ed.
Technology Integration Specialist