The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
These were heady times for the Cardinals.
The team was far from dominant and weekly, the Cards were barely scraping by with wins to stay in the playoff hunt. But there they were in 1998, going into the season finale at home knowing a win over the Chargers would put them in the playoffs for the first time since the team moved to Arizona a decade earlier.
It was two days after Christmas. Quarterback Jake Plummer, all of 23 and in his second season, got his Christmas present early – a giant contract extension with a record-setting bonus of $15 million, setting up the former Arizona State star as the team’s long-term franchise QB. (In hindsight, Plummer wasn’t quite that guy and left as a free agent after the extension expired after the 2002 season.) Having Plummer around was the reason the Cardinals were able to make a one-sided trade with the Chargers for the rights to take the infamous Ryan Leaf – at the time, the trade got the Cards Andre Wadsworth in the 1998 draft and David Boston with the extra pick in the 1999 draft, and both looked like good ideas for a while.
But that was just back story for the real story: a chance to make the playoffs. And once again, it was harder than it probably should have been. Safety Kwamie Lassiter came up with a career game, making four interceptions of immortal San Diego quarterback Craig Whelihan. And in the end, kicker Chris Jacke (pictured above) booted a 52-yard field goal on the final play to win the game.
Getting there was heart-pounding. Somehow, the Cards let Whelihan – in the middle of a horrific day, thanks to Lassiter – throw a 30-yard TD pass with 16 second left to tie the game. But Eric Metcalf picked up a squib kick on the Arizona 10-yard line and ran it all the way to the San Diego 46 with seven seconds left. A quick Plummer-to-Frank Sanders 11-yard pass gave Jacke his shot with two second on the clock.
Jacke didn’t miss. The crowd – a rare Sun Devil Stadium sellout of 71,000-plus – went crazy, going after the goalposts. The Cards were in the playoffs, a crazy ride that continued when they won in Dallas (a “Revisionist History” for another day).
The fun didn’t last as long as it should have, after the Cards lost key players in the offseason and fell to 6-10 the next season (after starting 6-6). It took until 2008 and the Super Bowl run to get back to the postseason. But in 1998, it was fun while it lasted.
Tags: Andre Wadsworth, Chris Jacke, David Boston, Eric Metcalf, Frank Sanders, Jake Plummer, Kwamie Lassiter, Revisionist history, Ryan Leaf
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