Seven full seasons have passed since Anquan Boldin last played for the Arizona Cardinals, yet in a lot of ways, it’s still very easy to think of Q as a Card. That’s what I was thinking Sunday night, when ESPN’s Jim Trotter tweeted the news that Boldin — who signed with the Bills last month — suddenly decided to retire, along with a statement from Boldin. That statement from Boldin, read in part:
“Football has afforded me a platform throughout my career to have a greater impact on my humanitarian work, and at this time, I feel drawn to make the larger fight for human rights a priority. My life’s purpose is bigger than football.”
There is little question Boldin — who would’ve turned 37 in October — could’ve played another season. But he has gotten more into fighting for criminal justice reform as well as his various charities, and decided now was the time to flip the page. Before he signed with Buffalo, there were still plenty of Cardinals fans that wanted to see him return to Arizona (an idea that never really made sense; he and Larry Fitzgerald were virtually the same type of receiver at this point in their careers.)
Of course, Q’s departure from Arizona was not clean. Angry for not getting a new contract extension around the start of the 2008 season when he felt the organization had promised (Fitz had just gotten a huge deal himself), Boldin still had three years left on his contract at the time. He made clear he didn’t want to stay in Arizona long-term (he softened his stance some before he left) but he still had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for two NFC West winners (and one Super Bowl team) before being traded early in 2010.
It worked out for Boldin, who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens and played well for the 49ers and then the Lions last year. But make no mistake, Q’s best seasons were with the Cardinals, seasons that should earn him Hall of Fame consideration. Of his seven 1,000-yard seasons over 14 seasons, five came in Arizona. Boldin finishes with 1,076 catches, 13,779 yards and 82 TD catches (by comparison, Fitzgerald, in one less season, is at 1,125-14,389-104.)
What I’ll remember most about Q? I can’t lie, one will be the scorched earth meeting with the media after the run test to start 2008 training camp. But mostly, it was other stuff. It was coming back to play only a couple of weeks after having his jaw shattered in New York, with Boldin lying in the end zone, scarily not moving. It was when he emotionally got into opponent after opponent — Boldin wasn’t the biggest guy on the field, but he was almost always the baddest dude (like the 2:35ish mark here). It was the guy who helped provide some guidance — in football, in fatherhood — to a still maturing Fitzgerald. It was when the Cards closely guarded their secret second-round pick (he had just four catches in the 2003 preseason) and sprung him on the Lions for 10-217-2 in the opener.
It was a crazy sideline snare against the Vikings in 2009, or his big catch-and-run against the Steelers in the Super Bowl, or that knowing chuckle he’d emit when you asked him a question with a controversial bent and he knew you knew what he really thought but couldn’t say. On a personal level, it was Boldin bellowing out a welcome to me as I started my new job with azcardinals.com and the Cardinals were stretching before their first 2007 training camp practice.
Boldin was one of those key guys for the Cardinals, guys like Fitz, Adrian Wilson, Kurt Warner, Darnell Dockett and Karlos Dansby, guys that helped guide the organization through some ugliness of the mid-2000s to a culture change. He hasn’t been a Cardinal for seven years, but his DNA remains within the franchise.
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