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Warner and his potential Az Hall call

Posted by Darren Urban on April 8, 2014 – 1:50 pm

Aeneas Williams will kick off the 2014 season for the Cardinals, in a manner of speaking, when he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as training camps are just getting underway. Maybe the Cards will have a Hall of Fame connection as the season is wrapping up, and the NFL prepares to play the Super Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. That’s when Kurt Warner will be on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time.

If Williams is the best draft pick the organization has made since the franchise moved to Arizona, then it’s probably safe to say Warner was the best free-agent signing. His time with the Cardinals had an interesting arc, from veteran stop-gap to placeholder for Matt Leinart to franchise QB, all in the span of five seasons. As weird as it was, Warner wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame discussion without his Arizona rebirth. His major personal success (his Super Bowl win and two MVPs) came with the Rams, but he arguably had his greatest accomplishments leading the Cards.

(He definitely played more games in Arizona. He finished with 61 games as a Card, compared to 53 as a Ram and 10 as a Giant.)

So, with the fifth season about to start since Warner retired, the potential Hall of Fame call comes for the first time after the season. Warner, having watched one-time teammate Williams get in, admits he already thought about that possibility.

“It’s hard not to think about it because people always want to ask you about it,” Warner said. “But I try to be realistic. One of the things with athletes, we’re not very realistic with situations. We always think we are the best. But I am realistic with the route it took me to get here and maybe some of the strikes against me, that maybe I didn’t play as certain people or had some bumps in the road. I don’t know if (the Hall of Fame) is going to happen. I don’t know what really determines it. But the great thing is, I am so completely content with what I accomplished on the football field.

“I did some things no one has ever done before. I think I played at a Hall of Fame level, at least for a period of time. Does that constitute me being put in the Hall of Fame? I have no idea. I just know I put in the work, and now it’s up to somebody else to wade through and figure out what belongs there. Obviously, from the time you are little, you want to make your mark in whatever you do. For me, it was the National Football League. To finally be here, and to have a lot of people think you will finally get there, you can’t help but think about it and how special it would be.”

WarnerHoF2USE

 


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Aeneas deserves his Hall call

Posted by Darren Urban on February 1, 2014 – 9:36 pm

It was great news Saturday when Aeneas Williams was elected to the Hall of Fame. He was deserving, and it was good to see that his talent and performance over the years wasn’t tossed aside because his teams rarely won much. I only got to cover Williams at the end of his Cardinals’ tenure, but he was a great guy. He had had it with the losing in Arizona at the end, which is why he basically forced the trade in 2000 that sent him to St. Louis. He said he was seriously thinking of retirement, and of course, he played four more seasons with the Rams. Williams, now a pastor in St. Louis, probably solidified his Hall-worthiness with that Rams’ stint. But his foundation was made with the Cardinals.

Aeneas had a ton of highlights, like locking down Michael Irvin, or his big interceptions in the 1998 playoffs — against Dallas, or even accidentally ending Steve Young’s career. But one of the big ones I remember is his NFL-record-tying 104-yard fumble return for a touchdown, sparking an improbable home win st Sun Devil Stadium over the Redskins two days before the stadium vote. The vote passed — barely — to create the bonds for University of Phoenix Stadium, and it was hard to feel like that big win didn’t have some impact.

(And some have asked, but it’s a moot point of “whether Williams goes into the Hall as a Cardinal or a Ram.” In football, the busts don’t have any team affiliation. It’s not baseball, where the bust has a hat.)

Looking ahead, there is a chance the Cardinals could have Hall of Famers in back-to-back classes.

Quarterback Kurt Warner is eligible for the first time next season, and many think Warner is a strong Hall of Fame candidate. It’d be interesting to have Warner make it in during a Super Bowl week here in Arizona, where next year’s Super Bowl will nbe held. Then again, Warner might have a tough time getting in during his first chance. There are only a maximum of five modern-era inductees put in every season. In addition to Warner here are some of the first-time eligible players next season: Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, Rams wide receiver Torry Holt, Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce, Rams tackle Orlando Pace and Colts/Cardinals running back Edgerrin James (I didn’t realize they all retired at the same time.)

That doesn’t include the guys who haven’t yet gotten in: Chiefs guard Will Shields, Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown, Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison and Steelers running back Jerome Bettis.

AeneasForHoFBLOG


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Aeneas again a Hall finalist and Licht talk

Posted by Darren Urban on January 9, 2014 – 8:51 pm

For the third year in a row, former Cardinals cornerback Aeneas Williams has been selected as one of the 15 modern-day finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Getting to that point is important. The group will be shaved to 10 and then the final group will be selected, up to five (plus the two senior nominees, punter Ray Guy and defensive lineman Claude Humphrey.)

Does Williams have a chance? Sure, but again, with only up to five others getting it, it’s tough sledding. (I wrote a post last year whether Williams or Kurt Warner would be the first to get into the Hall of Fame. Warner’s first year of eligibility after next season, and the voting will be held at the Super Bowl in Arizona.) Among the other finalists: Seahawks tackle Walter Jones, Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks, Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, Cowboys/49ers defensive end Charles Haley and Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison.

The vote will be Feb. 1, the day before the Super Bowl. Kent Somers, the Arizona Republic’s beat writer covering the Cardinals, is the Arizona voter in the room and will present Williams’ case as he has the past two years.

— The news came out this afternoon that the Dolphins, who are searching for a new general manager after firing Jeff Ireland, have asked permission to interview Cardinals vice president of player personnel Jason Licht. Licht was a finalist for the Bears GM job in 2012. Even if Licht doesn’t get the job, it won’t be the last time teams seek him out as at least a candidate for a GM job.


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Aeneas and a Hall of Fame race with Warner

Posted by Darren Urban on February 1, 2013 – 2:44 pm

Who will be the first Arizona Cardinal to make it into the Hall of Fame? That could be an interesting race.

Former cornerback Aeneas Williams is among the 17 finalists for induction this year, just as he was last year. Williams, drafted by the Cardinals in 1991, is the first homegrown Arizona Cardinal to have a chance at the Hall. He deserves to get there at some point. He made eight Pro Bowls in his career (a decade with the Cards, and then four seasons with the St. Louis Rams), seven as a cornerback. He made one after moving to safety with the Rams. He had 55 interceptions, nine that he returned for touchdowns. Cowboys Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin has often talked about how hard Williams made his life. He was one of the game’s all-time best, although his career was underplayed because the Cardinals were often bad during his playing days.

Williams may be in a waiting game. If he doesn’t get in this year — and it will be tough with the names there — when would it happen?

In the meantime, quarterback Kurt Warner waits for his chance for eligibility. Warner isn’t homegrown, not after successfully breaking in with the Rams. But there is little question that the only reason Warner’s career elevated to possible Hall of Fame status was because he had a rebirth with the Cardinals. Without those years from 2005-2009 — particularly his renaissance with Ken Whisenhunt from 2007-2009 — this wouldn’t even be a topic. Warner’s first year of eligibility comes after the 2014 season, when, in a nice twist of coincidence, the Hall vote will take place at the Super Bowl in Arizona. (Team president Michael Bidwill also said on Radio Row the other day the team’s plans to eventually honor Warner themselves — perhaps the Ring of Honor? — would likely wait until Warner’s Hall status is possible.)

Many believe Warner is a surefire get-in-right-away Hall of Famer, but we will see. There are some significant players that have come up for the Hall of late and will be reaching eligibility over the next few years. There will be a logjam of worthy candidates. If Williams doesn’t get in this year, it’s because of the guys who he is up against. Finalists include Cris Carter, Warren Sapp, Tim Brown, Will Shields, Michael Strahan and Jonathan Ogden, among others. Hopefully, Williams gets in sooner rather than later. Who knows? Maybe they could both get in the same year, in Arizona.

This year’s class is announced at 3:30 p.m. Arizona time Saturday.

UPDATE: Williams did not make it, although he did get to the final 10.


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Aeneas doesn’t make Hall of Fame – yet

Posted by Darren Urban on February 4, 2012 – 4:24 pm

Former Cardinals cornerback Aeneas Williams made it to the Hall of Fame’s final list of 10, but he was not elected in the end to Canton. It’s not a surprise. The fact Williams did make the final 10 in his first year as a finalist does bode well for the future, although with the Hall, there’s no way to know exactly how long the wait will be — or even if the wait for sure will ever end.

The 2012 Hall of Fame class included running back Curtis Martin, defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, center Dermontti Dawson, tackle Willie Roaf, running backs Curtis Martin, defensive end Chris Doleman and senior committee pick Jack Butler, a one-time cornerback.

The Cardinals’ beat writer for the Arizona Republic, Kent Somers, was the presenter for Aeneas in the voting room and is Arizona’s voter. He tweeted out this message: “Aeneas Williams did not make the final 5. Think he’ll be there in the future, however.” Given that Kent will have a pulse of what happens in the voting realm, that would seem to be a good sign.

(Kent, by the way, blogged about his thoughts and ballots during the Hall meeting today.)

This is going to be a yearly blog post, methinks. Would be interesting if it turned out Williams and Kurt Warner ended up in the same Hall class.


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The case for Aeneas

Posted by Darren Urban on January 17, 2012 – 9:58 am

In a few weeks (the day — Feb. 4 — before the Super Bowl), the Hall of Fame selectors will gather in a room in Indianapolis to cull the current list of 15 finalists down to a 2012 Hall of Fame class of between four and seven men. Former Cardinals star Aeneas Williams will be one of the candidates.

What are his chances? It’s so hard to handicap the NFL Hall of Fame. It’s based on a vote, but unlike baseball, for instance, where more than 500 voters simply list a ballot, the NFL version has 50 writers in a room debating the merits of each candidate first before a series of votes whittles down the prospective group. And football, unlike other sports, makes it much harder to compare positions because of the nature of the game, a cornerback versus a quarterback versus a tackle versus a linebacker is the ultimate apples-oranges problem.

But when you look at Williams’ numbers against the other defensive backs in the Hall of Fame, they seem to work. Williams’ 12 total defensive touchdowns are more than any DB in the Hall except for Rod Woodson. His 55 interceptions are right in the mix of most inductees (two more than Deion Sanders even).

As with any Hall class, however, it’s always about who else is possible. There are no Jerry Rices or Emmitt Smiths in the group, no absolute sure-fire no-brainers. The full list has receivers with huge stats (Tim Brown, Andre Reed, Cris Carter), Sack artists (Chris Doleman, Kevin Greene, Charles Haley), steady producers (Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis), long-term linemen (Dermontti Dawson, Cortez Kennedy, Willie Roaf, Will Shields) and some high-profile coaches and execs (Bill Parcells, Ron Wolf).

Williams is humble about reaching the final round for the first time, and being the first Cardinal since the team moved to Arizona to make it to the final group (You’d assume another former Card/Ram, Kurt Warner, will do so when he becomes eligible during the 2015 season for the 2016 class).


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Aeneas named Hall of Fame finalist

Posted by Darren Urban on January 7, 2012 – 2:34 pm

Former Cards cornerback Aeneas Williams, who was the anchor of the secondary from the time he was drafted in 1991 until he was traded to the Rams after the 2000 season, was among 15 finalists of the 2012 Hall of Fame announced Saturday.

The Hall class will be voted on and announced the day before the Super Bowl. Among the other finalists are receiver Cris Carter, running back Jerome Bettis and coach Bill Parcells.

Williams made seven Pro Bowls as a cornerback and another one as a safety, the position he played during two of his final three seasons in St. Louis. He had 55 interceptions in his career, returning nine for touchdowns. The Cardinals inducted him into their Ring of Honor during the 2008 season.


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Revisionist History: A playoff pounding in Dallas

Posted by Darren Urban on July 15, 2011 – 2:46 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

When all that noise cropped up around the Cardinals in January of 2009 – the stuff about that team being the worst in playoff history, etc., etc., — I remember thinking, “This team is better than the last Cardinal playoff team.”

Turned out both squads ended up shocking the world. Back in 1998, it might have been an even bigger deal.

The Cards barely squeezed into the playoffs as a wild card (remember, the 2008 Cards clinched the division relatively early). Their first playoff game in years would come in Dallas, against the NFC East rival Cowboys – a team that had beaten the Cards 16 of the previous 17 meetings and who had crushed the Cards, 38-10, in Dallas to open the 1998 season. Forget Cris Collinsworth. The general feeling of the Cards was as a team lucky to be in the playoffs, and probable to fall to the Cowboys – a once-great team that was very ordinary by this time.

The numbers added fuel to the critics’ fire, especially the weakness of the Cards’ schedule (Arizona’s opponents had a .395 winning percentage). On the other side, there was a young team with so much future potential, like rookie defensive end Andre Wadsworth, who at that point was improving after his crazy debut in Dallas earlier in the year (Oh, what could have been). Jake Plummer was the quarterback who was definitely a winner. Cornerback Aeneas Williams was a Pro Bowler who was one of the few in the NFL who had proven he could handle star Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin.

The Cards, at that point, hadn’t won a playoff game since 1947 – the year they won the NFL championship. “My Dad wasn’t even born yet,” guard Chris Dishman said. They had history against them, and a still-potent Emmitt Smith (if you would have suggested then that Smith would eventually be a Cardinal …), but the Cards had played the Cowboys close at Sun Devil Stadium late in the year.

Foreshadowing? Not really. Not after the Cowboys scored 38 and 35 on the Cards in the two regular-season games, only to be shut down for seven points in the playoff game. The Cardinals stunned the Cowboys in a 20-7 win, and that Dallas touchdown came late, with the game all but decided. The cornerback tandem of Corey Chavous and Williams had three interceptions, and safety Tommy Bennett added one in the final seconds for emphasis. Wide receiver Frank Sanders hauled in a 59-yard Plummer pass to set up a score and running back Adrian Murrell broke off a 74-yard run to set up another.

That was all the Cards really needed, the way the defense performed. Slaying the Cowboys was about the present but it was also about unloading on the pre-game disrespect. It was about a fan base starving for success.

It was also short-lived.

The Cards turned their attention to the powerful Vikings for the following week, but that didn’t end well. In the offseason, the Cards lost key players like Larry Centers, Lomas Brown and Jamir Miller and never did battle again for a playoff spot until the magical season a decade later –with the 2008 team that supposedly had too many warts itself. That ride lasted a lot longer.

But for those moments in 1998, when it seemed like the Cards were never going to have any success, the Dallas domination was something to savor.


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Revisionist History: Aeneas authors Young’s last chapter

Posted by Darren Urban on June 21, 2011 – 4:17 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

It was the hit that changed a little history, at least for the 49ers, and the Cardinals were the ones that delivered it.  There is some irony there, given that the two are rivals now, because back in 1999, they most certainly weren’t.

Still, the concussion-inducing shot absorbed by then-49ers quarterback Steve Young by cornerback Aeneas Williams ended Young’s career, and hasn’t been forgotten.

Back in 1999, the Cards were coming off their magical 1998 playoff appearance. The 49ers were still one of the best teams in the league. San Francisco was due to visit Sun Devil Stadium in a game that was rare on many levels. It was “Monday Night Football,” only the third time the Cards had been on MNF since coming to Arizona (and long before 49er-Cardinal games became practically annual Monday night viewing). Playing the 49ers didn’t happen often. The Cards were still in the NFC East. The 1999 game was only the third time SF would play in Arizona – although the first one remained (and still remains) a classic for Cards fans.

Then came the game. Young had piloted the Niners to a 17-0 when, late in the first half, Young was sandwiched by cornerbacks Williams and J.J. McCleskey coming on blitzes from each side. Williams drilled Young in the chest, and Young’s head banged into a teammate’s knee on his way to the turf. He was down and out, replaced by an unknown named Jeff Garcia, who threw for just 30 yards while the Niners held on to a 24-10 win.

Young was worried about his future, but wanted to keep playing football. Even the following June, Williams talked about how he wanted Young to keep playing. But a few days later, Young finally was forced to admit his career was over, while Williams recounted that night. “I remember it being really quiet, and seeing him laid out on the field,” Williams said. Young never did play again after Williams hit him.

In 2008, the Niners came to play the Cards in Arizona for “Monday Night Football.” Williams was there as alumni captain, and Young was too as part of the ESPN television crew. It made sense to bring up the story, and Young was asked if he would talk about that night at Sun Devil Stadium. He made clear it wasn’t a subject he wanted to re-visit. I’d imagine if the same scenario came up again, in the context of today’s Cardinals-49ers relationship, it’d be an even bigger sore spot.


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Revisionist History: The stadium game

Posted by Darren Urban on May 20, 2011 – 1:30 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

It was probably just coincidence, because to think otherwise might be stretching things a bit.

Still, the Cardinals beating the Redskins, 16-15, on Nov. 5, 2000, just two days before the public vote that would eventually get the Cardinals a new stadium, couldn’t have been timed any better. And, in many ways, couldn’t have been more improbable. Head coach Vince Tobin had been fired just two weeks before. Interim coach Dave McGinnis was at the helm for a team that, when it was over, finished 3-13. The season ended with a seven-game losing streak, and had the breaks not broken as they did that day against the Redskins, the losing streak would have been 11 all told.

With many people wondering if the public would indeed approve a stadium for a team struggling so bad, the Cards came up with a win. A crazy win. The Redskins, who were 6-3 coming into the game, outgained the Cards, 431 yards to 178. A bad snap cost the Redskins an extra point, and Washington kicker Kris Heppner missed 51- and 33-yard field goals (yes, Heppner was out of a job the next day). “The kicker choked and that helped us a lot,” Cardinals linebacker Sekou Sanyika said in one of the more blunt post-game quotes I’ve ever gotten.

But the lasting memory was cornerback Aeneas Williams. After Washington drove down (easily) to the Arizona 1-yard line, linebacker Mark Maddox stripped running back Stephen Davis of the ball. Williams (pictured below) scooped up the ball in the end zone, got to the sideline and raced a record-tying 104 yards for a touchdown (originally Williams was credited with a 103-yard return but the Elias Sports Bureau gave him the extra yard the next day upon further review). Williams did cartwheels on the field after the Redskins’ final pass fell incomplete, and all that was left was to wonder if it could/would impact the stadium vote.

It’s impossible to know if it did for sure, as it was impossible to know if the door-to-door campaigning McGinnis and quarterback Jake Plummer, among others, did too. It was an incredibly close vote. The result for Proposition 302 was impossible to call at first, and the days dragged by with more uncertainty. Finally, though, the Cardinals and the 302 crowd were able to claim victory (with about 52 percent of the vote) and what was to become University of Phoenix Stadium took its first — albeit biggest — step forward on Nov. 15, 2000, 10 days after beating the Redskins.

Of course, there were some roller-coaster moments while trying to find a site to put the stadium, but that’s a blog post for another day. In this moment in time, Aeneas Williams and the Cardinals pulled out what may have been their most important win, at least in terms of the Arizona Cardinals. It was the vehicle the team needed to reach a competitive level, the centerpiece of a organizational metamorphosis (It’s tough to imagine, without a new building, the Cards reaching a Super Bowl). Plus it kept the team in town. I wasn’t planning on trying to go to California to cover the Los Angeles Cardinals.


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