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.
Tags: Adrian Murrell, Aeneas Williams, Andre Wadsworth, Chris Dishman, Corey Chavous, Cowboys, Cris Collinsworth, Emmitt Smith, Frank Sanders, Jake Plummer, Jamir Miller, Larry Centers, Lomas Brown, Michael Irvin, playoffs, Revisionist history, Tommy Bennett, Vikings
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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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