The newest “A Football Life” episode debuts tonight, that of Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith. After getting a chance to screen it early, truth be told, I was surprised with how much was included about his final two seasons playing with the Cardinals. I originally thought it might just have a quick mention, but it was covered in decent detail — it didn’t hurt that the Cardinals played in Dallas early in the 2003 season, so the drama of Smith returning to play in his former home right after leaving was there.
Smith admitted that for a while after signing with the Cards, especially after that ugly trip back to Dallas, he was questioning why he did it. He admitted he “cried like a baby” in the locker room 45 minutes before the Cardinals played the Cowboys. That can’t be beneficial to playing a good game. Smith only had six carries for minus-one yards that day before he hurt his shoulder.
But he later came to grips with the choice to be a Cardinal.
“I was sent to Arizona to be a bridge,” Smith says in the episode. “And to help others along the way, share my life experiences with them. Them asking me questions and me being able to download this information of life, to people who really wanted it, that was an amazing experience.”
“Honestly, I was like, ‘This is a publicity stunt,’ ” Cardinals teammate Adrian Wilson said in the show. “But he was such a model of professionalism. He brought the same energy every single day and I didn’t understand how he could do that at such an older age.”
It’s a well-produced show, as all of them are. The episode debuts tonight at 6 p.m. Arizona time (9 p.m. Eastern) on the NFL Network. It’s the first of three Cardinals-related “A Football Life” episodes coming. The stories of Aeneas Williams and Larry Fitzgerald will also be seen.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Emmitt Smith, NFL Network
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The University of Pittsburgh announced yesterday that it would be retiring the No. 1 jersey in honor of Larry Fitzgerald’s tenure as a Panther, a pretty remarkable achievement when you consider Fitz played just two seasons in college. (Because Fitz went to prep school for a year after high school to improve his grades, he was able to go to the NFL after his true sophomore season.) Fitzgerald was a beast in college. In his final Pitt season in 2003, despite playing for a Pitt team with limited weapons and drawing all the attention of every opponent, Fitz had 92 catches for 1,672 yards (for an 18.2 avg.) and 22 touchdowns. Guess being the No. 3 pick overall was kind of a no-brainer, even if it meant passing on some quarterbacks that turned out to be pretty good themselves.
No word in the announcement, by the way, when the jersey retiring will take place. (And, as a side note, when talking to Larry Fitzgerald Sr. last year for a Fitz story I was working on, he said his son thought about not going to Pitt but Michigan State. “He thought real hard,” Fitzgerald Sr. said, “because his girlfriend was there.”)
Anyway, Fitz’s number being retired usually brings up the secondary question: Would, somewhere down the road, the Cardinals retire No. 11? The answer is probably not. And it doesn’t have anything to do with how great Fitzgerald’s career ends up.
The Cardinals simply don’t retire many numbers. They put players in the Ring of Honor, which doesn’t take their jersey number off the market. Hall of Famers like Dan Dierdorf and Roger Wehrli are in the Ring of Honor yet their Nos. 72 and 22, respectively, have been worn often (of late, Brandon Keith and currently DE Everrette Thompson have had 72 and 22 has been worn by Duane Starks, Emmitt Smith and, today, CB Bryan McCann.)
The Cardinals have retired five jersey numbers since the organization started in 1898. Hall of Fame safety Larry Wilson (8), all-around star back and war hero Marshall Goldberg (99), safety/war hero Pat Tillman (40), and two players who died while on the roster, tight end J.V. Cain (88) and tackle Stan Mauldin (77). There are 13 people in the team’s Ring of Honor, including Wilson, Tillman and Goldberg but not Cain or Mauldin. That RoH number will rise when safety Adrian Wilson goes in, and I’d expect Fitz to be there someday as well. He just might not be able to take 11 with him, at least not permanently.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Brandon Keith, Bryan McCann, Dan Dierdorf, Duane Starks, Emmitt Smith, Everrette Thompson, J.V. Cain, Larry Fitzgerald, Larry Wilson, Marshall Goldberg, Pat Tillman, Ring of Honor, Roger Wehrli, Stan Mauldin
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Trying to figure out the depth chart in the offseason is always a sketchy thing, especially early on in the process. What happens in May can impact where the team is in September, but that doesn’t necessarily correlate with the lineup.
A quick story (and those of you who remember back to 2004, this may ring a bell): In Denny Green’s first offseason after taking over the Cardinals, he came in and made a host of changes right away, which you would expect, one being benching long-time left tackle L.J. Shelton and taking guard Leonard Davis (the same Davis who would later become a Pro Bowl guard in Dallas) and putting him at left tackle because, as Green put it, you can’t take a lineman No. 2 in the draft and pay him left tackle money to be a guard. So they made him a tackle.
That wasn’t unexpected. But at the end of OTAs that summer (in those days, minicamp was first, before OTAs, whereas now minicamp is the last part of the offseason), Green made a big deal about his depth chart. The Cardinals called an impromptu press conference on the final OTA day (most media would not have attended). First, Green called his team together and made a point of announcing his starting lineup heading into training camp — remember, the vets were about to disperse until then. He then did the same in front of the media.
Most spots were as expected. Two moves caught the attention at that point. One was the naming of Quentin Harris as free safety instead of Dexter Jackson. Jackson was coming off a six-interception year in his first season as a Card, but he had some back issues and more importantly, he and Green didn’t see eye to eye at all. Jackson was gone before the season started (and with all due respect to Q, now the team’s director of pro scouting, he was mostly a place-holder, starting the first three games that year before being benched for Ifeanyi Ohalete.) The other big deal at the time was Green naming Emmitt Smith the starting running back, a surprise to everyone (including Emmitt) after Marcel Shipp — now interning as a Cards’ coach — had run first-string the entire offseason until that point.
One move that didn’t bring any attention. Pete Kendall was named starting center.
That was a big deal six weeks later, when Kendall — who again, hadn’t been on the field since that day Green named him a starter — was cut on report day for training camp. Green said it was because the Cards needed a change; It was likely because Green thought Kendall had said something to the NFLPA about breaking rules in OTAs, which led to a league punishment. Whatever the reason, it was a drastic upheaval. (Alex Stepanovich was not Pete Kendall.)
Now, Bruce Arians is not Denny Green. I wouldn’t expect anything like the Kendall situation. But things are in flux. Jonathan Cooper is running second string right now. But yes, I expect him to be the first-string left guard sooner rather than later. Will it be by minicamp? By the start of training camp? By mid-preseason? We’ll see. Is Daryl Washington running second string as a message or because they want Karlos Dansby ready for those first four games? We’ll see. The same goes for other spots (like cornerback. Or outside linebacker). There is a long way to go before September rolls around and games count. One thing to keep in mind: Arians has reiterated a couple of times that he sees “starters” in all his different packages, offense and defense. It gives you a sense of how he views the depth chart.
Tags: Daryl Washington, Dennis Green, Dexter Jackson, Emmitt Smith, Jonathan Cooper, Karlos Dansby, L.J. Shelton, Leonard Davis, Marcel Shipp, Pete Kendall, Quentin Harris
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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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So I was looking over this ESPN.com article by Football Outsiders about the top 10 most disappointing NFL free agents of the past 25 years and it got me thinking about the Cardinals (although no, there are no Cards on the list). My first full free-agent offseason came in 2001, when the Cards — up against the salary cap — chose to sign Seattle guard Pete Kendall as their one big purchase, to team with center Mike Gruttadauria from the year before and first-rounder Leonard Davis to build the “Big Red Line.” Kendall, as always, was blunt; when he came in for his press conference and was asked, why the Cardinals, he said, “Because they paid me the most money.”
That’s usually how it goes.
The bottom line is that, occasionally, help comes via free agency. More often than not, you acquire the best players through the draft because, aside from a player here or there, there is a reason a team lets a player go. Usually it’s because they don’t see him being worth the money he commands on the open market. (Karlos Dansby? Maybe he was. Antrel Rolle? Probably not.) I would argue that, if you charted all the “bigger-name” free-agent signings in the NFL over the years, there would be more that underperformed to expectations rather than met them.
Anyway, you look back through the years and think about the “key” free agents the Cards signed. How many provided the impact that people thought they would provide the day they signed?
- 2002 – CB Duane Starks, TE Freddie Jones
- 2003 – QB Jeff Blake, RB Emmitt Smith, S Dexter Jackson
- 2004 – DE Bertrand Berry (now this one was a real winner, even with Bertrand’s later injuries)
- 2005 – DE Chike Okeafor, QB Kurt Warner (OK, that one turned out pretty well)
- 2006 – RB Edgerrin James (Edge was actually pretty effective, but certainly not the star his contract said he should be)
- 2007 – T Mike Gandy, C Al Johnson, CB Rod Hood (The Cards decide not to get FA “stars” under Whiz, just pieces to the puzzle).
- 2008 – DE Travis LaBoy, NT Bryan Robinson
- 2009 – CB Bryant McFadden
- 2010 – QB Derek Anderson, LB Joey Porter, LB Paris Lenon, K Jay Feely
Certainly a mixed bag over the years. The biggest disappointment? No, I’m not going with Anderson — remember, he was signed to be Matt Leinart’s backup, so how much disappointment can there be? (Careful now …) I think I’d probably go with Duane Starks, who parlayed his spot in that great Ravens defense into the idea he could be a shutdown corner, which he wasn’t, especially on a team that sometimes used Fred Wakefield as the right defensive end (Fred was a great guy but didn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks). Realistically, Emmitt probably provided what everyone expected and so did Edgerrin, especially since he never seemed to fit Whisenhunt’s style (and was clearly at the end, which was proven out after the Cards let him go).
Berry, by far, was the best signing, based on his 2004 season alone. I would have loved to see what sack numbers he would have had if he hadn’t gotten hurt every year after that. UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Some of you want to know how I could ever pick Berry over Warner. The simple fact is that Berry, as a free-agent signee, impacted imemdiately. Warner’s time in Arizona didn’t come across that well until after a change in coaches. That was Warner’s third season as a Card by then. Am I splitting hairs? Maybe. But in the context of this discussion, it’s difficult to argue that, as a free agent coming in, Berry didn’t produce better than Warner.
Tags: Al Johnson, Bertrand Berry, Bryan Robinson, Bryant McFadden, Chike Okeafor, Derek Anderson, Dexter Jackson, Duane Starks, Edgerrin James, Emmitt Smith, Fred Wakefield, Freddie Jones, free agency, Jay Feely, Jeff Blake, Joey Porter, Kurt Warner, Leonard Davis, Matt Leinart, Mike Gandy, Mike Gruttadauria, Paris Lenon, Pete Kendall, Rod Hood, Travis LaBoy
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The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
At the time he arrived, though?
In this first installment of “Revisionist History” (which isn’t so much revising how people should think about a moment for the Cardinals since coming to Arizona as much as reminding them the mindset at the time), a glance back at when the Cards first signed Warner in March of 2005. Denny Green was in his second year as coach. Warner was coming off a benching for the Giants. The Cardinals were coming off a season in which Josh McCown, Shaun King and John Navarre were the quarterback-merry-go-round for Denny.
So Warner was signed. Both local papers compared the decision to the Cards signing Emmitt Smith a couple of years before (“Desperate teams – and desperate players – do desperate things” wrote the Tribune’s Scott Bordow). Remember, Warner only signed a one-year contract in 2005. He re-signed a three-year deal before 2006, and then the Cards took Matt Leinart in the draft, much to his chagrin.
I remember doing a big story on Warner (part one and part two) right before minicamp (that’s a Warner shot from that camp below). There was still much to prove. His halcyon days as a Ram were far behind him, his rebirth with the Cards under Ken Whisenhunt far ahead, relatively speaking. (I mean, I remember how he was showered with boos after the early-season Rams’ loss in 2006. Leinart was the starter soon after, and before the infamous Monday Night Meltdown against the Bears, Kurt was already considering retirement after the season. Can you imagine had he done that, and not had his run in ’07, ’08 and ’09?)
One thing was for certain, Warner still very much believed in himself, and always did, regardless of the circumstances of the team or even Leinart’s showing as a rookie.
A couple of quotes from my Warner opus stand out, especially in retrospect. The first: “It’s kind of my story, the underdog story, no chance to have success. It’s kind of like what I stepped into in St. Louis. I get a chance to rewrite my story and I get a chance to rewrite the story of the Arizona Cardinals.”
There is no question he did.
The second quote? “I am moving my family, I am buying a home and I am believing things are going to work out great. The great thing about it is so much of it depends on me.”
Tags: Dennis Green, Emmitt Smith, John Navarre, Josh McCown, Ken Whisenhunt, Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart, Revisionist history, Shaun King
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The news today that running back Tiki Barber is coming out of retirement at age 35 after sitting out four seasons brought with it a lot of analysis (and smart-aleck comments), and a lot of comparisons. Mike Sando wrote a nice piece on the once-rumored Jim Brown comeback in 1983 (I remember that SI cover, and the stir Brown caused at the time) and also touched on the elite backs who finished out their careers — not in great ways — as older players in the NFC West. Guys like Franco Harris, O.J. Simpson and yes, Emmitt Smith.
I did notice, however, that of the players listed, Smith ended up with the best final season of any of them, gaining 937 yards in Denny Green’s first season, and scoring nine touchdowns. That’s what I remember about Emmitt back then, that he certainly didn’t have the burst to break any big runs but he still had a knack for the goal line once you got him inside the 10. He wasn’t exactly playing for an offensive juggernaut in 2004 either — I think he would have easily punctured 1,000 yards rushing had he had a little better of a unit around him.
The other thing I remember concerning Emmitt’s end game? He didn’t want it to be the end. I was at his retirement press conference at that year’s Super Bowl in Jacksonville. Emmitt still gave thanks to a lot of Cardinals’ people, but it was a Cowboys’ event all the way, with Dallas helmets and owner Jerry Jones. Yet Emmitt wanted to come back to the Cardinals in 2005. His side had reached out to the organization, but by then — correctly — the Cards were ready to move on at running back.
Tags: Dennis Green, Emmitt Smith, Franco Harris, O.J. Simpson, Tiki Barber
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While the main reason receiver Steve Breaston wanted to meet comic book icon Todd McFarlane a couple weeks ago was Breaston’s love of comics, there was a side benefit Breaston didn’t know about much before he headed over — McFarlane’s company also produces SportsPicks figures, the six-inch replicas of many sports stars. Breaston got a brief talk about how the figures are made (photo to the right) and got a chance to see examples of almost all the figures the company has created (each sport’s figures are hanging on walls inside the McFarlane offices).
Given that the Cards are in McFarlane’s backyard, it’s been natural that a few Cardinals have been immortalized in plastic. It’s been easier over the past few years with bigger names and more on-field success (the franchise has come a long way since Emmitt Smith was McFarlane’s first Cards’ choice). The picture below lays out all the past Cardinals, with the knowledge there is a new Larry Fitzgerald pose set to be unveiled in September, on sale at McFarlane’s Westgate store next to University of Phoenix Stadium.
Tags: Emmitt Smith, Larry Fitzgerald, McFarlane, Steve Breaston
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If you haven’t had a chance to check out the rookie-reporting video, it’s a pretty good look of behind-the-scenes. The best part to me was when the camera caught veteran nose tackle Bryan Robinson meeting rookie nose tackle and first-round pick Dan Williams for the first time.
“You’re the guy I came back to mentor,” Robinson said to Williams. “You’re the guy that’s going to take my spot — and I want you to do that. I really do. I’m going to help you as much as I can.”
Those words have to be music to the ears of coach Ken Whisenhunt.
— As a P.S. for anyone coming out to Fan Fest Saturday (gates open at the Tempe complex at 9 a.m., practice is at 10:45), in addition to the normal Cards’ gear on sale, there will also be a special “historical” store for anyone interested. All proceeds will go to Cardinals Charities, so if you’re looking for, say, an Emmitt Smith autographed football (that’s been scanned with WeTrak, Emmitt’s own authentication system) or maybe an Anquan Boldin authentic jersey, those will be available.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Bryan Robinson, Dan Williams, Emmitt Smith
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The semifinalists for the upcoming Pro Football Hall of Fame class were recently announced, and the Cards had some significant representation. Longtime cornerback Aeneas Williams, the first legitimate Hall-worthy guy to play the majority of his career with the Cards after the team moved to Arizona, is eligible for the first time. Assistant head coach Russ Grimm, who has been a semifinalist for a few years now after his stellar career as an offensive lineman for the Redskins, is there again. And this is the first year of eligibility for running back Emmitt Smith, who of course finished out his career as a Cardinal in 2003 and 2004.
Smith will make the Hall this year. Williams and Grimm are deserving, but because of the limited amount of spots, may have to wait. Grimm always downplays this point — he has again this year — and says he’ll worry about it when and if it happens. Williams should get there, although he will be working against the teams he played with, which often left him far from the media spotlight and the playoffs.
The whittling down of the semifinalists (25) to finalists to the actual class (of up to 7) will happen on the day before the Super Bowl in February.
Tags: Aeneas Williams, Emmitt Smith, Hall of Fame, Russ Grimm
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