The last time the Cardinals played in Houston in a game that counted, Larry Fitzgerald was only 22 years old, in the days when the Cards never talked about the playoffs. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t remember. Fitz was asked this week about a 12-yard touchdown pass he caught in the game – a loss to a Texans team so bad they ended up with the No. 1 overall draft pick – and it took him no time to recall that it was the great John Navarre who threw him the pass.
“I have a photographic memory,” Fitzgerald said. “Slant route in garbage time. Fantasy owners were happy.”
Fitz proceeded to say he remembers almost every catch he’s ever made, and that’s quite a few. I mean, that’s 1,185 in his career and counting – a number that came into even sharper focus Friday morning with Fitz’s contract extension through 2018. As I said before, it’s good he’s under contract but for me, it doesn’t guarantee Fitz playing next season. Good sign, yes. But until I hear it from his mouth – I am guessing it will be a topic postgame Sunday – I can’t go all in.
This season, though, Fitzgerald is here and playing very well. If you can have a quiet 10-113 as a receiver, Fitz did last week against the Seahawks. With Blaine Gabbert starting Sunday, I’m guessing the new QB will lean on Fitz targets again, both because, duh, he’s a Hall-of-Famer-to-be, but also because of the troubles the pass catchers not named Fitz had with drops/near-catches against Seattle.
— It made a lot of sense all week that Gabbert would get the nod to play Sunday. He’s healthy. Drew Stanton is not. Bruce Arians wanted to keep Stanton in the lineup, and I do agree with B.A. that Stanton played pretty well against Seattle. Gabbert is playing because of injury but I also understand the idea of getting a chance to see what Gabbert can do, in this offense, in a game that counts.
— Fitz was asked if Gabbert’s success in the preseason gives him confidence in the new QB. It led to a long pause. “I’ve been in it a long time,” Fitzgerald finally said. “Preseason is preseason. I’ve seen him have success in regular-season games.”
— Interesting (to me, at least) that the Cards become the first team to start three QBs this season, given that it comes against the Texans. The long-ago loss in Houston, in which Navarre found Fitz? It was the only time the Cardinals have played three quarterbacks in a game. Kurt Warner started, completed all 10 of his passes (Fitz isn’t the only one who remembers all this stuff off the top of his head) before exiting with a knee injury. Josh McCown was the backup and came in, but he was horribly ill that day and he couldn’t continue. So the Cards turned to Navarre.
— Arians was asked about those receivers this week after the struggles they had collectively. “Practice is fine,” he said. “When those lights turn on … it’s going to be a big week for them.”
— The Cardinals have only played the Texans three times in the regular season. The loss in 2005, and the Cardinals getting home wins in 2009 and 2013.
— Stanton hurt his right knee when he was hit low by Seattle defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, who was flagged on the play (and it kept alive the TD drive that ended with the Stanton TD screen pass to Jermaine Gresham). Richardson was fined $18,231 for his play, and was not happy about it. Also fined $18,231 was Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby, who was flagged for the hit to Russell Wilson’s jaw. Dansby is appealing, and the Seahawks are still dealing with the fallout for not properly checking Wilson for a concussion.
— Corey Peters has been solid in the middle of the defensive line this season. Not having him in the lineup is notable. The Texans are going to want to run to protect struggling QB Tom Savage. We will see who plugs the middle of the line.
— The Texans are putting former all-pro wide receiver Andre Johnson, their version of Fitz, into their Ring of Honor at halftime Sunday. Current star receiver DeAndre Hopkins was asked to name his favorite Johnson play. It turned out he named a reception over Patrick Peterson in Arizona in 2013.
Late in the game, Johnson was blanketed by Peterson, who actually got his hand on the ball and looked like he might get an amazing end zone interception. Instead, the ball bounced and Johnson somehow tipped it to himself and kept his feet in. (Here, look for yourself, around the 52-second mark.)
“I don’t know how he caught it,” Hopkins said.
— Fitz on Johnson: “He exudes class. He’s one of the best to ever do it. This is just a precursor to greater things down the road. He’s a Hall of Fame talent. I’m happy as a fan of his to witness and see it go up.”
— One final Fitz note. It was mentioned in his “A Football Life” episode that he buys suits for all the coaches. Fitzgerald said he’s been doing that “forever.”
“Our success on the field, it says our numbers, but those guys spend hours … (assistant head coach) Tom Moore is here at 4 o’clock in the morning every morning figuring out new innovate ways to be able to feature guys like myself and Adrian (Peterson),” Fitz said. “A lot of hard work was put into those schemes and you want to do right by those guys.”
“They all get custom stuff, make sure they look good. Some of them look better than others.”
See you in Houston.
Tags: Andre Johnson, Blaine Gabbert, Bruce Arians, Corey Peters, DeAndre Hopkins, Drew Stanton, John Navarre, Josh McCown, Karlos Dansby, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Russell Wilson, Sheldon Richardson, Texans, Tom Moore, Tom Savage
Posted in Blog | 19 Comments »
“What if” is a staple of sports. It doesn’t matter if it’s a particular play, game, season or transaction, hindsight is everywhere. ESPN.com played the game recently, posting a “What If” draft moment for each team. For the Cardinals, it was an obvious but solid choice: What if the Cardinals had drafted Adrian Peterson over Levi Brown in 2007. That’s also a game all of us have played over and over, almost since that time.
My “What If” Cardinals draft moment creates a lot more debate, but it’s one that is fascinating to deconstruct. It also gives no clear answer, unlike Peterson/Brown. What if the Cardinals had drafted Ben Roethlisberger instead of Larry Fitzgerald in 2004?
First, the obvious. Fitz is the face of this franchise, and has been for many years. He’s beloved by the fans, and by ownership. He’s been a Hall of Fame football player. There is no angle in which you can say the Cardinals made the wrong decision by selecting Fitzgerald. He helped the Cardinals get to a Super Bowl (and it can be argued he basically carried them there.)
But again, what if?
Dennis Green wanted Fitz. The former coach laid the groundwork for taking the wide receiver anywhere he could, at one point emphasizing how athletic and talented incumbent but inexperienced quarterback Josh McCown was. Remember, this was 2004, a season before the Cardinals brought Kurt Warner in as really the only team in the NFL still willing to give Warner a shot at starting.
When Fitz was taken third overall, Eli Manning was already off the board, but Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers were still on the board. I think the Cards would’ve taken Big Ben had they gone QB (but what if it had been Rivers – would the Giants had taken Big Ben, traded him to the Chargers for Eli, and then Roethlisberger was a Charger?)
If Roethlisberger had been a Cardinal instead of Fitz, Warner never comes to Arizona. The Cardinals did have Anquan Boldin coming off his huge rookie season, and he would have remained the Cards’ No. 1 receiver – and with no Fitz, he probably never has contract issues and sticks around. Would Denny still have stalled out as coach with Big Ben? Even if he did, and was fired, would Ken Whisenhunt – who as OC of the Steelers wouldn’t have had Roethlisberger to lead them to a Super Bowl win in 2005 – still be a hot coaching commodity to be hired by the Cardinals?
Would the Cards have found a way to the Super Bowl in 2008, and if they had, would they have seen the Ben-less Steelers? The Cardinals also wouldn’t have drafted Matt Leinart in 2006, and it’s hard to know exactly where Fitzgerald would have ended up in 2004.
What makes the Fitz draft choice so smart in hindsight is that the Cardinals have been able to bring in two veterans in for little – Warner and Carson Palmer – and have them play very well in Arizona. The Cards haven’t turned into the Browns, constantly searching for a quarterback – making a 2004 miss more of a lament.
Still, what if?
Tags: Ben Roethlisberger, Chargers, Dennis Green, draft, Josh McCown, Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, Steelers
Posted in Blog | 28 Comments »
Fitz said he’s coming back and it seems like only a matter of time before Carson Palmer does the same. I get why some have trepidation that Palmer has yet to officially say anything, but knowing Palmer, he really didn’t want to even make coming back a “thing” if he could’ve helped it; if Bruce Arians hadn’t mentioned that Palmer was on the fence, I’m not sure anyone would even be thinking about it.
(As a side note, on Friday Palmer’s 2017 salary of $15.5 million becomes fully guaranteed. Fitz’s $11M salary also becomes guaranteed that day.)
It’s important to have Palmer, of course. I’ve heard from fans who think otherwise, who want to move on, but that makes no sense to me. Not that it matters — Palmer, if he wants to play, is the quarterback. But anytime that subject comes up, it makes me think of the lengthy list of QBs this franchise has had since moving to Arizona. So, as the 2016 season fades and we wait for the 2017 season to gain steam, I thought I’d do a power ranking of the QBs this team has had since 1988, the year they came to the desert. My one requirement: A QB had to have at least 10 starts (eliminating some half-season greats like Boomer Esiason, Derek Anderson and Jay Schroeder. Feel free to insert them into your own list if you choose.) There have been a few.
- 1. Kurt Warner: He’s a Hall of Famer and the lone guy to get the Cards to a Super Bowl. So, yeah. He’s the best.
- 2. Palmer: He has plenty of critics. But he’s been pretty good. He’s won a lot of games. And, save for 2014, he’s been durable.
- 3. Neil Lomax: Oh, that hip.
- 4. Jake Plummer: Beloved local hero finally got the Cardinals to the playoffs. So fun to watch. Sometimes, frustrating to watch.
- 5. Kevin Kolb: He was usually solid — he could just never stay healthy. Beat the Patriots in New England.
- 6. Steve Beuerlein: Maybe things would’ve been a little different if Buddy Ryan hadn’t shown up.
- 7. Josh McCown: The man Denny Green believed in enough to justify drafting Fitz.
- 8. Timm Rosenbach: Another guy you wonder about had he had health.
- 9. Matt Leinart: He did just fine his first two starts. But post-Monday Night Meltdown, and after Kurt, everything changed.
- 10. Dave Krieg: To be a QB on a Buddy Ryan team couldn’t have been easy.
- 11. Kent Graham: Had the misfortune of trying to be the placeholder for Jake the Snake.
- 12. Chris Chandler: One year as full-time starter got 15 TDs, 15 picks and 12 losses.
- 13. Jeff Blake: Once, I asked him about his career. “It’s not like I’ve played bad ball,” he said. “I’ve just been on bad teams.”
- 14. Gary Hogeboom: Those years after Lomax were tough.
- 15. John Skelton: Cards managed to go .500 with him taking over for Kolb in 2011. Fitz helped.
- 16. Tom Tupa: He was a punter first for a reason.
Tags: Carson Palmer, Chris Chandler, Dave Krieg, Gary Hogeboom, Jake Plummer, Jeff Blake, John Skelton, Josh McCown, Kent Graham, Kevin Kolb, Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart, Neil Lomax, Steve Beuerlein, Timm Rosenbach, Tom Tupa
Posted in Blog | 50 Comments »
The one city Larry Fitzgerald has not yet played is Cleveland.
That shows you how long it’s been since the Cardinals visited the Browns. It was 2003, the Cards wore all-white uniforms, and if there was a game that sealed the season’s end firing of then-coach Dave McGinnis, it was probably that listless and ugly 44-6 loss to a mediocre Browns team. By the way, while Jeff Blake started at quarterback for the Cardinals that day, who played some in relief? Yes, that’s right, Josh McCown – the guy who despite his shoulder injury is still likely to start for the Browns Sunday, all these years later, for the Cards’ next trip to Cleveland.
The Cardinals aren’t losing like that in Cleveland again. They shouldn’t even lose. These are the days when they are the favorites in games like this. Twelve years ago, that Browns loss was the 10th straight road loss for the Cards, by an average of 23 points. These Cards go on the road and winning is the expectation. They need it too, with the bye coming up and back-to-back games against the Seahawks and Bengals the next on the schedule.
I’m not sure how Fitz does in his first (and only) trip to Cleveland. But I expect the Cards to play well offensively, and create some new memories about a visit to the Dawg Pound.
— The Browns have the league’s worst rushing defense and the Cards have the second-leading rusher in Chris Johnson. That seems to be a heavy advantage toward the Cardinals, no?
— One of the biggest threats the Browns have offensively is tight end Gary Barnidge, who has come up with some great chemistry with McCown and has posted offensive numbers the past five games that rival a healthy Rob Gronkowski (seriously!). But as Bill Barnwell noted, the Cardinals are only giving up 40 yards a game to tight ends this season. Impressive, given the tight end troubles the Cards have had defensively the last couple of years. Of course, they haven’t faced someone as productive as Barnidge yet. It will be a fascinating storyline to watch.
— The Cardinals have been close to perfect performances this season (see 49ers, San Francisco) but they haven’t gotten one yet. It’s a chase that really can never be achieved, and even Arians acknowledges that. And close won’t make Arians happy.
“That doesn’t happen until the season is over and we have a ring on our finger,” Arians said. “Then I’ll be happy as (expletive).”
— Fitz, by the way, would rather his stellar blocking not be such a thing anymore.
“If you look back, even when I was young, my guy was never in on a tackle,” he said. “If I’m going to block him, I’m going to block him. You guys (in the media) create the narrative. He’s a blocker. OK, that’s great. People start talking about it. But I’ve always blocked, even when I was playing ‘X.’ I’m a big guy, I’m relatively physical. It’s not something I really love to do, but I’m OK at it.”
— Arians said there will be more in the gameplan for Andre Ellington this week. Ellington did end up with 18 snaps last week (compared to 27 for Chris Johnson). But he may have more touches. Against the league’s worst run defense, it makes sense.
— Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin on visiting the Dawg Pound in Cleveland: “It’s pretty ugly. It’s loud, people with masks on. It can be pretty terrifying.”
— With McCown iffy because of his shoulder problem and the chance Johnny Manziel could play, the Cardinals prepared for both this week – like they did Steelers week for either Mike Vick or Ben Roethlisberger. That didn’t end well, against Landry Jones, although Arians acknowledged the Cardinals hadn’t prepped for Landry Jones. There won’t be a surprise again, though.
“We don’t want to go out there and be surprised,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I think we were a little bit surprised with Landry Jones in Pittsburgh and how well he knew the offense. We don’t want to have letups like that. This is a game we feel we need to win to really put us in position going forward.”
Tags: Andre Ellington, Browns, Bruce Arians, Chris Johnson, Gary Barnidge, Harold Goodwin, Johnny Manziel, Josh McCown, Larry Fitzgerald, Tyrann Mathieu
Posted in Blog | 29 Comments »
Larry Fitzgerald held a grudge, at least for a little while, against Josh McCown.
“I got mad at him, him and Nate Poole, because I might’ve gone number one overall that year if you guys don’t beat my Vikings,” Fitzgerald said Thursday, with the Cardinals set to face the McCown-led Browns Sunday.
The faux anger had truth to it. Then-Cardinals coach Dennis Green loved Fitzgerald and there was a chance he would have been the Cards’ pick regardless of where they picked. (The McCown-to-Poole Hail Mary moved the Cards from No. 1 to No. 3 in the first round, where they took Fitz.) Plus, Fitzgerald was upset that his hometown team was knocked out of the playoffs.
“I was a ballboy,” Fitzgerald said. “I was going to be able to go to the game.”
(Yeah, probably not. Fitz was indeed a ballboy for the Vikings for a few years, but I feel confident in saying he no longer had any ballboy duties — playoffs or no — after his Heisman-finalist 2003 season at the University of Pittsburgh.)
Fitzgerald and McCown became teammates anyway. There was something to talk about when Fitz got to Arizona, for sure. McCown threw the pass that was Fitz’s first NFL reception (a 37-yard flea-flicker in St. Louis.) The two became friends, playing hoops together long after McCown left the Cardinals. Fitzgerald raved about McCown’s ability to dunk and do 36os in charity hoops games.
“This was six years ago,” Fitzgerald said with a smile. “I don’t know what he’s capable of doing now.”
McCown is 36, but Fitzgerald said he wasn’t surprised his old friend has stuck around the NFL. “All he ever needed was someone to believe in him.”
Tags: Josh McCown, Larry Fitzgerald
Posted in Blog | 19 Comments »
A decade ago this weekend (on Dec. 28 to be exact), the Cardinals knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs with a dramatic Hail Mary touchdown pass from Josh McCown to Nate Poole that thrust the Packers into an improbable postseason berth. Ten years later, McCown is a backup Bear, hoping his own team can get into the playoffs. Larry Fitzgerald, the guy the Cards drafted because they went from the No. 1 to No. 3 overall pick that day, is the face of the franchise. And the Cardinals are hoping Mike Glennon can be their Josh McCown.
Like the Packers that day, who still needed to beat the Broncos to have a Vikings loss mean anything, the Cardinals must knock off the 49ers to have a shot at the playoffs. But if they do, they must count on the Buccaneers – playing the role of the 2003 Cardinals – to knock off, in New Orleans, the heavily favored Saints – playing the role of the 2003 Vikings. It’s unlikely, yes. But so too were the Cards, McCown and Poole.
“Anybody can beat anybody in the National Football League,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “It’s a tough place to play but they play them every year in that division.”
Then again, Arians has stressed to his team all week they should only be paying attention to the 49ers and not the scoreboard. It’s simple, really. If the Cards blow the game against San Francisco (and it will be anything but easy), the Saints-Bucs game means nothing anyway.
“If we don’t win, that would really be a crying shame,” Arians said.
— One last note on the missed chance the Falcons had to knock off the 49ers. Arians cracked he was asleep when the final interception happened to cost Atlanta at least a chance to tie. He watched it later on video. “I like the fact Smitty was playing for the win,” Arians said of Falcons coach Mike Smith and the pass play at the end.
— The Cardinals had their last practice of the season Friday. Maybe. “I’ve been in a bunch of these, where the last one counts,” Arians said. “You don’t know what is going to happen Sunday. This team has a chance to make history and that’s all we have talked about all week.”
— The local chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association handed out its two annual awards Friday. Center Lyle Sendlein was given the Steve Schoenfeld “Good Guy” award for being always accessible and insightful with the media regardless of the situation. Linebacker Karlos Dansby received the Lloyd Herberg MVP award. Both awards are named after former Arizona Republic Cardinals writers whose lives were tragically cut short.
— A reminder: Cards are wearing red-on-red Sunday.
— The roof will be open for the game.
— In the weekly video about officiating that the league sends out, VP of officiating Dean Blandino explained the confusing first-and-20 situation in Seattle after an unsportsmanlike penalty on the Cardinals. A flag was thrown on defensive end Frostee Rucker. The penalty was for verbal abuse of an official. A normal unsportsmanlike penalty would be marked off and then the first-and-10 chains set – normally making it first-and-10 at the Arizona 10-yard line. When the penalty is against an official, however, the chains are set and then the penalty is marked off. So the Cards had a first-and-20 at their 10.
— In their last nine meetings against the 49ers, the Cardinals have a whopping 28 turnovers and have never won the turnover battle. That’s why they have lost eight of them (and the one win, the Cards had three turnovers, the Niners zero.) The Cards must take better care of the ball.
— The Cardinals did not play great that day in San Francisco back in October, but were left with the feeling of a missed opportunity. That’s been an underlying theme this week.
— Here’s hoping the Cards have found out how to quell tight end Vernon Davis, who beat them up pretty well the first time around (8-180-2). ”
— I am interested to see what it is like in University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday. This game has been sold out for a while. The Cards have a chance to win 11 for the first time in Arizona, playoffs or no playoffs. This is a rivalry. “If we could only win two games the whole season, I would pick both to be the 49ers,” Fitz said this week, and this is a chance to get one.
Until Sunday …
Tags: 49ers, Bruce Arians, Buccaneers, Dean Blandino, Falcons, Josh McCown, Nate Poole, Saints, University of Phoenix stadium, Vernon Davis
Posted in Blog | 32 Comments »
It was the last day of the 2003 season, and the Cardinals shocked the NFL — and certainly, the Vikings — when they rallied from an 11-point deficit with less than two minutes to go by winning on a Hail Mary TD pass from Josh McCown to Nate Poole. I was thinking about it again now that McCown, after his long roller-coaster ride of an NFL career, is starting for the Bears after Jay Cutler’s groin injury.
Back in 2003, though, McCown was getting a shot at what everyone knew was the end of the Dave McGinnis coaching tenure. McCown not only survived, he impressed new coach Denny Green enough to be the quarterback choice the next year over some impressive potential draft picks (and notably allowing the Cards to pick Larry Fitzgerald.) As it was, McCown made sure the Cards didn’t get (cost them?) the No. 1 overall pick and Eli Manning when he crushed the Vikings’ hopes and dreams in 2003 with his Poole pass.
(You can see the end of the game right here. Be sure to notice my radio broadcast partner Damien Anderson, who recovers the onside kick to even give the Cards a chance to make their game-winning drive.)
But I digress. The NFL Network, on its 10th anniversary, has made available to teams a handful of historical clips, and I happened to notice one in the system that I had never seen before. It was McGinnis’ locker room speech after that emotional Vikings win. I had never seen it before. Pretty powerful stuff. It was cool to step back in time, to see all those players I used to cover (Anderson sneaks into the Mac video too, just off to the left of the screen, as does current front office man Josh Scobey.) No one says it, but everyone knows it’s goodbye.
Tags: Damien Anderson, Dave McGinnis, Josh McCown, Josh Scobey, NFL Network, Vikings
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In the aftermath of the Giants’ Super Bowl win, much has been made already of the legacy of quarterback Eli Manning, whether he is a Hall of Famer already (I say no right now, although he’s certainly putting together that kind of résumé) and where he fits among the pecking order of today’s QBs. That’s all well and good, but from my perspective, any time I think of Manning I think of what would have happened had McCown-to-Poole not shocked the Vikings. Is Manning a Cardinal?
It’s a moot point, of course, but that line of thinking took me to yet another place this morning: The impact of that 2004 draft class. Most of the time, the top half of the first round provides as many busts as success stories. It sure seems, eight seasons in, that the 2004 first round was better than most, at least in those top 16 picks.
There was Manning going first. The Raiders took tackle Robert Gallery next, and while he hasn’t been a Pro Bowler, he developed into a pretty solid NFL guard (now playing in Seattle). Larry Fitzgerald went third, QB Philip Rivers fourth. S Sean Taylor went to the Redskins, and he was becoming a star before his tragic murder. TE Kellen Winslow has been solid if not spectacular playing for bad teams in Cleveland and Tampa.
There were also cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall (8) and Dunta Robinson (10), Big Ben at 11, LB Jonathan Vilma (12) and Pro Bowl linemen Tommie Harris (a DT at 14) and Shaun Andrews (a T at 16). It was the receivers, other than Fitz, that put the dent in the group, since Roy Williams (7), Reggie Williams (9), Lee Evans (13) and Mark Clayton (15) all fizzled to a point, although Roy W. and Evans have been OK (well, at least until Evans dropped the Ravens’ chance to be in the Super Bowl.)
That first round also produced NT Vince Wilfork, RB Steven Jackson and LB Jason Babin.
It is also arguably the Cards’ best draft ever, with Fitz, Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett and Antonio Smith. All but Dansby have appeared in a Pro Bowl. (In 2001, the Cards got Leonard Davis, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Adrian Wilson and 10-year DB Renaldo Hill; in 1979 the Cards, with 12 picks, ended up with RB Ottis Anderson, T Joe Bostic and WR/DB Roy Green — and future baseball star Kirk Gibson, as a Michigan State WR, although obviously Gibson didn’t come to the NFL.)
Tags: draft, Eli Manning, Josh McCown, Larry Fitzgerald
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The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
Now, there is a game in England every year, as much a part of the NFL landscape as Bill Belichick’s dry press conferences or James Harrison’s fines. Once, though, it was a big deal that the Cardinals and the 49ers were going to play the first NFL regular-season game out of the country, in Mexico City.
Back in 2005, we had the NFL’s then-COO, Roger Goodell, talking about wanting to see how a game outside the U.S would work. In a lot of ways, the Cards were a natural fit. A game against the 49ers at Sun Devil Stadium usually would only draw 35,000 or so and it would be half-empty; with the Cards set to move into University of Phoenix Stadium the next year, it made sense they would be the team to surrender a home game for the cause. That didn’t necessarily work for the Cardinals’ players, but in the big picture that usually doesn’t matter.
There were other reasons why the Cards were a match. On the practice squad was offensive lineman Rolando Cantu, the first Mexican citizen (non-kicker) ever to play in the NFL (Rolando is now a co-worker, his desk just a few cubicles down from me) wasn’t playing in the game but he was already a virtual rock star in Mexico because of his spot with the Cards. (Cantu officially played in the NFL the final game of the 2005 season in Indianapolis, cementing his legacy.)
The Cards tried to approach the journey to Mexico as just another road trip. Don’t forget, it was mixed in with the Cards’ poor 0-3 start, including an groin strain the week before in Seattle for first-year quarterback Kurt Warner. Josh McCown was back at QB, facing future Card Tim Rattay as the 49ers QB, since rookie Alex Smith had yet to win the job. Ideally, the Cards wouldn’t have given up a home game, especially since most of the 100,000-plus fans (final attendance was officially 103,467) who had a rooting interest would be rooting for the 49ers.
That changed quickly, when veteran safety Robert Griffith came charging out during introductions waving a huge Mexican flag. Suddenly, many fans who hadn’t cared about who won and who lost now took a liking to the Cards. The game started horribly, with the Cards fumbling on each of their first two possessions, both of which were returned for touchdowns. It was a 14-0 hole and San Francisco hadn’t even been on offense. But the Cards rallied, and rallied big.
McCown ended up with arguably his best day as a Cardinal (32-for-46, 385 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) and kicker Neil Rackers had his best day of his best season, making all six of his field-goal attempts (Rackers set an NFL record with 40 field goals, in 42 attempts, that season.) The game, by all accounts, was a success (OK, maybe the 49ers wouldn’t agree) and paved the way for the future games outside the U.S.
My lingering memory, aside from Griffith’s run? My paper at the time was still backward in its technology and I may have been the only one without a wireless capability on my laptop. I was worried about getting a landline at the stadium (The NFL did a great job of hooking me up despite those nasty long-distance rates) and it paid off – stadium workers breaking down after the game kept shutting off the wireless connections, leaving only backwards-me uninterrupted access to the internet on deadline.
Tags: Josh McCown, Mexico, Neil Rackers, Revisionist history, Robert Griffith, Roger Goodell, Rolando Cantu, Sun Devil Stadium, Tim Rattay
Posted in Blog | 21 Comments »
The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
The Cardinals were sitting with the third overall pick in a draft heavy with quality quarterback options, so when the just-hired Dennis Green decided to cut incumbent veteran Jeff Blake in early February of 2004, it didn’t really raise any eyebrows (although it did lead to one of the greatest quotes I have ever collected, from Blake when talking about his career: “It’s not like I’ve played bad ball. I’ve just been on bad teams.”)
That changed quickly. So too did the future of the Cardinals.
Less than a week later, I happened to be at the Cards’ facility when Green was going to give what was expected to be an innocuous TV interview. No other reporters were there. Denny proceeded to say odds were “slim” the Cards would take a quarterback in the first three rounds of the draft.
“Josh McCown, I think he is going to be a great one,” Green said. Wait … what? I was stunned.
(So were a couple of other print reporters, who worked around their absence by coming the next day in an attempt to get Denny to repeat himself. He wouldn’t – not as strongly. At one point one reporter said, “We’re trying to get you to say what you told Darren yesterday.” Denny’s response was classic Denny: “That was yesterday.”)
McCown’s résumé wasn’t long. He had made the miracle pass to beat the Vikings in the season finale of 2003. He had five touchdowns and six interceptions in a three-game starting stint, but with a new coach, it just seemed like the Cards would nab someone like Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger.
The new coach was Green, however. As became evident soon, his belief in Pitt wideout Larry Fitzgerald – with whom Green was also close personally – was strong enough to make Fitz the Cards’ target. Clearly, Fitz was talented, and Green’s thoughts on what Fitzgerald could be have definitely played out over the years. Yet quarterback is always important, and regardless of how talented Fitzgerald would be, was it worth passing on what was available? You have to wonder, did it color Green’s evaluation of McCown? Because the only way the Cards could really justify taking Fitz at the time was the knowledge McCown could play. Green never was big with the draft smokescreens. I remember at the Scouting combine in 2005 he all but announced he wanted J.J. Arrington. In 2004, it was obvious he wanted Fitzgerald.
Draft weekend was a memorable couple of days. Pat Tillman’s death came to light on Friday, the day before the draft, overshadowing football. Then, as expected, the weeks of Green talking up McCown was capped when the Cards took Fitzgerald. (Green also kept to his word about the first three rounds, taking non-QBs Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett in one heck of a first-day draft haul. John Navarre was the QB selected, in the seventh round.) McCown was the Cardinals’ guy.
I believe the Cards would have taken Roethlisberger if they had decided on a quarterback. How different would things have been for so many connected to the Cards? Big Ben and no Fitz in Arizona probably would have meant Anquan staying and Kurt never coming. Would the Steelers – with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt – won a Super Bowl after the 2005 season? Would Whiz still have ended up with the Cards?
In the long term, it worked out well for the Cards. Warner and Whisenhunt did come to the desert, a combination that led to a Super Bowl appearance. McCown – one of the greatest guys ever to come through the Cards’ locker room – didn’t work out. But without him, there was no way the Cards take Fitzgerald, a potential Hall of Famer.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Ben Roethlisberger, Darnell Dockett, Dennis Green, J.J. Arrington, Jeff Blake, John Navarre, Josh McCown, Karlos Dansby, Ken Whisenhunt, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Pat Tillman, Philip Rivers, Revisionist history
Posted in Blog | 37 Comments »