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’04 has been an impressive class

Posted by Darren Urban on February 8, 2012 – 9:43 am

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.)


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Revisionist History: Once upon a time in Mexico

Posted by Darren Urban on June 10, 2011 – 3:56 pm

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.


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Revisionist History: McCown produces Fitz

Posted by Darren Urban on June 1, 2011 – 11:04 am

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.


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Revisionist History: Warner’s arrival

Posted by Darren Urban on May 12, 2011 – 3:30 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

We all know what Kurt Warner did for the Arizona Cardinals. We all know the power of his decision to retire.

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.”


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