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A day to remember Pat Tillman

Posted by Darren Urban on April 22, 2015 – 2:15 pm

Pat Tillman died 11 years ago today.

It was a jarring result of a story that had already become legend. Tillman had joined the military in 2002 after shunning the Cardinals’ multi-million dollar offer, and he had made it through his first tour of the Middle East. He even visited the Cardinals on their road trip to Seattle late in the 2003 season, to talk to then-coach Dave McGinnis. But Tillman, who could have gotten out at that point, decided he was going to go back into the fighting one more time.

I remember getting the call from a local TV sports producer I knew, asking me if I had heard the news about Tillman. I had not. I was sitting in my kitchen with my wife and two young sons, it was around 7 a.m., and I didn’t quite know what to do. I came to the Cardinals’ facility — it was the day before the 2004 draft — and it was just hard. There were still plenty of players around who had played with Pat. Offensive lineman Pete Kendall came in to talk about Tillman the best he could. New coach Denny Green, who came after Tillman left, was around, but it was like he didn’t know quite what to do around all of us that had known Tillman.

I’ve written many times about Tillman and told my Tillman stories. It’s that time of year to think about them, with the anniversary and, Saturday, the annual Pat’s Run over at ASU, in which I will be participating for a 10th straight year. It’s the time to listen to this tribute the team put together right after Pat’s death, a moving piece that local radio stations still play to this day. It’s the time to remember a guy who embodied what sacrifice was — whether it was something as little as spending his own time to teach his eventual replacement the playbook or as big as fighting for our country and losing his life because of it.

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Adrian Wilson’s goodbye and his Pat Tillman help

Posted by Darren Urban on April 20, 2015 – 5:21 pm

This is when you feel the legacy, on the day in which Adrian Wilson officially retires and when he talks about the guys who helped him when he got into the league, Pat Tillman comes up. It’s fitting this time of year, when the anniversary of Tillman’s death draws near. It’s easy to forget how important Tillman was to Wilson that one season they played together, in 2001.

“I didn’t know the first thing about the playbook,” Wilson said of his rookie season. “(Defensive coordinator) Larry Marmie’s playbook was so complicated, I couldn’t understand it. Pat sat me down for hours upon hours just going through the playbook just to go to practice the next day. It was that complicated for me. I owe big dividend to Pat.”

To think, Wilson was there to essentially replace Tillman.

(Wilson thanked other “old-time” Cardinals Corey Chavous, Kwamie Lassiter, Rob Fredrickson and Ron McKinnon for their help when he was starting out too.)

— When Wilson was released back in 2013, I covered a lot of the instant emotions and thoughts I had of his career in this post. But his retirement Monday brought some closure and, perhaps sooner rather than later, maybe bring Wilson back into the building on a consistent basis. He shrugged off his future right now, saying he wanted to “take my time on that.” He’s got four young kids. That’s his focus now, although there is little question GM Steve Keim likes having him in the mix. Team president Michael Bidwill noted that before the press conference, Wilson had his mock draft around, drawing a grin from Wilson.

“He’s made some improvements from his first mock that he showed me,” Keim said. “I think I sent him back to the film room.”

— Not only was Wilson’s family there, but his two buddies from North Carolina from when he was 10 years old, Adrian Mack and Anthony Johnson, were there Monday and it took me back to 2010 when Wilson invited me back to High Point to cover his high school retiring his jersey number and I was able to meet Mack and Johnson and do a big story on who Wilson really was as a person. Looking back on that article, through the prism of today, this quote stands out, about Wilson desperately wanting to leave a legacy.

“Nobody in my family has one and I’ll be the first,” Wilson said. “That’s something I think is more important to me than anything – leaving that right mark. I want to lay a foundation down where it doesn’t matter what generation you come from, you’ve got to respect what I did.”

— Bidwill will have Wilson go in the Ring of Honor, but that date is TBD. The schedule comes out tomorrow, and then the team must figure out what home games have which events, like Breast Cancer Awareness or Salute to Service, for example.

— Wilson admits he thinks about the Hall of Fame. I’ll have a separate post on that tomorrow, but it’s been tough sledding for safeties in Canton.

— There was a good group of former teammates on hand for Wilson today: Fitz, Patrick Peterson, Justin Bethel, Rashad Johnson, Calais Campbell, Bertrand Berry, Quentin Harris, Damien Anderson, Rolando Cantu. Peterson even took the mic during the press conference to deliver a statement in front of everyone. Wilson was an important part of this franchise. He still should be.

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Back on 9/11

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2014 – 10:17 am

It’s hard to believe, but before the Houston Texans came along and there were 31 NFL teams, there was a bye every week — including opening weekend. In 2001, that team that had to sit out the NFL’s first week of play was the Arizona Cardinals. So that “bye” week — if you can call it that, since the Cardinals last played a meaningless fourth preseason game and were mostly just waiting — came and went slowly, and the players were ready to get going with a road game against NFC East rival Washington coming up Sunday.

Back in those days, Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis met with the media daily, including the players’ off day of Tuesday, so I — working for the East Valley Tribune — was still going to be headed over to the Cards’ facility. But I was woke up a little early by my wife, who had flipped on the TV in our bedroom a little after 6 a.m. and said, “I think you want to see this.”

And on the screen, the World Trade Center, both towers, were already billowing smoke.

I ended up going over to the Cardinals’ complex earlier than I normally would’ve, because you just wanted to be around people at that point. By then, the Pentagon had been hit and you start thinking that the hotel you are going to be staying at in just a couple of days is only a couple train stops down from the Pentagon and what the hell is happening in the world? I sat staring at the TV screen in the media relations office, and at one point, Pat Tillman sat down beside me just shaking his head, and I couldn’t help but try and get a comment about the Cardinals-Redskins game that was to be played.

“The importance of football ranks zero,” Tillman said, and of course he was right. That day, so much was left unknown, but it was quickly determined that the games that weekend would be postponed and frankly, with a 2-year-old at home, flying toward all that chaos wasn’t something I really wanted to do — not that it mattered, after all air travel was grounded for the time being.

The Cardinals didn’t play a regular-season game until Denver visited the following weekend. I remember going to New York to play the Giants in December for a Saturday game, and heading out on Friday night with cohorts Kent Somers, Scott Bordow and Pedro Gomez. By the time dinner was over, it was 11:30, and we drove over to Ground Zero. For December, the weather was surprisingly mild, and I remember coming around the corner and being much closer than you’d expect to the crash site. Workers even at that hour continued to plug away at the wreckage, pieces of the bottom of the building still pointing haphazardly in the air around so much debris, the floodlights giving the whole area an eerie glow. Just outside the gates were the leftovers of all the makeshift staging areas from the disaster, hundreds of “Have you seen me?” posters still hanging from those who had hoped against hoped they hadn’t lost someone in the towers.

A few weeks later the Cardinals played their makeup game in Washington, and I ended up at the same hotel and I took the train to the Pentagon stop, seeing the damage and thinking how — the previous year — it had been so easy to walk near the Pentagon to see it up close and how that was never happening again.

Now, the Cardinals find themselves going to New York this week again, a couple of days after the anniversary. In 2005, the Cards played in New York on 9/11, which was memorable. I haven’t had a trip to New York — including one with my family — without visiting the area, and this time will be no different. Today, there are always a flood of memories that come rushing back from a day, and a time, that will always resonate.

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Remembering Tillman, others on Memorial Day

Posted by Darren Urban on May 26, 2014 – 10:21 am

Memorial Day will forever be linked with the Cardinals because of Pat Tillman. There are fewer higher-profile losses of life in the military than Tillman. Today is about all the thousands that have lost their life serving this country, regardless of how it happened. (I did not know, admittedly, that Memorial Day began originally to honor those who were killed during the Civil War.) Those who choose to join the military in any realm deserve our praise, and to make the ultimate sacrifice deserves our attention and everlasting thanks.

Still, this being a Cardinals site, Tillman is at the forefront. Former Cardinals wide receiver Rob Moore — now the receivers coach for the Buffalo Bills — tells of his relationship with Tillman to the Bills website. It’s a good read.

I also got a chance to catch up with Jake Plummer recently — there will be a story posted on the homepage later today — and asked him about Tillman, his longtime teammate with both the Cardinals and at Arizona State.

“It was awesome to be a teammate with Pat, from ASU through the Cardinal days,” Plummer said. “He brought a lot of passion to everything. Not just playing but the locker room, the training room, and to your friendship. He was all about passion and living life and challenging yourself. He was a lot like myself. I never went half-assed out there because I wasn’t good enough to be lackadaisical. I had to go 100 percent, whether it was practice, conditioning, whatever. Pat was like that too and it was fun to be with a guy the same kind of make and mold, effort-wise, with tenacity and courage.

“I’m sad he’s gone, just because I wanted to see what he had planned next. The guy was constantly moving forward.”


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On the clock, the Cards have choices

Posted by Darren Urban on May 8, 2014 – 10:42 am

It’s draft day. The final mock drafts of hundreds have been filed and there is still a lot of intrigue. It gets even more interesting with the Cardinals selecting at 20. A deep draft and flexibility given the current roster will give plenty of room for speculation all the way up to the pick. As the draft comes closer, it seems more and more people expect a quarterback at 20. Something Bruce Arians said last week resonates, about how a rebuilding team can’t afford to pick a QB early and let him sit — but a team that isn’t rebuilding could. Clearly, the Cards aren’t rebuilding — Arians even said he doesn’t like to use the word — so that leaves open the door for a QB. Carson Palmer doesn’t have a problem with a QB pick, and for the right guy, I don’t think the Cards will either.

That said, Steve Keim has his own thought process. I don’t think Keim/the Cards like a ton of QBs, not in the first round. But I think there are one or two. Is it Derek Carr or Blake Bortles, the guys who have become the chic mock picks? To me, Bortles makes a lot more sense than Carr, but what would be the chances Bortles falls all the way to 20? That too seems a long shot. People want to talk about dropping QBs but in the end, QBs rarely drop. Especially if they have a decent chance to be special.

Keim too said something that sticks with me, the idea of being patient because there are usually unexpected players that could drop. Maybe that means someone who has been universally expected to go top 10 or 12 — I saw one mock with tight end Eric Ebron dropping into the 20s. Keim definitely is a fan of linebacker Ryan Shazier, who could be there and who makes a lot of sense in this defense. An interesting name is pass rusher Anthony Barr — another guy expected to go before 20, but you never know.

Regardless, Keim’s confidence in his staff’s draft process is obvious when he talks about it. The belief is that the first-round pick, whoever it is, will be the right one. And in the end, you don’t know exactly who you have even after the draft anyway. Players are chosen, and you have to wait a little while to find out exactly what you have.

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Schedule release, Fitz takes a swing and other stuff

Posted by Darren Urban on April 22, 2014 – 4:06 pm

A couple of late afternoon things to touch on:

— The NFL officially announced the 2014 schedule will be released Wednesday at 5 p.m. Arizona time (8 p.m. eastern). Be sure to check azcardinals.com then not only for the schedule but for various schedule-related content, including one to download. Yes, it’s kind of funny that the schedule release means so much, especially since we are only talking dates and times here (and TV appearances), but not opponents. We already have long known not only who the opponents are but where the Cardinals will play them. Still, it’s a big deal. People want to make plans. Certainly I am paying attention to what weekends I will be out of town.

— Larry Fitzgerald has been working out here with the Cards, but he’s got a non-football game to play too. Saturday night is his annual charity softball game at Salt River Fields. Fitz again has a pretty nice guest list, including Colin Kaepernick, Richard Sherman, Anquan Boldin and Kurt Warner. Now, Fitz isn’t exactly Mike Trout out there — he didn’t exactly shine when he took batting practice at a Diamondbacks game a few years back — but he hangs in there. It’s all about the Larry Fitzgerald Foundation, right? Click here for tickets.

— April 26th is also Pat’s Run, in which I will be taking part once again and hopefully some of you are too. It’s been an emotional couple of days thinking about Pat Tillman and his legacy on the 10-year anniversary of his death. Pat’s Run is one of those great things that came out of it.

— The 2014 Cardinals cheerleading squad will be announced Thursday night, during an FSN Arizona special televised at 6:30 p.m. (and then immediately posted on azcardinals.com).

— Finally, don’t forget about Thursday night’s Spring Tailgate, including the live TV show. All the details are here.


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A Tillman story

Posted by Darren Urban on April 22, 2014 – 10:12 am

There has been and will be a lot written about Pat Tillman of late given that today is the 10th anniversary of his death. (That includes my story last week.) I have written about Tillman many times over the years I have covered the team, having been here for the final two seasons of Pat in a Cardinals uniform, covered his departure into the Army and then his death. There are a few moments that come to mind with Tillman. This is just one that happens to stick in my head.

In 2000, the Cardinals were not very good. The playoff season of just two years previous was a memory. Vince Tobin was fired as head coach seven games into the year. Dave McGinnis was named interim head coach, and was able to remove the interim tag just before the final home game of the season — a relatively inspired loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore. But the week before, the Cards had traveled to Jacksonville to play a Jaguars team that had been to AFC championship games recently but had gotten out to a horrible start before getting hot down the stretch. The Cards went to Florida and were hammered. The Jaguars scored on eight of 10 possessions (with the 10th lasting 14 plays, going just 31 yards and burning the final 9:45 of the clock.)

Tillman had something to say afterward.

“In this league, you have to overcome injuries, problems, coaches getting fired,” he said that day. “Nobody cares (about excuses.) Don’t tell me about the pain, show me the baby. We’re not showing the baby right now, we’re just bitching about the pain.

“They are a good offensive team. Does that give us an excuse to lay on our backs and let them roll over us? No. We didn’t play the way we want to play. … I want to say the way we are capable of playing, but we haven’t gone out and played very well and it’s hard for me to even say it. People don’t believe it.”

It was just a loss in a lost season. Given what Tillman’s life — and death — became later, it is barely a footnote. But I think it resonates with me for a couple of reasons, part of which was that I was there to hear the anger and frustration in his voice. I think of it for more than just that though. It was after the 2000 season when Tillman was a restricted free agent, when he could have signed an offer sheet with the Rams for five years and worth $9.6 million. It was a deal the Cards may not have matched, but either way, Tillman would have been paid. Instead, Tillman — who again, mind you, lived through the frustration of the 2000 season and was offered a deal with a Rams team who would end up playing in the Super Bowl the next season — wouldn’t sign the offer sheet. He came back to the Cardinals, for a one-year, $512,000 contract.

Tillman wanted to stay with McGinnis. He wanted to stay with defensive coordinator Larry Marmie. He wanted to help fix the Cardinals, rather than jump to the high-flying Rams. The Cards were the team that drafted him, that took a chance on a college linebacker who might not have translated to the NFL. He didn’t want to leave that. He wasn’t going to make excuses.

Tillman’s life, his legacy, was and is about so much more than football. For me, though, it’s hard to forget those moments in the visiting locker room in Jacksonville, and how Pat Tillman it was.

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Friday before the Jaguars

Posted by Darren Urban on November 15, 2013 – 3:55 pm

It’s strange, and maybe because it’s because the Cardinals face the Jaguars so rarely, but each of the last three meetings between the teams – dating back to 2000, my first full year covering this team – is burned into my brain for a particular reason.

2000 – The Cardinals were manhandled in Jacksonville. The Jaguars scored on eight of 10 possessions and the final possession ate up the last 9-plus minutes of the clock (as the Jags traveled all of 31 yards. Hard to believe). Afterward, though, it was classic Pat Tillman, raging against a team that had folded in a season that featured the firing of Vince Tobin.

“In this league, you have to overcome injuries, problems, coaches getting fired,” Tillman spouted. “Nobody cares (about excuses). Don’t tell me about the pain, show me the baby. We’re not showing the baby right now, we’re just bitching about the pain.”

2005 – It was a nondescript game at Sun Devil Stadium later in the year – a seven-point loss when Kurt Warner was sacked and fumbled late – except for an angry Anquan Boldin, who had 10 catches and more than 100 yards but got so ticked at what he perceived as dirty play that he got two personal foul calls fighting cornerback Terry Cousin. That wasn’t the memorable part. The memorable part was Boldin writing a letter to the editor of both local newspapers apologizing for the penalties.

2009 – The NFC champion Cards were coming off a home upset loss to the Niners when they had to travel cross country in Week 2. The Cards blasted the Jaguars, in a game marked by Warner’s amazing NFL record, completing 92.3 percent of his passes (24 of 26) to earn another slot in the Hall of Fame.

We’ll see if this game ends up providing some kind of memory.

— Don’t talk trap game with the Cardinals. “No, no, no,” Larry Fitzgerald said. “This is a playoff game. There is no such thing as a trap game in the NFL.” As you might expect, the Cardinals were handing out plenty of compliments to the Jaguars this week. The hope is that they play with that focus.

— Then again, there is this analysis of the Jaguars.

— It’s not often when the “Friday before” post is actually posted from the flight out, but it is today (and will be again in a couple weeks, when the Cards go out on Friday before the Philly game.) Coach Bruce Arians, coaching out West for the first time in his career, said he talked to many people in the offseason about setting a schedule. The Cards don’t get in to the hotel until about 10 p.m., but Arians said he didn’t want to move up the schedule.

“We’ve been down this road with Tampa,” Arians said. “There are no excuses not to come out and play well.”

— How red-hot is Justin Bethel on special teams? Profootballfocus.com, which grades special teamers (among others), has never had a guy grade out the highest in two weeks of the same season, and Bethel has done it three times – including against Houston last week, in which Bethel had PFF’s highest special teams grade ever.

— The Jaguars, which won their first game of the season last week, hasn’t won back-to-back games since 2010.

— Going against the worst rushing defense in the league – in part there, I am sure, because so many teams have blown the Jags out and have run a lot to grind second-half clock – the Cards should run the ball effectively. They need to run it effectively.

— John Abraham seemed confident he wouldn’t be hampered much by his bad hamstring. He’s playing so well, the Cards have to hope he isn’t.

— There isn’t much to analyze about this game. The Cards have put themselves in good position to be 6-4. Now they just have to play like it.


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Cardinals will honor Pat Tillman during the #SaluteToService game

Posted by since1898 on November 6, 2013 – 2:14 pm

 

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Remembering Pat Tillman, born on this day

Posted by since1898 on November 6, 2013 – 9:07 am

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