My kids were 4 and 2 so I was up early to help feed them breakfast with my wife when my cell phone rang. It was the producer at a local TV station I knew. She wanted to know if I had heard anything about Pat Tillman being killed in combat. I hadn’t, but my mind flashed back to Pat’s surprise visit to the Cardinals in their final 2003 road trip — to Seattle, near where Tillman was based after his initial Middle East tour — and the knowledge he had re-upped for another tour, even though he had finished out his mandatory service.
It was true, of course. Tillman was killed on April 22, and the news had trickled back as April 23 began in Arizona. It was Friday, the day before the draft. I had been planning only on writing a story that day about the Cardinals picking third (and, even with the top quarterbacks available, it seemed pretty clear the Cards would select Larry Fitzgerald with their first-round pick.) Instead, it was about helping produce a special section for the East Valley Tribune about Tillman’s life and his time at ASU and with the Cardinals, and a Sports Illustrated cover story that should’ve just been about something else, I don’t know, maybe the Eli Manning-Chargers dust-up. Certainly not the passing of such a promising man.
The Cardinals had then-VP Michael Bidwill and offensive lineman Pete Kendall (pictured) come out and speak, and also Anthony Edwards, the team’s director of player programs and one-time receiver. It was such an odd day, with the overwhelming sadness contrasted with the fact the draft — the NFL’s annual rebirth for teams — coming the next two days. The coaches that knew him the best were not around, with Denny Green having taken over just a few months before. But because Tillman had been a part of the Arizona landscape for so long, everyone in the Valley knew him. These are the things I think about — as well as 9/11 — when I take part in Pat’s Run every year, as thousands did so yesterday.
It’s been 14 years. On this day, though, it feels like it just happened.
Tags: Pat Tillman
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New Cardinals guard Justin Pugh grew up on the East Coast and is playing some catch-up in learning about the history of his new team. But Pugh’s brother is in the military, and there is one Cardinal Pugh knows very well — Pat Tillman.
“It’s actually funny when I signed … My nephew is nine years old,” Pugh said. “We have a Pat Tillman jersey at my house. So, my nephew was like, ‘We already have a jersey hanging in the rafters right now,’ and it’s a Pat Tillman jersey.”
Pugh feels very strongly about the military, using his My Cause, My Cleats window to support Merging Vets and Players. Even though Pugh played for the Giants the past five years, it was a Cardinals jersey that hung near an American flag on the wall of the house in Holland, Pennsylvania.
“That’s (a picture) he sent to me,” Pugh said. “I sent him a picture of Pat Tillman’s locker right now, and he’s like, ‘No offense to you. I think Pat Tillman might be the first Cardinals (jersey I wear). I’ll have that jersey, wearing it, before I get your own jersey.’
“Obviously, (Tillman) made the ultimate sacrifice for this country, and everything that he did, you wish you could be half the man that he was.”
Tags: Justin Pugh, Pat Tillman
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Washington used to be a division trip. The first two seasons I covered the Cardinals, there were home-and-home with the NFC East, before realignment. The last time the Cards went there as an NFC East team was in fact Pat Tillman’s last game in the NFL. It was played in a freezing rain, and the Cardinals came up short, 20-17 on the scoreboard and therefore in their quest to finish .500 – a rare achievement in those days. That was the 2001 season, the last game of the year and only the last game of the year because, as the Cards’ first game of the year, it was bumped because of the cancellations due to the 9/11 tragedy. Tillman talked to us in the locker room after, clad in only a towel, lips blue and teeth chattering, angry at the result.
I also remember the trip to Washington in 2008, because it was the front-end of a week-long trip away, in which the Cards stayed in Virginia to bridge games against the Redskins then the Jets. That was a memorable week despite back-to-back losses. Anquan Boldin famously broke his jaw against the Jets. And before that, with a 2-1 record after a loss to the Redskins, I went to dinner with three co-workers and we talked about what it would be like if the Cardinals won a Super Bowl. None of us really believed it could happen, and then, a few months later, that’s exactly where the Cardinals were.
I’m not sure this trip to Washington is going to hold the same memories, although, like the one in the 2001 season, getting to .500 (or above, if the Cards win out) is a goal. When the season started this game looked important for both teams when it came to potential playoff positioning. Now, the Cards have to win to keep breathing, and Washington is already done.
— So Adrian Peterson is done for the year, something that has certainly been trending that direction for a bit. Kerwynn Williams has entrenched himself as the starter so the Cards have already handled the idea they won’t have AD. The question now is whether Peterson – who is under contract for next season, for $3.5 million – returns. Bruce Arians said Friday he can see Peterson on the roster. But there are other factors. David Johnson will be back. Not only do you have to find a way for Johnson and Peterson to co-exist, but Peterson would have to be OK with a reserve role. The Cards will also have to be OK paying a chunk of money to a reserve back.
The roster can go so many different directions this offseason. Peterson’s role is just another detail to sort out.
— No one is getting into the muck of the postseason, really, but know this in terms of the Cardinals and being officially eliminated from the playoffs – it can happen one of three ways:
— A Cardinals loss
— A Seattle win
— A win by both Atlanta and Carolina.
— Washington coach Jay Gruden praises the toughness of new safety and former Cardinal D.J. Swearinger this season, after Swearinger arrived as a free agent. Swearinger was even named a captain, and he used that to its fullest this week, calling out his team for going through the motions at practice. We’ll see how they respond. One thing is for sure, and that’s Swearinger is geared up to play the Cardinals.
He said the Cards made him an offer last year but pulled it just before free agency started (which more or less makes sense; I’m sure the idea was that they wanted Swearinger but if they didn’t get him at their price, they were going to go in a different direction.)
As for Sunday, “It’s definitely extra juice,” Swearinger told the Roanoke County-Times. “I’m going to be on the edge. I can’t wait to play.”
— Everyone will be watching rookie left tackle Will Holden Sunday. He may just be the key to the game. If he holds up, I think the Cards should be fine. Arians said newcomer Kahlif Barnes will be active, but I’m sure they’d rather not have it come down to him playing on only a couple days of practice.
— As I write this, the forecast for Sunday is 49 degrees and only a 10 percent chance of precipitation. Perfect football weather.
— A victory by the Cardinals would give Arians his 49th win as head coach, including playoffs. That would tie him with Ken Whisenhunt for most wins in franchise history with postseason included. Arians already has the most regular-season wins as a head coach, with 47.
On to D.C.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Bruce Arians, D.J. Swearinger, David Johnson, Khalif Barnes, Larry Fitzgerald, Pat Tillman, Redskins, Will Holden
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It’s a weird morning for me. For the first time in more than a decade, I am not at ASU, getting ready to take part in Pat’s Run. I did not participate in the first race, but I had run every one since then until today, and that had been the plan (I have a bib and everything). But a trip to spend some time with my brother – which I don’t get to do enough – came up, and sometimes, life happens.
I would’ve liked to be there, especially this year. The race falls on the anniversary of Pat Tillman’s death 13 years ago. I remember that morning – I was still a Cardinals beat writer for the East Valley Tribune – vividly. I was in the kitchen, bathrobe on, toddlers eating breakfast on a Friday when my cell phone rang. A producer I knew a little from a local station was calling to ask if I had heard that Tillman had been killed. I, like everyone, was stunned.
It was the day before the draft – that’s when the draft was still Saturday-Sunday, and the Cardinals would select Larry Fitzgerald with the third overall pick the next morning – but everyone gathered at the Cardinals’ Tempe training facility. It was supposed to be that last day before the draft, when guessing who got picked where was the topic, and instead, the organization was crushed. Former Tillman teammate Pete Kendall was asked to speak to the media, along with Michael Bidwill and Anthony Edwards. Meanwhile, Dennis Green was around but he didn’t look like he knew quite what to do – he was hired after Tillman was long gone; he had no personal connection unlike almost every other non-coach still in the organization.
These are the kind of things that are going through my head every year as Pat’s Run starts. I’m sorry I’m going to miss it.
Tags: Anthony Edwards, Dennis Green, Michael Bidwill, Pat Tillman, Pat's Run, Pete Kendall
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OK, maybe it’s a little strong to say this is the John Wetzel game, but it’s definitely the beginning of the John Wetzel-half season. Wetzel is the guy who is replacing left tackle Jared Veldheer (torn triceps) for the rest of the season. He isn’t the only variable over which the Cardinals may or may not make the run they need to make, but he is definitely one of the biggest.
“The thing about Wetzel that you have to get over is every time you look at him, he looks freaking miserable,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “Just miserable. Makes you upset to your core too, like ‘What’s the problem?’ As long as he’s got that miserable look on his face, that means he’s ready to go, ready to play.”
Wetzel has apparently looked absolutely down in the dumps this week, so optimism reigns.
His appearance, however, is the perfect proof of how this season is different than the fun run of 2015. Somebody as crucial as Veldheer didn’t get hurt this early last season (Tyrann Mathieu’s injury came as the Cards were wrapping up the division.) All the key guys were basically healthy. The offense had no question marks. Not like now. The Cards should get better offensively Sunday, because the 49ers defense is simply bad. Can they keep up something consistent through the rest of the schedule? Through the rest of a five-road-games-in-the-final-seven-weeks schedule?
— Underscoring the injuries. The Cardinals have had 58 different players appear in at least one game this season. The Cards had only 56 players appear in at least one game all of last season.
— David Johnson ran for a season-high 157 yards against the 49ers. The Niners have allowed a 100-yard rusher in seven straight games, a ignominious NFL record. Everything points to a lot of Johnson this week.
“If you’re getting 5-to-10 (yards a try), you keep it up, but it’s hard to get 5-to-10,” coach Bruce Arians said. “If you’re giving up five, you’re not very good. Sooner or later, you’re not going to get five and your quarterback’s not in any kind of a rhythm to get a first down on third down. So, you’ve got to mix it up.”
— Granted, it’s because questions are asked, but there has been a lot of positive things spoken about both Smokey Brown and about Michael Floyd this week. The Niners aren’t exactly great against the pass either. Would it shock me to use Johnson sometimes as the decoy to open up the passing game? No.
— The Cardinals are No. 1 in the NFL in total defense. It’d be nice to stay there against this opponent.
— What’s missing on offense, according to Goodwin? (Hint: It’s no surprise): “Getting those explosive plays, which we have a number we want to hit, is key to our offense,” Goodwin said. “As far as getting enthusiasm going, getting excitement going, getting chunk plays. We have to get back to that.”
Goodwin said he wouldn’t say how many the Cards want to hit per game, but it was more than five. Let’s say an explosive play is at least 20 yards — the Cardinals have 31 such plays this season in eight games. That’s less than four per game.
— No Tyrann Mathieu and no Tharold Simon mean a pretty big opportunity for either Brandon Williams or Justin Bethel. The season hasn’t gone the way either of them have wanted, not at cornerback. This is an important moment for at least one to make a mark.
— While I hope everyone got a chance to see the recent Pat Tillman “A Football Life” episode, I hope you also check out our most recent Zoom episode on Tillman. That’s the full interview that Tillman gave in the summer of 2001 that gives an insight into Tillman the person. It’s fascinating, especially in hindsight.
— In each of his three previous Cardinals seasons, Arians has had his team with a winning streak of four games, six games and
eight nine games. The Cardinals have only a two-game winning streak this season so far.
— Don’t forget the annual food drive before Sunday’s game. Volunteers from St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance and Cardinals Cheerleaders will be at collection points outside of all five stadium gates and the Great Lawn. Fans are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items and/or money for donation.
— The second half has arrived. The Cardinals need it to be so much better than the first.
Tags: 49ers, Brandon Williams, Bruce Arians, David Johnson, Harold Goodwin, Jared Veldheer, John Brown, John Wetzel, Justin Bethel, Michael Floyd, Pat Tillman
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Had Pat Tillman not been killed, he would have been 40 years old today.
If you didn’t get a chance to see the NFL Films’ episode of “A Football Life” about Tillman that debuted on NFL Network late last month, here is your chance to see it. It’s well worth your time, even with a story many of us know by now. There is always so much you can say about Tillman — I’d guess they easily could have made a show that went two hours and not just one and had plenty of material.
Tags: Pat Tillman
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It’s a weekly occurrence, the concern about the Cardinals’ deep ball that just isn’t there anymore. Is there anything that can be done about it? Maybe not. It’s a simple equation for offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin of why they’ve dried up.
“Because no one is giving them to us,” Goodwin said. “People are playing deep coverage on us, and forcing us to make intermediate and underneath throws. That’s one reason the running game is a little bit better too.
“People know we live for the shot and people aren’t going to give it it up anymore. We respect that. We just have to beat them in different ways.”
The Panthers are a team that’s had problems on the back end and would seem to be susceptible down the field. Then again, the same things were said about the game against the Jets and the Jets played off and the Cardinals bludgeoned them to death with David Johnson. The Panthers are stout against the run, but the Cards aren’t giving up that part of the game.
But Bruce Arians continues to say — with a stronger nod to running the ball these days — that there will be times to take shots and some are still open. Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer definitely lamented the J.J. Nelson bomb against the Seahawks that Palmer simply threw too far out of bounds.
“I missed a couple,” Palmer said. “I had J.J. on a couple the other night. I’ve taken shots that I shouldn’t have in certain situations. I think one thing I need to do is be a little bit more picky – when to take them, when not to take them. That’s something I’ve really been trying to work on.”
— I didn’t think the Panthers were going to be 15-1 again this season. But they shouldn’t be 1-5. I thought Kelvin Benjamin was going to be a huge upgrade in helping their passing game. In all honesty, I didn’t think Josh Norman — or a lack thereof — would have this sort of an impact.
— Larry Fitzgerald had a tough flight home the last time the Cardinals were in Carolina. Bruce Arians, not so much. “Steve (Keim) and I were working on next year already.”
— The Cardinals need better special teams. And not just Chandler Catanzaro kicking field goals. Protections have to be cleaned up. Last week, the Cards were hurt when Jaron Brown went down, forcing Kerwynn Williams in as a wing protector on the punt team. Williams is the one who surrendered the blocked punt. There’s no question injuries have taken a toll on special team — Four guys on IR, Tyvon Branch, Jaron Brown, Alani Fua and Troy Niklas, were all key special teams pieces to begin the year.
“You always have to be ready,” special teamer Stepfan Taylor said. “It’s kind of a want-to and a technique kind of deal. We do a good job of everybody ready, but you can only suit up 46 people in the game. It becomes limited. You have people who have never played it before having to be in-game ready and jump in.”
— We’ll see if the 10 a.m. kickoff Arizona time impacts anything. The Cardinals didn’t play well in the 10 a.m. kickoff in Buffalo, although I’m not sure that was time-related. It would’ve been better to have the 1:25 p.m. Az time kick as originally scheduled (TV moved it because both teams aren’t playing well), but it’s not like they haven’t done it before. The team is in the air right now flying out to Carolina.
At least I’ll get home at a reasonable time. Hey, I’m looking at the silver lining.
— Injuries will play a big role in how the pass rushes for both teams might look. When the Cardinals are on offense, how does left tackle Jared Veldheer hold up with a cast on his right hand against the formidable Carolina defensive line? On the other side, not having starting left tackle Michael Oher (concussion) could make things interesting against edge rushers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden.
— One last word on the two field goal block/miss in Seattle. The NFL explains why both were legal in this video.
— There’s been a lot of talk about the tie the Panthers had in 2014, allowing them to win the NFC South at 7-8-1 over the 7-9 Saints. In context, of course, it was a point made after the Cardinals had their own tie last weekend. There’s only one problem — while the tie made the final standings cleaner in terms of seeing who won, the Panthers were going to win the division anyway. The Panthers and Saints split their two games, and the Panthers had a better division record. So even if the Panthers had lost and not tied the Bengals, they would’ve won the South.
— Don’t forget the Pat Tillman “A Football Life” tonight at 6 p.m. on NFL Network (and probably replaying a time or two. Check your local listing.)
— The Cardinals get the bye next week. There’s a pretty big difference between 4-3-1 and 3-4-1. At least in the chase to make the postseason.
Tags: Carson Palmer, Chandler Catanzaro, Chandler Jones, Harold Goodwin, Jared Veldheer, Jaron Brown, Kerwynn Williams, Markus Golden, Panthers, Pat Tillman, Stepfan Taylor
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NFL Films is rolling out a new round of its excellent series “A Football Life.” Last season it was the Bruce Arians story. Kurt Warner got one before that. Now, it will be the Pat Tillman episode. It will debut Oct. 28 on the NFL Network at 6 p.m. Arizona time (9 p.m. ET). Yes, I’m sure it’ll be on the web at some point. No, they didn’t way when.
NFL Films is also doing a new series called “The Timeline,” which chronicles moments that have helped shape the NFL in one way or another. The debut episode on Sept. 9 will be”9/11,” about how the NFL dealt with the crisis of Sept. 11, 2001. I remember it well, since I was in my second season covering the Cardinals. With an odd number of teams at the time, there was a bye every week, and the Cardinals — not a good team at the time — actually had their bye date to open the 2001 season. So the league started play Sept. 9 while the Cards waited for their “opener,” scheduled for Sept. 16 in Washington against the Redskins.
That Tuesday, tragedy happened. The games the following weekend were canceled, although it took a little time to make that call. And, to bring this post full circle, while I watched the aftermath of the Towers falling on TV while sitting in the media room at the Cardinals’ complex, Pat Tillman sat next to me — a story I have written about many times. It’s a story I told during an NFL Films interview for the Tillman “A Football Life.” We’ll see if it’s included.
Tags: NFL Films, Pat Tillman
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A few months ago, the excellent NFL Films “A Football Life” episode on Bruce Arians was released. Now it’s available on azcardinals.com by clicking here or by watching below. It covers Arians’ story from young, sometimes-troubled kid to where he is now leading the Cardinals. It’s well worth the time to check it out.
NFL Films is also working on “A Football Life” episode of Pat Tillman and so that’s something else to look forward to seeing. And we’re still waiting on the official announcement of the availability for “All or Nothing” as well.
Tags: All or Nothing, Bruce Arians, Pat Tillman
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It’s not quite Pat Tillman choosing the Army Rangers, but it’s pretty similar: former Cardinals guard Daryn Colledge, who last played in 2014, tweeted today that with his football career over, he was joining the National Guard for the next eight years.
“After a year of retirement, a much needed vacation and overdue time with my family, I’ve decided to hit the free agent market,” Colledge wrote in part. “After much deliberation, and discussion, I’m proud to sign my longest-term deal of all time, 8 years, and have enlisted in the Army National Guard. After all my time in the NFL, traveling, meeting, and supporting the troops, I’ve decided to step up and stand shoulder to shoulder with them.
“This was not a decision made lightly. We live in an ever-changing world, at at this time in my life I feel it is best served with me in defense of my family, state, country.”
Colledge played for the Cardinals from 2011 to 2013, finishing his career with a season in Miami. Before the Cardinals, Colledge won a Super Bowl playing with the Packers. A good guy who always had a solid perspective. When the Cardinals cut him, he tweeted the Cardinals were a “great organization heading the in the right direction.” Given all that is going on in the world — and thoughts remain with those impacted by today’s events in Brussels — it’s a big step entering into any part of the military. Here’s acknowledging Colledge’s brave decision.
Tags: Daryn Colledge, Pat Tillman
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