The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
Back in 1996, the Cards – again – were searching for a quarterback.
Vince Tobin had taken over for Buddy Ryan as coach, and the Cards cleaned house at the most important position. They signed Kent Graham, who had limited experience in his first three seasons with the New York Giants. And for their other option, they also plucked a New York QB – Jets castoff Boomer Esiason, who seemed to be on his last legs after a stellar career with the Bengals and Jets.
Indeed, Esiason didn’t show enough to stay on the field, losing the first three starts and his job to Graham. Graham played decently as a starter but then hurt his knee. Esiason was back in the lineup, and for a brief time, he recaptured some of his previous magic. None more than an early November game in Washington, when the Cards pulled off a 37-34 overtime win and Esiason threw for a stunning 522 yards – one of the most prolific efforts in NFL history. (It was and still is the third-most in NFL annals, behind the 554 the Rams’ Norm Van Brocklin piled up in a 1951 game and the 527 Warren Moon had for the Oilers in a 1990 game.)
Esiason talked about how his time on the bench was important to the Cards and how brutally his Cards’ career had started. Given that Graham was still going to be out for the time being with his injury, Esiason could ride the wave of good feelings. Beating the Giants and then the Eagles the next two weeks didn’t hurt, especially since those performances (in which Boomer passed for another 627 yards, 5 TDs, one interception and a passer rating of 107) got the Cards to a 6-6 record and into the playoff hunt.
Then, the Boomer era collapsed as quickly as it had re-started.
The Cards were blown out in Minnesota by a mediocre Vikings team and lost a close home game to Dallas and Esiason not playing great, but not horrible either. With the playoffs out of the picture and two games left, Tobin decided to let Graham get some more experience going into 1997, not altogether shocking on the surface – except Esiason took it personally, walking out on the team and saying he thought it was because he would have made extra money in incentives had he continued to play. That didn’t sit well with Tobin, who insisted he was making choices based on football only.
Esiason returned and played in the season finale against Philadelphia in relief of Graham, but his time in Arizona was over (his biggest incentive was $100,000 for 2,300 passing yards; Esiason fell seven yards short although he had a chance, completing just 12 of 26 passes versus the Eagles). By the next season, the Cards drafted Jake Plummer, and Esiason was gone.
Still, the 522-yard game remains atop the Cards’ record book, a number Kurt Warner couldn’t even really threaten.
Tags: Boomer Esiason, Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Jake Plummer, Kent Graham, Norm Van Brocklin, Redskins, Revisionist history, Vikings, Vince Tobin, Warren Moon
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The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
It was probably just coincidence, because to think otherwise might be stretching things a bit.
Still, the Cardinals beating the Redskins, 16-15, on Nov. 5, 2000, just two days before the public vote that would eventually get the Cardinals a new stadium, couldn’t have been timed any better. And, in many ways, couldn’t have been more improbable. Head coach Vince Tobin had been fired just two weeks before. Interim coach Dave McGinnis was at the helm for a team that, when it was over, finished 3-13. The season ended with a seven-game losing streak, and had the breaks not broken as they did that day against the Redskins, the losing streak would have been 11 all told.
With many people wondering if the public would indeed approve a stadium for a team struggling so bad, the Cards came up with a win. A crazy win. The Redskins, who were 6-3 coming into the game, outgained the Cards, 431 yards to 178. A bad snap cost the Redskins an extra point, and Washington kicker Kris Heppner missed 51- and 33-yard field goals (yes, Heppner was out of a job the next day). “The kicker choked and that helped us a lot,” Cardinals linebacker Sekou Sanyika said in one of the more blunt post-game quotes I’ve ever gotten.
But the lasting memory was cornerback Aeneas Williams. After Washington drove down (easily) to the Arizona 1-yard line, linebacker Mark Maddox stripped running back Stephen Davis of the ball. Williams (pictured below) scooped up the ball in the end zone, got to the sideline and raced a record-tying 104 yards for a touchdown (originally Williams was credited with a 103-yard return but the Elias Sports Bureau gave him the extra yard the next day upon further review). Williams did cartwheels on the field after the Redskins’ final pass fell incomplete, and all that was left was to wonder if it could/would impact the stadium vote.
It’s impossible to know if it did for sure, as it was impossible to know if the door-to-door campaigning McGinnis and quarterback Jake Plummer, among others, did too. It was an incredibly close vote. The result for Proposition 302 was impossible to call at first, and the days dragged by with more uncertainty. Finally, though, the Cardinals and the 302 crowd were able to claim victory (with about 52 percent of the vote) and what was to become University of Phoenix Stadium took its first — albeit biggest — step forward on Nov. 15, 2000, 10 days after beating the Redskins.
Of course, there were some roller-coaster moments while trying to find a site to put the stadium, but that’s a blog post for another day. In this moment in time, Aeneas Williams and the Cardinals pulled out what may have been their most important win, at least in terms of the Arizona Cardinals. It was the vehicle the team needed to reach a competitive level, the centerpiece of a organizational metamorphosis (It’s tough to imagine, without a new building, the Cards reaching a Super Bowl). Plus it kept the team in town. I wasn’t planning on trying to go to California to cover the Los Angeles Cardinals.
Tags: Aeneas Williams, Dave McGinnis, Jake Plummer, Mark Maddox, Revisionist history, Vince Tobin
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