Revisionist History: The stadium game

Posted by Darren Urban on May 20, 2011 – 1:30 pm

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.

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21 Responses to “Revisionist History: The stadium game”

  1. By AZLOGAN on May 20, 2011 | Reply

    Great story Darren, up until now I never even knew about this game and what it meant to the franchise. I was wondering though if your still taking ideas for your history pieces? If so I think to look back on just this past year would be pretty cool (and painful) and just what happened to our team. Warner, Dansby, Rolle everyone left. Leinart released for DA. I’d just like to see some insight as to what happened to our Cards. Obviously Warner retiring was the biggest hole but that definately wasn’t the only thing wrong in Arizona last year.
    Thanks again!

  2. By beauchamp on May 20, 2011 | Reply

    Darren were you with the team back then? Growing up here it is so painful to reminisce about how undisciplined our players were and the lack of talent. We were a laughing stock and then Mike took over, graves came, followed w/ coach whiz and we look at a 5-11 year as a down year instead of what’s expected. Do you remember how bad we were? Had a few okay years with Plummer but otherwise it was all garbage.

  3. By Darren Urban on May 20, 2011 | Reply

    Beauchamp —

    RE: Back then

    I was not working for the team, but I was covering them as the beat writer for the East Valley Tribune. I also grew up in Arizona, so I am very aware of the Cards’ history since they moved here.

  4. By Phoenixraven1 on May 20, 2011 | Reply

    That was a fabulous win!

  5. By Paul H on May 20, 2011 | Reply

    Sekou Sanyika. I had forgotten him. What a classic name. Never did really pan out like we thought that he would. I personally believe that Aeneas’s fumble did influence the vote. That’s how close we were to losing our team.

  6. By James Sancto (English Cardinal) on May 20, 2011 | Reply

    This series of articles are great. I only became an Arizona Cardinals fan 5 years ago, so it is great to look at the key moments that have shaped the past and will no doubt impact the future of this team.

    Thank you so much Darren.

  7. By D on May 20, 2011 | Reply

    A. Williams should get into the Hall with a Card jersey on.

  8. By riwjr on May 20, 2011 | Reply

    Love that game, I’ve got it on VHS, I would always rewind/replay Aeneas’s TD

  9. By brad oneill on May 20, 2011 | Reply

    Cards history is a painful one. I remember my friends giving me grief for “wasting” my Sunday ticket watching the cardinals when there were so many good games we could watch. Well atleast after the third week in the season I didn’t have to buy much beer for my Sunday get togethers! Hehehe

  10. By Scott H on May 21, 2011 | Reply

    Thank you, Aeneas Williams, not only for that play ( and maybe for our new stadium! ) but for the years of excellence and dedication you gave this team. Truly one of the greatest Cardinals EVER.

  11. By Scott H on May 21, 2011 | Reply

    Darren –

    What has become of Vince Tobin? Is he still in the NFL these days? I always liked him and thought it was sad that the team couldn’t follow-up on the play-off appearance in 1998.

    But I always remember him for having one of the funniest responses I ever heard. He wasn’t exactly a Rodney Dangerfield type and I don’t even know if he was intending to be humorous at the time….but at one point when things were going pretty badly ( must have been not long before he was fired ), he was aksed if the Cardinals were considering making any trades. His response? “I’m not sure if anyone wants any of our guys.” I swear, it made me laugh then and it still makes me laugh now! I guess gallows humor was all he had left at that point.

  12. By Darren Urban on May 29, 2011 | Reply

    Scott H —

    RE: Tobin

    After Vince was fired, he caught on with the Lions for a season, I believe. After that, he was out of the league.

  13. By Andy M on May 22, 2011 | Reply

    Crazy idea, but why don’t the Cardinals go lobby Jake to break away from his handball for a year or two if free agency doesn’t yield the quality quarterback they desire? He is a winner. It would make an interesting story line…What say you Darren?

  14. By Darren Urban on May 29, 2011 | Reply

    Andy M —

    RE: Plummer

    I think the Plummer-playing-in-the-NFL boat has long sailed.

  15. By darthcard on May 22, 2011 | Reply

    I miss A.Williams. I was sad to see my favorite cardinal all time leave but I was thankful he was traded to a contender. It really seemed the cardinals did not care about winning back then. My how things have changed.

  16. By john w. on May 22, 2011 | Reply

    Well, at least the kickers now are thousands of times better than Neil O’Donahue.

  17. By John the draft guy on May 27, 2011 | Reply

    You are absolutely correct “D”.

    Aeneas has always been my favorite cardinal. The Hall is exactly were he belongs. Look at the playoff game against Dallas in 98. Great game.
    Worst trade in NFL history was Williams for a second and forth rounder of the Rams. At least he got his ring. He’s a great guy too. I sat by his family in New Orleans when the cards played there. (It was the game our running back, the rodeo cowboy, ran for 198 yards. I think his name was Johnson. )

    The Bidwells need to start marketing him and get him front and center to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

  18. By John the draft guy on May 27, 2011 | Reply

    If we are lobbying for history pieces. How about reliving the 1998 playoffs, how we carried the goal post down the street when beating the Chargers to get in, Wadsworth’s two sack game against Dallas and Williams two picks and all the hope for this team, and the horrible offseason to follow, leading to the collapse of a promising team.

    Wadsworth injury, I believe Swann and Rob Moore also(not sure of the year they got hurt, but seems right). Lomas Brown, Larry Centers and Jamir Miller sent packing. I’m sure you have the old story of the complete collapse that cost Vince Tobin his job eventually.

    Not the best draft either. We chose David Boston over Arizona’s Chris McCallister. McCallister and Williams seemed like a perfect duo with Rice and Wadsworth coming off the edges. But we chose Boston which seemed good at first till the drug use came out.
    LJ Shelton never lived up to 1st round status and didnt fill Lomas Brown’s shoes.
    Then a bunch of “Who” ‘s
    Johnny Rutledge, Tom Burke, Joel Makavicka, Paris Johnson, Yusuf Scott, Coby Rhinehart, Melvin Bradley, Dennis McKinnley, and QB Chris Greisen.

    Loss of free agents, bad draft and injuries led us to a horrible year and the chants of same old cards. That would be a good story to explain why some older fans don’t think everything the team does is great.

    If these newer fans were frustrated this year, it was nothing compared to 1999.

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