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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Hero in our midst

Posted by Darren Urban on June 29, 2011 – 5:00 pm

So it began, while gathered for an offseason potluck up here at our third-floor outpost, with Rolando Cantu letting us know his beloved family dog Blackie had recently passed away. It turned out to be a story about a lot more.

Rolando, the Cards’ manager of international business ventures, always seems to have good stories to tell. He’s always out doing things that provide good story fodder. This time, though, it was all because of Blackie. Originally, Rolando was going to bury the dog in his backyard — Cantu lives in Maricopa — but eventually changed his mind. He and his neighbor instead climbed in Rolando’s truck to bury Blackie in the desert. The pair headed south and got way out there — some three miles beyond Papago Road. It was desert and nothing else.

This was Sunday afternoon. Driving on the way back from laying Blackie to rest in the blazing heat, the pair came upon a car that had clearly just flipped over in the sand, far from any paved roads. An older teen — 18 or 19 — struggled to climb out with three other boys in the distance running away (it turned out later they were running for help). Rolando and his friend went to help the boy who remain. The right part of his head, was — and I don’t want to get too graphic here — separated to the point where Rolando took the kid’s shirt and the pair used it to take turns holding everything together.

Then they tried to call for help. In the 911 call, Rolando made sure the dispatcher understood they were much too far for an ambulance to help. Sammy (they were able to talk some to the kid and get his name) wouldn’t make it that long. A helicopter had to be sent for an air evacuation. When the operator asked where they were, Rolando couldn’t help much, at this nowhere place in the desert. He explained approximately where they were and left his phone on, hoping it could be tracked.

Sammy’s grandfather eventually showed up (the other boys had run some three miles in the desert back to the family’s house) and it was certainly touch-and-go as Rolando continued to both hold Sammy’s head and keep him talking. The helicopter made it — it was dark by now, so when the copter made it into view, Rolando flashed the lights of his truck and made sure they saw the scene — and Sammy was airlifted away.

As of today, Rolando didn’t know for sure how things turned out, although he was trying to track down that answer (in all the chaos, he and the boy’s grandfather never traded names). Rolando did note one thing — as difficult on his family as it was to have Blackie die, if he hadn’t, and if Rolando hadn’t decided at the last second not to bury him in the backyard, Rolando and his friend wouldn’t have been there to help save a life.

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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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Friday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on December 3, 2010 – 5:02 pm

Today was a good Friday. Our annual third-floor potluck luck was highlighted by freshly made carne asada tostadas by Rolando Cantu. First Mexican-born NFL player, and a killer chef to boot.

Of course, I’m not sure that has any affect on Sunday’s game. I’m guessing no. But I’m trying to go glass half-full here. I am sure optimism isn’t warranted until it’s earned, and the way Sam Bradford has been playing the Rams have to be feeling confident. I mean, they might have been a crucial Steve Breaston strip away from beating the Cards the first time, and that was Bradford’s first NFL start, not his 13th.

But this team isn’t going winless the rest of the way. They just aren’t, no matter what funk they are in. Is this the weekend to snap it? Is the way they seem to have rallied around Derek Anderson after his version of the Monday Night Meltdown translate? (Oh, I am imagining the comments below already). The Rams haven’t won back-to-back road games since 2007. The Cards have beaten the Rams eight straight times.

I’m not predicting anything. The Cardinals have to play better. It is disconcerting to hear Adrian Wilson talk about guys communicating poorly on defense (and getting in the wrong spots) still, even though we are this deep in the season. The offense has never found any kind of steady rhythm all season. These are the major things working against the Cards, and again, they have to earn any kind of trust/respect/prediction right now.

— There will be a toy drive at University of Phoenix Stadium before the game. Cheerleaders and personnel from Chicanos Por La Causa will collect new unwrapped toys and monetary donations outside each stadium entrance. Donations benefit the “Angeles Del Barrio” program that distribute toys to more than 13,000 needy kids in Phoenix and San Luis.

— Linebacker O’Brien Schofield is feeling pretty good, although he wishes he could ditch the brace he must wear on his knee. “I told them they are going to see me run down the field one day and it’s going to come off like I’m Forrest Gump,” Schofield said with a laugh. He will wear it through the season, but insisted he’s going to find a way to rid himself of it in the offseason.

— That’s when Schofield plays to build up his legs, period. He weighed about 246 in college. He got down to 221 after his knee injury, and is back to 244. He wants to play between 248 and 250, weight he plans to build in his legs.

— Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, on special teams demon/kick-return star LaRod Stephens-Howling: “LaRod has been lights out. You want to pick an MVP, he’s hands down the guy.”

— It’s very clear they are waiting for John Skelton until next year and that it’s always been the plan. Hopefully, that answers everyone’s questions.

— Tackle Jeremy Bridges was fined $20,000 for an unnecessary roughness penalty Monday against the 49ers for hitting a player in the head. The league pointed out it was Bridges’ fifth such infraction since the beginning of the 2009 season (the five don’t necessarily have had to have been flagged in the game, just deemed penalties when the league looks at them later). Linebacker Clark Haggans was fined $10,000 for a blow to the head/neck area in the same game.

— In that first game against the Rams, perhaps you remember Fitzgerald being targeted 15 times but only getting four catches. Much frustration that day, although Fitz said this week his health was “about 25 percent” for that game after he hurt his knee in preseason. “I wasn’t full-go at that point.”

— Tim Hightower usually does pretty well against the Rams, so that’s something to look for.

— So does Wilson. If there was ever someone who needed a standout game, it’s A-Dub. Of course, you could say that about a lot of Cards.


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Cards help earthquake victims

Posted by Darren Urban on April 20, 2010 – 11:36 am

Draft topics swirl, but a pair of Cardinals employees that hail from Mexico have some other things on their minds.

Luis Zendejas, the senior director of community relations, and Rolando Cantu, manager of international business ventures, went on a mercy mission of sorts recently to San Luis, a remote Mexican farming community near Mexicali – and an area brutally ravaged by the earthquake on Easter Sunday.

The area, responsible for 30 percent of Mexico’s wheat production, found itself flooded and ripped apart by the 7.2 quake. Cantu said there had been about 900 smaller earthquakes registered in the week before the large one hit. When the big one did arrive, it burst the natural water wells and irrigation ditches, not only ruining the crops but setting the area back years. “There’s no way this area can be fixed in the next seven to 10 years,” Cantu said.

Some 1,400 people – mainly women, children and the elderly – found their way to a nearby mountaintop plateau where makeshift tents serve as housing. Cantu said the spot is so remote even the Mexican government doesn’t know the extent of the problem (he learned about it through a friend who works in the Mexican agricultural business).

“I wanted to open up some eyes, even on the Mexican side,” Zendejas said.

The two drove to the spot and delivered blankets and Cardinals gear for the displaced residents. They gave out Gatorade and basic necessities – paper plates, plastic utensils, toilet paper – that is so hard to get. Zendejas said a set of paper plates for nine people will last two to three months, because the Mexicans will use some plastic over the top while eating to save the plates.

“These people were grateful we showed up,” Cantu said. “I wish more organizations would show up. In essence, we are three-and-a-half hours from another Little Haiti and people don’t know that.”

Cantu felt the earthquake first-hand. He was at his in-laws’ house in Mexicali on Easter. “I think it lasted 14 or 15 seconds and three of those seconds were really getting out of hand,” Cantu said. “You don’t know the sounds things make when they are moving and that’s what gets to you. You take things for granted. Whatever you work for, in two or three seconds it could be demolished.”

Cantu’s family was OK. But 50 miles away, the people of San Luis weren’t, and at that point, Cantu didn’t even know about them.

“Right now, it’s a big help for them,” Cantu said.

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