Updated Feb 13, 2012 - 6:02 pm
Peyton Manning rumors prove how far Cardinals have come
The last time was in 1993, when the San Francisco 49ers were looking to trade Joe Montana.
Always needing a QB and never opposed to adding someone who would sell tickets, the Cardinals did their best to land one of the best signal callers the game has ever seen, only to watch Montana spurn Big Red in favor of the Kansas City Chiefs.
At the time, many felt Montana used the Cardinals to drive up the price, never having any real intention of heading to the desert.
Roughly 10 years later the Cardinals pursued former Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, who was clearly on the downside of his career and was just hoping to pick up a few more yards to add to his NFL-record total.
Always needing a running back and never opposed to adding someone who would sell tickets, the Cardinals offered a starting job as well as a nice contract.
Smith took the deal, though many at the time knew the 33- year-old had little left to give the NFL, and instead was just signing with the Cardinals because they were the only team who would give him the ball. While he wasn't bad for the team, Smith did nothing to change the culture and, at one point in his first season with the team, was reduced to tears over what was transpiring on the field.
Trust me Emmitt, many a Cardinals fan has shed tears over the team's play, too.
However, nearly 10 years after that the Cardinals are once again being mentioned as a suitor for one of the all-time greats, only their rumored pursuit of Peyton Manning has a different feel to it.
The Cardinals would not be used to simply drive up the price, nor are they the only team that would offer Manning a starting job. They would not be after him just to sell tickets (though he'd certainly help), and he'd be brought in as the missing piece to a championship puzzle, not because of name recognition.
Assuming the Cardinals are interested in Manning (and really, why wouldn't they be?), there's really only one other hurdle to clear. You know, Manning actually having interest in Big Red. Never before has a player who most of the NFL coveted actually picked the Cardinals. Never before have the Cardinals been a great place for a great QB to come and play.
But that's exactly what's happened.
ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter and CBS NFL analyst (and former NFL GM) Charley Casserly have said it, and ESPN columnist Ashley Fox has written it: Manning to the Cardinals makes sense.
Tell me, Cardinals fans, does a still-great player wanting to come to Arizona and play for the Cardinals make sense to you? Maybe not in the past, but that just goes to show how much things have changed for this organization.
No longer are the Cardinals a laughingstock, an organization known for being as cheap as it was poorly run. Sure, there is still a national perception that the team refuses to spend money - and at times it's probably still accurate - but they're no more frugal than plenty of other teams in the league.
If these Arizona Cardinals were the same as your father's version, Larry Fitzgerald would not have signed a contract extension last summer. If these Arizona Cardinals were the same as my father's version, they would not have rallied to finish 8-8 last season after a 1-6 start.
In the early 90s the Cardinals tried to trade for a great player, one who could have changed the franchise's fortunes but likely never really wanted to have much to do with Arizona. In the early 2000s the Cardinals signed a past-his-prime running back, who likely never really wanted to have much to do with Arizona, but found no other place to go.
These Arizona Cardinals are different, and that fact can be seen in the moves they could make as much as it can in the ones they've made.
Does Peyton Manning want to be an Arizona Cardinal? We can't be sure, at least not yet. But the fact that the idea of a great player having interest in the team because he thinks he can win - and not just make the most money or find a starting job no one else will give him - is a sign of just how far the team has come over the years.
And, with any luck, the Cards will actually land a guy the rest of the NFL covets, proving once and for all that the "same old Cardinals" are officially dead.
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