Go ahead; ask me what I know about the latest on Peyton
Manning. Go on…ask me.
I know that one person told me Manning's six-hour visit
with the Cardinals went well. I know my co-host, John
Gambadoro (@gambo620) tweeted earlier on Sunday that he
was hearing Manning should be a Cardinals unless Bidwill
screws it up and made a vague reference to a conference
call. I know that Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter wrote
that it's highly unlikely Manning will make his decision
by Tuesday, which is a bit of a game-changer.
I know that Vic Lombardi, a former Phoenix TV guy now in
Denver, tweeted that the Broncos believed they were 95%
sure they were going to get him, but then pulled that
number off the table. I know
Mortensen later tweeted that a Broncos official and a
Manning source both shot that number down like a skeet
shoot. I know that the Denver Post used the phrase "dog
and pony show" to refer to the Cardinals' recruitment of
Manning. I know that current Phoenix TV guy Tim Ring of
Channel 3 tweeted that there no dogs and no ponies were
involved in the Cards' recruitment of Manning.
I know that around 12:40, Jimmy John's was delivered for
In other words, while I'm enjoying all the speculation… I.
Don't. Know. Jack.
Well, I do know this: I know that if a decision is indeed
made sometime this week there shall be no middle ground.
It will either be one of the most exhilarating days in the
history of Arizona sports or one of the most heartbreaking
days in the history of Arizona sports.
Of that I am completely certain.
Usually I'm not given to such hyperbole. I believe in the
middle ground. I believe in not giving into extremism.
But in this case it is unavoidable.
It's either going to be one of the best days of our
sports-loving lives or one of the worst. No in between.
While emceeing Doug and Wolf's Cornhole Cup over the
weekend, many asked what I thought was going to happen and
I was surprised by my own answer; I think it could happen
but don't want to believe it will because if it doesn't,
I'll be crushed.
It's not a Paxson-hit-the-shot feeling or a Holmes-caught-
the-ball moment but it won't be much fun. So I guess I'm
keeping my distance so that I'm protected.
Just call it emotional insurance.
Should he choose someone else, the guy I'll feel for the
most is Kevin Kolb. I don't feel too badly for him now.
For goodness sakes, it's Peyton Manning, what does he
expect? But if the Cardinals finish with the silver or the
bronze in this race, then the residue of that heartbreak
is going to be on him, and that's unfair.
It's one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite
movies: the "What are you prepared to do?" speech that
Sean Connery delivers to Kevin Costner in
Malone: What are you prepared to do?
Ness: Everything within the law.
Malone: And then what are you prepared to
As I try to wrap my mind around a world in which the
Arizona Cardinals might be the leader in the clubhouse for
the services of THE Peyton Manning, I have to ask myself
the same question of them. What are you prepared to do?
Are you prepared to go blow-for-blow, dollar-for-dollar
with three of the richest owners the league has to offer
in Stephen Ross, Paul Allen and Daniel Snyder? Are you
prepared to look Kevin Kolb in the eye and tell him you're
moving on? Are you prepared to have lost a second round
draft pick, a pro bowl cornerback, and millions of dollars
for what amounted to half of a season of Kolb?
Are you prepared to blindly commit to Manning not knowing
for certain his neck will hold up, his nerves will
regenerate and his arm strength will return? Are you
prepared to start John Skelton if Manning is not all the
way back by the start of the season? Are you prepared to
cede control of the offense to the quarterback instead of
What are you prepared to do?
It seems to me that those who dismiss the Cardinals
chances of landing Manning do so based on the presumption
the Cardinals aren't willing to do what it takes.
Acquiring Manning requires thinking boldly, embracing risk
and seizing the moment; traits not normally associated
with the historically color-by-numbers Arizona Cardinals.
Some look at the Cardinals the way Connery looks at
Costner, saying - as Connery does - "do you really want to
I think it's a mistake to use fear as the rationale for
rejecting the Cardinals chances. There is a tendency -
maybe even a natural instinct - to dispatch the Cardinals
for no other reason other than…..they're the Cardinals.
That mantra has been properly applied for decades; for me
its expiration date has long since come and gone. If the
Cards discover Manning has legitimate interest in bringing
his talents to the southwest, I'm certain they'll proceed
with the kind of fervor that any other NFL team would. The
prospect is simply too good to pass up.
It would be bigger than Randy Johnson to the Diamondbacks.
Bigger than Steve Nash to the Suns. Bigger than Roenick to
the Coyotes. It would rival Charles Barkley to the Suns
and frankly, I think I could make a convincing argument it
would surpass Barkley to the Suns in terms of its impact.
Bigger star on a bigger stage. Oh yeah, there's that
little matter of becoming an instant Super Bowl contender.
Maybe the Cardinals aren't on Manning's short list. Maybe
their offensive line is too suspect or Manning (as
Marshall Faulk suggested) doesn't want to play in the NFC
because one day he wants to play his brother in a Super
But if you dismiss the Arizona Cardinals because they're
the Arizona Cardinals, you do so at your own risk.
This may surprise you but sometimes, we in the media, make
really big deal out of a really small detail. For example,
note about Gerardo Parra getting time in centerfield.
likely nothing more than Kirk Gibson's attempt to get
Parra as many
at bats as possible, in particular against righties that
struggles against. Any other theory is probably just a lot
Is it totally unreasonable to suggest that some sort of
to push Young is being staged here? After all, this is a
that entertained offers for Justin Upton last year and a
who waited until the end of spring to formally anoint Joe
part of his starting rotation. Young hit .193 in the second half of the
.216 away from home. Despite his status as a superior
defensive centerfielder in a ballpark that demands such a
the perceived threat of competition their way of pushing
him to be
better? Likely this idea is more media blahblahblah than
else, but while you could certainly accuse the previous
their delicate coddling of their players, one cannot say
about Gibson or Kevin Towers.
• Two respected national baseball writers chimed in with
stories of the spring columns". Both Jeff Passan of Yahoo! and Tom Verducci of SI think Albert Pujols'
address is topic number one. Passan thinks Bryce Harper is
Verducci thinks it's trying to identify this year's
turnaround team in
the mold of the D-backs a year ago. I want to do a little
before I pick that turnaround team though I admit to being
intrigued by the Rockies. Anyway, my #2 story this spring
Darvish of the Rangers; he has the potential to be a game-
Passan has him 9th.
• The next couple of weeks are going to be really
former D-backs manager Bob Melvin. Evaluating the $36
dollar international man of mystery Yoenis Cespedes,
player who virtually single-handedly crushed the D-backs
a 2008 division title in Manny Ramirez and putting up with
the stories of Oscar night with his boss
Beane, Brad and Angie. Here's hoping that whoever plays
the sequel Moneyball 2: Mannyball is a little more suave
than Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
Obsess over the legacy of Tom Brady all you want. Debate
the place in history Eli Manning has now staked out. You
can pour over Madonna's set list if that's what you'd
prefer. To me, that's not what I'll remember from Super
The 2011 New York Giants accomplished a feat that the 2008
Arizona Cardinals were two minutes and 37 seconds away
from achieving themselves: winning the Super Bowl as a 9-7
team. Bear in mind, only three such teams have even made
it to the Super Bowl (the 1979 L.A. Rams being the third),
Giants became the first to win the game. Not only that, no
team has ever won an NFL championship with a winning
percentage as low as the G-men.
Look at what we've witnessed in the last calendar year:
The Green Bay Packers, 8-6 and in danger of missing the
runs a six game win streak all the way to the trophy that
bears their legend's name. The 5th-seeded Arizona
having already disposed of top seed Duke, were two points
from crashing the Final Four party along with Butler (an 8
seed) and VCU (an 11 who disposed of top seed Kansas). The
Dallas Mavericks, and their 57 wins, were no slouches but
neither were they anybody's favorite to win a title. St.
Louis Cardinals -- 10 ½ back. What else do I have to say?
Alright, I'll give you one more. LSU was the best college
football team all year; the best record against the best
competition. But on January 9th they weren't and that's
all that mattered.
2011 was the Year of the Hot. A year where being the best
and playing the best were two completely different things.
Were the New York Giants the best team in the NFL in 2011?
Absolutely not. Were they the team playing the best when
it absolutely mattered? Tuesday's parade provides the
Parallels could be drawn between the 2011 Giants and 2008
Cardinals right up until the moment when Brady's Hail Mary
fell to the turf on Sunday. Certainly luck was involved
too. For the Cardinals, it was a home game against the
Eagles in the NFC title game. For the Giants, it meant
avoiding the Saints under the dome.
But make no mistake, all the blahblahblahs that are thrown
around during the NFL playoffs - defense wins
championships, you have to have an elite quarterback,
homefield advantage - none of them mean squat compared to
a hot team. The Giants proved it this year (and in '08),
the Packers proved it a year ago and the Cardinals were
2:37 from proving it three years ago.
Once upon a time, a time not that long ago, the Arizona
Diamondbacks couldn't catch a break. Bad luck, bad
decisions, bad baseball.
Just about every guy they kept with an extended contract
was a waste of money. Just about every guy they traded
blossomed. Brandon Webb happened. A.J. Hinch happened.
Manny Ramirez in Dodger Blue happened. Seasons of 90-plus
The D-backs' hot streak continued Tuesday with news of
Prince Fielder signing with the Tigers. A major deal for
Prince that serves as a minor victory for Arizona; one of
the best players in the game just vacated the National
League. Just like Albert Pujols bolting to the Angels.
The offseason has been nothing short of incredible for the
Arizona Diamondbacks. In addition to bringing just about
everybody back from last year's 94-win campaign, they
added Trevor Cahill to upgrade the rotation, Jason Kubel
to provide needed pop in the lineup and Takashi Saito and
Craig Breslow to deepen the bullpen. With the surprising
re-signing of Joe Saunders, the D-backs now possess four
starters who are capable of 200-plus innings. Now, Kevin
Towers has the luxury of bringing along his young starters
at a pace dictated by him and not by necessity. The front
office green lighted a higher than expected payroll, a
sure sign of a go-for-it-now mentality.
Certainly luck has been involved as well. Pujols is now in
the AL West. Prince in the AL Central. Ryan Braun might be
suspended for the first 50 games of the season. Ryan
Howard is hurt and the Phillies, at least offensively,
look old. The Dodgers are currently ownerless, which is
certainly a blessing; they might have been in on both of
the first baseman if they had an owner who could spend.
At this point the only negative, and it's not as much a
negative as it is an unknown, is the health of Stephen
Drew. Some might argue the departure of Jarrod Parker or
the demotion of Gerrardo Parra as negatives. I'm more
inclined to buy the latter and not the former. Cahill is
not much older than Parker and already has around 600 big
league innings. He makes them better now. The Parra/Kubel
debate is a good one and the pressure is on Kubel to prove
he's worth it.
Either way, it's been a great offseason. And as the Prince
signing proves, it pays to be lucky and good.
Everybody has at least one. Mine is George Michael's
One song on your iPod that you're embarrassed to own. One
song that, when it blares out of your car stereo, up go
When George belts out "I won't let you down...I will not
give you up" there is an internal acknowledgement; I
should not have this song on my iPod/I cannot imagine my
iPod without it.
The talk about Peyton Manning to the Arizona Cardinals is
similarly equal parts shame and love. As irrational and
speculative as it is, I simply can't rise above it. I
can't stop thinking about it.
On some level, I agree with Darren Urban of
azcardinals.com who has written that it's not
discussing. He's right. It's absurd speculation. Like
movie "Inception" it's a dream within a dream within a
dream. A healthy Peyton Manning getting cut by the
Indianapolis Colts and wanting to play for the Arizona
Cardinals. Yeah, sure. Sorry Leo, that top is going spin
for the rest of eternity.
So why the fixation, beyond of course the pure desire that
I want it to be real? I blame Doug Franz and Ron Jaworski:
Franz because he planted the seed of an idea. When Charlie
Casserly reports the Manning camp hasn't had any
discussions with the Colts about his future the natural
follow up question in that off-the-record chat is…well
where would he want to go if he isn't with the Colts?
Casserly tells a national audience that the Cardinals are
a dark horse candidate for Manning because somebody from
Manning's camp told him that. Casserly didn't pluck the
Cards out of thin air. He was handed that information.
Part 2, I blame Jaws for what he told me on Thursday.
Andrew Luck is so good, so NFL ready right now; he has to
play right away. He's too good to sit.
Suddenly the absurd speculation turns to a semi-logical
timeline. The Colts, armed with the number one pick, stand
on the precipice of a new era. A new coach, new GM and new
quarterback poised to shift into the next decade with very
little down time in between. You're not sure Manning is
healthy and what sense does it make to pay him $28 million
when you probably should be starting Luck anyway. All
you're doing is paying a lot of money to delay the
inevitable. Now Manning is free. Show me another
opportunity that provides the warmth, weather, facility,
stability, style of offense and most importantly…Larry
Fitzgerald. Without him the Cardinals aren't in the
So for now I'll enjoy the song even though I have no
business listening to it. Like George sang "All we have to
do now is take these lies and make them true somehow…"
Ken Whisenhunt recently told the Arizona Republic that the
remarkable recovery by the Arizona Cardinals "builds
equity....when you go through the pain of losing those
games with all these young guys, and they understand now
what they have to do in order to get out of it, that makes
you stronger as a team."
It's apt that he used the word "equity." In that regard,
Whisenhunt is a lot like my house; both have lost a ton of
equity. The big difference is he got his back. I can only
hope my house (and yours, for that matter) regains its
equity the way Ken Whisenhunt has.
After a 1-6 start you would have thought his office chair
was lined with hot coals. Speculation ran wild. The
inboxes and twitter accounts of local talk show hosts and
writers filled daily with calls for Whisenhunt's job. It
should have been, and was, evident that nothing was going
to happen in 2011; his contract simply didn't allow for a
change right now. But in all that noise it was clear...Ken
Whisenhunt had used up all his equity with the fans.
The noise is gone. Predictably the "Whiz has gotta go"
emails dried up weeks ago. And in that silence of
marveling at a team that is playing relevant meaningful
games in the month of December, one thing is very clear to
Outside of the Super Bowl year, Ken Whisenhunt has never
done a better job as coach of the Cardinals than he has in
This team was toast. Dead. Buried. At 1-6, a three or four
win season was a fait accompli. It was only a matter of
time until the locker room checked out, sick of the losing
culture that proved tougher to shake than the cold I'm
fighting through right now.
But none of it happened. Nobody quit. Nobody stopped. The
outside static remained outside. Adjustments were made,
schemes were learned and draft picks were validated, all
while Whisenhunt held it all together with duct tape.
Think about it….they've managed to make it all the way
back to .500 with the quarterback situation just as
muddled and unsure as it's ever been.
In case you need further proof, consider this: as my
colleague Dan Bickley points out in his column
, if the Cardinals win one of these last two games,
Whisenhunt will have coached the Cardinals to a .500
record or better in four of his five seasons here.
Put in context of the Cardinals history or in the context
of today's helter-skelter NFL, it's a remarkable
Now when TV graphic lists the Arizona Cardinals as one of the teams "In the Hunt" for a playoff spot I won't laugh it off. They are. Legitimately, miraculously, inexplicably, the Cardinals are in the hunt for an NFC playoff spot.
You are now allowed to think about it. It's probably only slightly less of a long shot than it was when the day began, but now that they've beaten the best team remaining on their schedule - ending a five game losing streak to hated division rival San Francisco - you have my blessing to at least ponder the possibility of a postseason.
More important than even the faint notion of the playoff is that the Cardinals finally punched their personal schoolyard bully square in the nose. The last four losses to the Niners were so lopsided even the Arizona players were questioning the validity of terming this rivalry...a rivalry. And to me, the real victory is such; the Cardinals -- once 1-6 -- could/should finish 8-8. That's remarkable.
Credit to Coach Ken Whisenhunt, who reminded the media "You guys stuck a fork in us quite a while ago." We all did. That is, everybody but your team. Keeping this team from quitting has earned you the right to throw a jab in my direction, no doubt.
While I attempt to un-stick the fork, let's veer into Four Down Territory.
First Down: Defense
Ray Horton's group was like a Tarantino movie. Stunning. Awesome. A brutal assault. In the second half, the Niners had two first downs. One was the Frank Gore touchdown run. The other came via a penalty. And that's it. The net yards of the 49ers final six drives: 2, 8, 20, 8, 4, 9. Five sacks for the game. I can't recall a time when a Cardinals defensive unit was this trustworthy with a lead.
Second Down: Skelton
The Cardinals overcame his three turnovers (two interceptions and one fumble) in part because of their defense and because Skelton made plays. Big plays. Pressed into duty with Kevin Kolb's head injury, Skelton was 14-18 with 195 yards, two touchdowns and a pick in the second half. And as colleague Adam Green points out….his fourth quarter passer rating was a perfect 158.3.
Third Down: Larry Fitzgerald
When he reflects on the win, does Fitz ponder his leaping touchdown, his 149 yards receiving, his 6th season amassing over a thousand yards receiving? Or is it the block that flattened Tarell Brown on Early Doucett's 60 yard touchdown?
Fourth Down: Harbaugh's headache
His beautiful fake field goal was ruined by a Whisenhunt challenge flag and a faulty replay system. His offense sputtered like a cranky old car in the red zone (0-3 in red zone efficiency, 0-2 in goal to go efficiency). He asked Alex Smith to throw the ball 37 times which hardly seems a recipe for success and he didn't give the ball to Frank Gore on either 3rd and one or 4th and one late in the game. Bad day at the office.
Think of the Arizona Cardinals as a restaurant. For a
couple of years now there has been very little about the
place that you'd recommend to a friend. Lousy food,
watered down drinks, inattentive service, bad location and
on and on. The complaints to the management were numerous
I'll be honest…after that dish the Cardinals served up on
Sunday, I feel like I had a pretty good meal. I have only
one complaint. Granted, it's a pretty significant
complaint, but it's only one. And, let's be frank, the
Cardinals did just beat the St. Louis Rams, the restaurant
equivalent of serving a hamburger; you have to work pretty
hard to screw that up.
Still, as we head into four down territory, it seems that
was one of the most complete games the Cardinals have
played in some time.
Beanie Wells, who set a franchise record with 228 yards,
was otherworldly at times. At times, I've been a Beanie-
basher, never questioning his toughness but certainly
questioning his fragility and availability. Beanie is
answering those questions and shutting his critics up.
Twice you held your breath, once when Beanie headed to the
bench and then when his entire team came onto the field to
check on him, an injury that prompted many on twitter to
predict his season was over. 53 yards later it was clear
rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated.
Maybe Patrick Peterson….The Cornerback is still under
construction. Patrick Peterson….The Punt Returner is a
finished product. A game-changer in the mold of Devin
Hester. And the effort to get him the ball in the Wildcat
offense is applauded from here. He needs the ball in his
hands as often as possible.
The defense was smothering. Sam Acho, Daryl Washington,
Paris Lenon all had terrific games. They routinely got
stops on third down and never allowed the Rams to sustain
long drives. If the Cardinals take nothing else from the
2011 season, take the fact they finally have a legit
defensive coordinator in Ray Horton.
The one complaint on this otherwise complete day of
football…..the sketchy play of John Skelton. He lacked
accuracy and frankly I am wondering if his confidence is
shaken and stirred. I am all for playing Skelton as long
as he gives you a reason to. For some, his 3-1 record when
he starts is that reason. But with Kevin Kolb's return
getting closer by the practice and the way Skelton has
played the last couple of weeks, I'm starting to run out
The attractive woman that you think is looking at you from
across the room……a bank statement that lists too much
money in your account…..your slacker kid with straight A's
on a report card….the Arizona Cardinals with a 24-3 lead
against the Ravens on the road……
Things that are too good to be true.
It's banter straight out of the old $10,000 Pyramid game
There is a reason it was difficult to believe what you
were seeing in the first half of the Cards/Ravens game. We
are, after all, seasoned, experienced Cardinals fans;
expecting the worst and hoping for the best is passed down
among generations. How they lost is stunning. That they
The benefits from a potential signature victory over the
Ravens are hard to quantify. Certainly some buzz would
have been restored. Instead the Cards are 1-6 and the
great tune-out of 2011 is set to begin any moment now.
Here are my four main thoughts from this game, as we enter
(cue dramatic music) four down territory.
First Down: The Big Tease
From 9:07 to 3:52 in the second quarter the Cardinals were
stunningly good. Pressure on the quarterback from the
young Cardinals linebackers, forcing turnovers, turning
those miscues into touchdowns, pocket presence from Kevin
Kolb, protection up front, Patrick Peterson's jaw dropping
punt return for a touchdown. During those remarkable five
minutes and 15 seconds the Cardinals were like a
defibrillator, shocking a pulse back into themselves and
their fan base. The whole thing felt like a dream. Maybe
Second Down: Surprise, Surprise
Credit where credit is due: I never thought Beanie Wells
would be available for this game after suffering the knee
injury. Instead he played and played well at the beginning
of the game. He appeared to wear down as the game went on
but the fact that he played was commendable.
Third Down: That loud beeping noise you heard……
….was the Cardinals going in reverse in the second half.
In every phase. The offense gained only 56 yards in the
2nd half while the Ravens racked up 249 yards after
halftime. Kevin Kolb was under intense duress all while
holding the ball in a manner that practically invited
someone to knock it out of his hands, receivers dropped
balls. All told, Kolb threw for only 27 yards in the
second half. The Ravens, meanwhile, went into a shotgun
formation and shredded the Cardinals defense, which leads
Fourth Down: Today's game brought to you by the letter
Anquan Boldin dismantled A.J. Jefferson, Patrick Peterson
and Richard Marshall to the tune of seven targets, five
catches and 117 yards in the second half. Not to mention
the number of flags he drew or the personal satisfaction
he seemed to take in the dominance over his former
employer. Meanwhile, Larry Fitzgerald was targeted only
five times the entire game with three catches for 98