When Arizona Cardinals rookie Jonathan Cooper went down in a heap Saturday night, the air was sucked out of University of Phoenix Stadium.
When word came down that the prized first round pick had broken his leg, you could hear the voices of Cardinal fans rise as one to ask, “Why us?”
I understand. The ongoing slog of trying to live down a hundred years of brutal Cardinal football history is a grind. And though the football air has become much sweeter to breathe since the Cardinals qualified for the Super Bowl in 2009, the old ghosts still haunt the organization and its fan base. As much as anyone on the roster, Jonathan Cooper represented the new direction this team was headed and now his career is put on hold for a year just as it was getting started.
But Cooper will be back. He will play well. And he still has a very bright future ahead of him.
Then, there’s Kevin Kolb.
I know Cardinal fans hold zero affection for old #4. He certainly didn’t make good on the substantial investment the organization made in him. And he’s made a lot of money for all his injury-shortened seasons.
And yet I can’t help but feel bad for the ol’ boy.
I was one of the local radio hosts encouraging the Cardinals to acquire Kolb. How did I know he was so brittle?
I saw a guy who could complete 60 percent of his passes, had good maneuverability in the pocket and had been given a ringing endorsement from Andy Reid as his quarterback of the future before Michael Vick arrived in Philly in 2010 and played like an MVP.
A short camp, injuries, a terrible offensive line — 2011 was a disaster for Kolb. However, the Cardinals did start 4-0 with Kolb at the helm to start 2012. I wanted to be right in my assessment of him, so I said to myself, “if only he could avoid injury.” But I know now it wasn’t possible.
There are plenty of athletes who aren’t tough enough to withstand the grind of an NFL season. That wasn’t Kolb’s issue. The guy was plenty tough. He just couldn’t avoid injury. He was like Nordberg in The Naked Gun.
How does Brett Favre play the most reckless brand of football any quarterback has played in the modern era and somehow start 297 consecutive games when Kevin Kolb can’t slide for a first down in a preseason game without getting severely concussed from a knee to the head?
All men are not created equally. Favre was Unbreakable. Kolb is Mr. Glass.
No one said life is fair.
Kevin Kolb’s Cardinal career ended when he was crushed on a scramble downfield. His ribs were so severely broken they detached from the sternum. If that wasn’t bad enough, he then had complications during his rehab. Turns out, the ribs were so greatly damaged they didn’t heal like normal cracked ribs. No, cartilage muscle closed up over the ribs, slowing the recovery process, and eliminating Kolb’s chances of returning to the team in 2012. It was suggested then that Kevin Kolb should consider retirement, but he persevered.
Arizona cut him and he signed with the Bills for a third crack at being named an NFL starting quarterback. What happens? Kolb slips on a wet mat at practice, injures his knee, loses the chance to start the next preseason game, and rookie EJ Manuel goes out and takes the starting job from him.
At this point, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Then, as a change of pace, Kolb actually catches a break when Manuel injures a knee. Kolb gets a second chance at proving he’s a starter. But in the midst of a successful scoring drive, he scrambles for a first down, gets kneed to the head, leaves the game four plays later with severe concussion symptoms, and now his career could be over.
And perhaps it should be.
Maybe Kevin Kolb will now go on to discover the cure for cancer or write the next great American novel, but someone or something is telling Kevin Kolb that football just isn’t in the cards.