The 5: Crushing injuries in Arizona sports history
Under normal circumstances, Zack Greinke’s extended stay on the disabled list due to an oblique injury would be cause for much consternation among Valley sports fans.
The D-backs’ high-priced offseason addition, his inability to contribute would traditionally be seen as a terrible thing.
However, with the D-backs hanging out at the bottom of the NL West and showing no signs of climbing back into postseason contention, Greinke missing a substantial number of starts is met with a little disappointment, sure, but not really much frustration.
After all, it’s not like his absence is going to derail the team’s championship aspirations.
Unfortunately, there have been injuries in Arizona’s sports history that have, if not for sure, possibly knocked a team off of a championship path.
It’s all subjective, yes, because no one can truly know how a season would have turned out had the injury never happened. But that does not mean we cannot mourn what could have been and wallow in our own self-pity.
So, with that in mind, here are five of the biggest and most ill-timed injuries in Arizona sports history.
Carson Palmer – 2014
The breakout season Carson Palmer had in 2015 –when he posted career highs in touchdown passes, passing yards and QB rating — was actually happening the year before. Palmer threw for 304 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 1 win over San Diego, but a nerve injury caused him to miss the next three games. The Cards went 2-1 in that stretch, though, and were in good shape when the starter returned in Week 6. Over the next four games he tossed nine touchdowns and two interceptions, making the 7-1 Cardinals look every bit the Super Bowl contender. However, it was in the team’s Week 10 matchup with the Rams where it all went south. Palmer was scuffling, having thrown one interception and no touchdowns, but had the team driving into St. Louis territory in the fourth quarter when he stepped up to avoid a pass rush and tore his ACL. The Cardinals went on to win that game, pushing their record to 8-1, but would win just three of their final eight games and fall to the sub-.500 Carolina Panthers in the Wild Card Round. It didn’t help that Palmer’s backup, Drew Stanton, was lost for the season in Week 15, but the team’s Super Bowl dreams died when Palmer went down.
Danny Manning – 1995
To say the 1994-95 Phoenix Suns were loaded would be an understatement. The core that led the team to the 1993 NBA Finals — Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle — was there, and they were supplemented by A.C. Green, Wesley Person, Wayman Tisdale, Danny Ainge and Elliot Perry. However, the player that made them arguably the best team in the league and the favorite to win the title (Michael Jordan, remember, was not in the NBA then) was Danny Manning. In his first season with the team after signing as a free agent, Manning was averaging 17.9 points, 6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. One of the most versatile players in the league, he was a perfect fit for a Suns team that raced out to a 36-10 record with him in the lineup. That record, by the way, was tied for the best in the NBA, and was achieved without the services of Johnson for much of the way. Unfortunately, Manning stepped on teammate Joe Kleine’s foot during a morning practice, tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season. The Suns finished the regular season with a 59-23 record and reached the Western Conference Semifinals, but were ousted by the Houston Rockets in a series that saw the Suns cough up a 3-1 advantage before falling at home in Game 7.
Luis Gonzalez – 2002
The Diamondbacks won the World Series in 2001 behind stud pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling along with an offense that was paced by All-Star Luis Gonzalez. All three were back the following season, as were Mark Grace, Tony Womack, Steve Finley and the rest of the gang. While maybe not the favorites to repeat, they were still every bit the contender. Until the 156th game of the season happened, anyway. That night, in St. Louis, Gonzalez suffered a separated left shoulder after colliding with Womack in an effort to snag a foul ball. He was hitting .288 with 28 home runs and 103 RBI at the time, and the D-backs, who were 94-61 before Gonzo got hurt, finished the regular season with a 4-3 record before getting swept by the Cardinals in the NL Division Series. They scored six runs in three playoff games, by the way.
Brandon Ashley – 2013
Brandon Ashley was not the best player on the 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats. Shoot, he probably wasn’t in the top three or maybe even four. But with him, that team was special, and it had the kind of skilled size no one seemed to be able to match up with. Prior to him going down with a broken foot, the Wildcats had posted a perfect 21-0 record, a mark that included a win over Duke at Madison Square Garden and a victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor. The versatile sophomore who could switch on defense and hit shots from the perimeter was averaging 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds for a team that had been ranked No. 1 in the nation for about eight weeks, and while there was still plenty of season left to play at the time of his injury, the Wildcats were certainly the favorites to cut down the nets in April. Arizona still finished with a strong regular season, going 30-4 and winning the Pac-12 crown, and advanced to the Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament. However, not having Ashley’s services against Wisconsin in the Elite 8 was an issue, as Arizona struggled to score in a 64-63 OT loss to the Badgers.
Tyrann Mathieu – 2015
Tyrann Mathieu broke out in a big way in 2015, putting himself in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year while racking up 89 tackles, five interceptions, 16 passes defensed, 11 tackles for loss, one sack and one forced fumble. And while not the only great player on the Cardinals’ defense, he was arguably the most important. Mathieu’s ability to be a threat and playmaker all over the field allowed defensive coordinator James Bettcher to come up with all sorts of different schemes, and the Honey Badger’s leadership was something that cannot be measured or discounted. So, when he tore his knee in the waning minutes of a Week 15 blowout win over the Philadelphia Eagles — incidentally, while making an interception — it was about as crushing a blow as the Cardinals could suffer at that point in the season. The Amazon series “All or Nothing” gave a glimpse into the team’s response to losing the star, and to say they were disappointed would be selling the situation short. The Cardinals went 12-2 with Mathieu in the lineup, but split their final two regular season games and were noticeably different without No. 32 on the field in losing to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game.