Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cardinals continue to leave everyone guessing

Note: This column appears in the 10/2 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 10/3 issue of the Peoria Times

Like most people at this point, I don’t know what to think of the Arizona Cardinals anymore.

Just as I was prepared to blast the team for its lackluster showing on Sunday -- down 34-0 at halftime -- they go and make a somewhat valiant comeback. At least offensively. (For many Cardinals’ fans, I’m sure that effort typified what this franchise has come to represent: too little, too late. If at all.)

Just when I thought the Cardinals had a stranglehold on the division -- all alone in 1st place with the Seahawks reeling -- the team loses two straight while Seattle gains a much needed win and gets healthy on their bye week.

Just when I thought their defense was turning a corner after stymieing the 49ers in the second half of the season opener and shutting down the Dolphins a week later, the Cardinals go out and throw up two clunkers, allowing the Redskins and Jets to run roughshod. And pass roughshod, too. Can you even pass roughshod? Against the Cardinals you can.

Just when I thought the Cards could win on the road -- defeating the 49ers in San Fran in Week 1 -- they go and play two more road games.

Just when I thought the quarterback controversy was over and done with, Kurt Warner goes and turns the ball over eight thousand times against an average Jets’ defense.

Just when I thought the Cardinals had rid themselves of their penchant for horrendous penalties…wait -- I never thought that. Scratch that one.

Just when I thought the team was on a fast track to the playoffs, the beneficiaries of a very workable schedule, I now see only a .500 football team that is staring straight down the barrel of some very, very tough matchups.

And just when I thought that trying to figure out the Arizona Cardinals was the most important thing on my plate, Anquan Boldin goes and reminds all of us that it’s really not that important at all. Thank God it looks like he’s going to be alright.

Still, the inconsistencies of this team are maddeningly inexplicable. I don’t know whether this is due to the “parity” of the NFL -- hey, the Chiefs just beat the Broncos -- or if it’s the fatal flaw of an ambiguous team. I don’t know anything anymore. I don’t even know why I’m writing any of this down.

I have no idea what to think anymore when it comes to this team. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they beat up on the undefeated Bills at home this week. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Buffalo one-ups the Jets and drops a 60 on this defense. It wouldn’t surprise me if Kurt Warner throws for 400 yards and 4 TDs. And it wouldn’t shock me in the least if he finally decides to streamline his mistakes and starts handing the ball off directly to an oncoming Buffalo defender.

I have no more analysis to provide, if I ever did. At this stage, I have no more opinions on this team. No more educated guesses. This is just going to be a week-by-week thing now with the Cardinals. One day they’ll be world-beaters. The next they’ll be, well…the Cardinals.

That’s the way it is, and apparently, the way it’s going to be. I just hope they don’t plan on making the playoffs this way because, if I recall correctly, they tried it this way last year. And it didn’t work.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Classic card of the week

John Moses, 1989 Score

Perhaps you do not know the inspirational story of John Moses. Allow me:

John, who has good speed and plays excellent defense, was a capable replacement in all three outfield positions for the Twins in 1988.

John Moses: Capable replacement. It’s pretty much the highest compliment a professional baseball player can attain. To wit:

Random Twins employee: Skip, all of our starting outfielders are missing at sea. Something about the Vikings having a boat party…

Former Twins manager Tom Kelly: Well I’ll be gosh darn con farn it hootin tootin’!

Employee: Hold on, skip! Don’t blow a gasket just yet! What about John Moses?

Tom Kelly: Who in the what now?

Employee: John Moses, skip. He’s got good speed.

Tom Kelly: What does that mean?

Employee: He’s not very fast.

Tom Kelly: Grrrr…

Employee: But he’s got a great glove, and can play all three outfield positions!

Tom Kelly: At once?

Employee: I don’t know. But he says he’s capable.

Tom Kelly: Capable, huh? That’s a mighty strong word to be tossing around. Awww, heck -- call him in here.

But that was actually the happy ending of the John Moses story. It wasn’t always peaches and cream for young John:

It had been a difficult time for John since the end of the ’87 season, the first full one he had played in the majors after seven professional years. The Mariners dropped him just before Christmas.

Freakin’ Mariners. I mean, geez -- I understand this is a business, but what kind of timing is it to randomly drop a guy -- a capable guy no less! -- three months before the start of the season and right before the holidays? Several Seattle residents, during the harsh winter of ’87, claim to have seen John Moses staggering around town in a Santa costume, taking swigs of St. Ides and telling telephone poles exaggerated tales of his good speed.

Then the Indians signed him as a free agent in January. At the end of spring training they, too, released him.

He was beat out for the job by this guy.


For John Moses

The Twins picked up John in April, and he stuck with them.

(Wiping away a tear.) The story of John Moses was wonderfully captured in the Hollywood film, “The Pursuit of Happiness,” which starred Will Smith. A few minor plot alterations were necessary.

Did you know?
Former Twins' manager Tom Kelly is actually a product of Minnesota, not, as you may have assumed from the above dialogue, 1904 rural Alabama.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On avoiding physical contact will well-intentioned strangers

I’m not sure what percentage of people who read this blog also attend church on a regular basis. If I had to guess…4%? It doesn’t really matter. As I’ve maintained from the beginning -- this blog is about two things and two things only: stupid sports cards, and religion.

Anyhoo, so I have to discuss with you an aspect of Arizona -- one that is actually among the few things about living here that makes me very uncomfortable.

For starters, it’s almost impossible to find a Catholic Church around here. Back home in New Jersey, traditional Catholic Churches are like Seven Elevens -- you can’t walk three blocks without seeing one. Here? My wife and I have to drive about 35 minutes to get to church every week, which means that our travel time is longer than the actual Mass. The next closest Catholic Church is in Texas.

Stranger still, on our way to church we pass about seventeen other churches. They’re just not Catholic churches. Arizona -- at least where we live -- is a very Christian community. There are many, many Christian churches. Now, I am not here to discuss the inherent differences between Catholicism and Christianity, and why we consider ourselves Catholic (not because I couldn’t, but because it’s not warranted here). But I will say this: I am Irish with a father who is a Catholic deacon, and my wife is an Italian from Brooklyn. Christian church is not an option.

(When I originally moved here I was asking a coworker where the nearest church was, and she began telling me about a non-Catholic church where the pastor wears a Hawaiian shirt and occasionally drives his motorcycle onto the pulpit, and that there was also a Starbucks inside the church. We considered playing a prank on my mother-in-law by telling her that this was the church we decided to start attending, but we were honestly and legitimately concerned that she would have a heart attack, so we decided against it.)

But regardless of the commute, we like our church. It’s not grandiose in its style, with high, vaulted ceilings and dozens of stained-glassed adornments and the smell of incense filling the vast atmosphere -- the kind of church we’re used to and that, quite frankly, we miss. No, our church is flat and mostly bare, very “post modern,” I suppose. In fact, it’s celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year, which makes it one of the oldest churches around. But hey -- it does the job.

But let me back it up a little bit. Several years before we moved here, a trend began in church: everybody started holding up their palms during the “Our Father.” I’m not sure exactly when this started, but apparently I missed the announcement. Thusly, I had always steadfastly refused to take part in this, mainly because a) nobody told me about it, and b) I was not just going to blindly follow the crowd. “God knows how I roll,” was my justification.

Fast forward to a year ago, when my wife and I first attended Mass at our present church. Being that we were attending a Catholic Mass, I knew that things wouldn’t be much different, however, there are certain subtleties that any Catholic who has been to a few churches in his or her day can attest to. Are they going to ring the bell after the blessing? How many verses do they sing? Of course, I was secretly thinking, “Man, I wonder if they raise their palms during the ‘Our Father.’”

Well, they don’t.

They hold hands.

You can imagine my confusion when it was time for the “Our Father,” and I am innocently looking around to see what everyone is doing with their hands, only to have my own hand grabbed by a complete stranger, and raised into the air as if we were on one of those Sunday morning Gospel television shows. (I wasn’t sure if I should tightly close my eyes, yell “Halleluiah!” and start dancing.) I looked over at my wife who had this particular look of fear in her eyes that I have only seen on the occasions when one of her favorite reality shows is interrupted by an election update. So as not to look completely out of place, I was forced to grab her hand as well.

As if this wasn’t shock enough, at our church they opt to sing the “Our Father,” as a means of prolonging the uncomfortableness. Also, towards the end of the prayer, there is a part where everyone raises their held hands even higher. If you don’t know about this part, you can easily separate your shoulder. As this is all going on, I’m looking around the church and the whole congregation is holding hands. I felt like a Who in Whoville on Christmas morning after the Grinch stole all of the presents. Except I wasn’t happy. Because my present was not having to hold hands and I wanted it back. Immediately.

I tried to be optimistic at first, thinking “Okay, maybe they only do this on the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, or whatever today is.” But my optimism was swiftly dashed during the subsequent weeks. We did not like this one bit.

This really, truly makes both of us very uncomfortable. My wife -- who works with kids and is always on the lookout for coughs and booger-picking -- will wash her hands for twenty minutes after church because of the “Sign of Peace.” Now she was holding hands with a stranger for two minutes straight. As for me, I mean -- do you know what it’s like to hold hands with another man for a few minutes? It’s the opposite of comfortable. I can’t even focus on the prayer. For one thing, I’m not used to singing it, so I’m always losing my place. More importantly, I’m wondering if my hand is too sweaty and if my handholding partner is going to take that incidental thumb movement the wrong way.

It has gotten to the point where my wife and I have to alternate who sits on the inside of the pew each week. An enjoyable Mass is one that does not necessarily feature an inspirational or thought-provoking homily, but one in which no one else sits in our pew. And even that is no guarantee, because apparently my wife and I are the only two people who find this routine awkward. Yes, several parishioners -- in an attempt to create a handholding chain that will reach around the world -- will cross the aisle to grab your hand! I mean, !!! Sometimes, if you are in the pew aisle seat, the person in front of you, in their aisle seat, will give you a backwards, no-look hand offer! Believe me -- I have seen it happen.

True story: About a month or so ago, my wife was busy with paperwork and we couldn’t make it on Sunday, so I went to Saturday evening Mass by myself. I purposely sat in the back, back corner. I was on the aisle, and nobody was in my pew, or even within range. I was safe. When the “Our Father” began, I suddenly felt somebody on my right side. It was the usher, with his hand held out for me to grab. He had a crazed look in his eye, as if to say, “Now you didn’t think I’d let you sing the ‘Our Father’ all by yourself, did you young man?” I was legitimately scared.

My wife and I have tried to resist. When no one is near us to grab our hands, we do not hold each others hand. This brings us looks of confusion and often disdain -- people wonder if we are fighting, or if we are in church against our own free will. When people are next to us, and the “Our Father” in on the horizon, we try to avoid eye contact, but you would not believe how aggressive other people can be when it comes time to hold hands in church. It’s like they’ve been waiting for this moment all week, and they will not be denied.

Listen -- I understand the meaning and significance behind holding hands, especially in God’s presence. But I just can’t help the fact that it makes me feel very, for lack of a better word…icky. It’s not that I’m so grossed out by other people; I mostly find it, quite honestly, cheesy. And forced. I just don’t like it. At all.

Apparently -- and I only found this out by exploring the possibility of attending a different Catholic Church even farther away -- this is not specific to our present church. It exists throughout the Diocese, possibly the state. There is no escaping this.

I’m sure that somehow it’s my own insecurities and hang-ups that make me feel so uncomfortable to hold hands with a stranger. Unfortunately for strangers, I am not willing to work on this. So if you are reading this, and you happen to find yourself in church this week next to a tall, lanky white dude with a cleft lip -- please look away. It’s not you. It’s me. I have sweaty hands.

And my wife thinks you’re disgusting.

Awww, geez Cindy -- you JUST had your hand in your nose!

A diary of the Cardinals’ smooth transition to three and…oh

Note: An edited version of this column appears in the 9/25 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 9/26 issue of the Peoria Times

I wasn’t sure when I was going to get another opportunity to watch the Arizona Cardinals possibly move to 3-0. Kurt Warner is 37 years old, Anquan Boldin wants out, and, well...the team doesn't exactly have a history of strong starts. Or middles, or ends. With that in mind, I decided to do a running log of Sunday's game in Washington. Because if 3-0 actually happened, I wanted evidence.

9:58 AM: Before I even start this -- and I don't care if this makes me look like an idiot 500 words from now -- I am convinced the Cardinals are going to win this game. Really, I am.

9:59: I should also mention that the Giants are on CBS right now, yet I’m voluntarily watching the Cardinals. And by “voluntarily” I mean that my editor has me chained to the couch, with my eyes pulled open "A Clockwork Orange" style, and has hidden my remote control somewhere in the desert.

10:09: The Redskins are marching down the field right now, and sideline “reporter” Tony Siragusa has this to say about their quarterback: “One thing people don’t realize…Jason Campbell is 6’5”…” Really? Nobody realizes that? I mean, it’s listed pretty much everywhere.

This guy is too tall! I never realized!

10:13: Clinton Portis scores easily to put the Redskins up 7-0. There were a lot of holes in the Cards’ D on that drive. I’m already a little worried about my opening statement.

10:21: The Cards are driving, but Tim Hightower falls just short of the first down. Before I can even write that they should go for it, they do. But an unbelievably gutsy play call that would have been an easy touchdown is negated by a delay of game penalty. None of the announcers are stressing just how awful that was.

10:28: Jason Campbell -- what is he like, 5’7”? -- cannot throw an incomplete pass right now.

10:34: Finally, a defensive play for the Cards -- a Karlos Dansby sack of Campbell. That leads to a stalled Washington drive and a weak punt. The Cardinals might be in business right now.

10:38: Or….not. An Edgerrin James fumble ends the first quarter.

10:44: It’s 10-0. I have to admit -- I’m kind of bored right now.

10:48: The Cardinals, facing a 3rd & 17, complete a pass for 14 yards. Our color analyst Moose Johnston says there’s nothing wrong with that. Apparently, he hates first downs.

10:56: A decent Steve Breaston punt return is negated by what Tony Siragusa describes as one of the worst cases of holding he’s ever seen. I think that may be a bit of an exaggeration. Still, penalties are killing this team right now.

11:00: This probably isn’t the most opportune time to say this, since Edgerrin James has looked very good so far this year, including this game. But I’m going to say it anyway -- Tim Hightower is better than Edgerrin James. There. I feel so much better.

11:09. Wow. Wide receiver Jeremie Urhban throws to Tim Hightower. The announcers make fun of the quality of the pass instead of recognizing that the Cardinals are now 1st-and-goal. I really should put this game on mute.

11:11: Warner-to-Boldin. 10-7. Tony Siragusa on Boldin: “That’s a huge man right there.” Anquan Boldin is one of the smaller wideouts in the league. I am so confused right now.

: Big third down stop for the Cardinals. Before punting, the Redskins allow the clock to run down and then call a timeout, which Siragusa rationalizes by saying, “And five yards doesn’t make a difference.” I’m sorry -- is it a penalty to call a timeout now?

11:20: Speaking of penalties…penalty on the Cardinals.

11:39: Mr. Siragusa opens the second half by telling us that he spoke with “Coach Wasinhunt at halftime.” If anyone knows who that is, please email me.

12:06: I don’t know what’s worse for the Cardinals -- the horrendous penalties, or getting beat by Todd Yoder. Either way, now it’s 17-10, Redskins.

12:12: Approximately three milliseconds after Sirgusa compliments Washington’s defense for not giving up a big play, Warner hits Larry Fitzgerald for a 62-yard touchdown. If the distribution of inaccurate and/or pointless information were a baseball game, Tony Sirgusa would be pitching a no-hitter right now.

These words are strange...what's a "Plexico?" I'm just going to ask Coach McLoughlin what he thinks

12:30: A tip-passed interception leads to a touchdown for the Redskins. It’s still a one-score game, but the Cardinals are playing with the urgency of a hungover Eddie Curry. In the middle of all this, Siragusa has managed to drop another “Wasinhunt” bomb. Things couldn’t be going worse.

12:50: The Redskins opt for a 52-yard field goal attempt rather than a punt. The Cardinals capitalize on this awful decision by immediately going three-and-out.

12:58: I am an idiot.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Classic card of the week

Elvis Grbac, 1998 Upper Deck

This is probably the most visually exciting and stimulating football card that I own. Many people believe that “high definition” was “invented” in like 2005, or something. But this card is proof that high definition dates back as far as 1998. Of course, the kinks weren’t all worked out, as far as background graphics are concerned. (That’s actually Ted Danson standing on the sidelines, though it’s hard to tell.) Regardless, it feels like Elvis Grbac is going to run right out of the front of this card! When he reaches the front of the card. In twenty minutes.

Really though. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a still shot that gave away how excruciatingly slow somebody was. And it’s not like I’m surprised that a 6’5” white man named Elvis wasn’t exactly a speed demon. But it looks like Elvis Grbac is running in quicksand, and that there’s an invisible belt around his waist that’s strapped to the goal post. If those feet in the background are attached to somebody, then Elvis Grbac is in trouble.

But even though Elvis Grbac wasn’t fast, he won ballgames. In fact, he was the winningest winner ever:

Grbac is 14-5 as a starter, good for the best winning percentage (73.7) among all active quarterbacks.

Geez. Talk about taking liberties with a statistic. (Even Grbac’s face on the back of the card expresses his displeasure.) The week after that stat was printed, Charlie Batch won his first game as starter for the Detroit Lions*, thus shattering Grbac’s active winning percentage record, and grabbing the title of Winny McWinnerson. Unfortunately, both quarterbacks would lose the rest of their games, forever.

Nevertheless, Grbac was able to distinguish himself in other ways. For example, he remains the only player in NFL -- and human -- history whose name was Elvis, and whose last name featured the letters g, r, and b consecutively. In addition to that, he made history at the 1993 NFL combine by becoming the only known player to eat a sandwich during his 40-yard dash.

Did you know?
According to Wikipedia, as it related to Grbac's tenure in Baltimore: When Grbac was injured midway through the season and replaced by Randall Cunningham, the crucial taunt "Elvis has left the building" was used. This marked the first known occasion that an NFL crowd was able to chant, in unison, an entire sentence, and also the first time a taunt was described as "crucial."

Did you know Part II?
Kid Rock and a well-trained orangutan write most Wikipedia posts.

*May or may not be true, did not have time or motivation to research

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cards have opportunity to make even bigger statement

Note: This column appears in the 9/18 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 9/19 issue of the Peoria Times

The “but…” in explaining how the Arizona Cardinals’ are atop the standings is that they are a product of their division. The NFC West is widely recognized as one of, if not the, worst divisions in the league, a perception made even more viable after the early-season injuries and underperformance of perennial division favorite Seattle.

Not that we should be looking ahead (coughASUcough) in crowning the Cardinals division champions just yet, but I don’t think it’s fair to diminish their early accomplishments based on the inadequacies of others. The Cardinals are 2-0 because they are a darn good football team, not because they are some indirect beneficiaries of the St. Louis Rams’ secondary. If anything, their inspired play has improved the NFC West’s reputation. And wow, yeah…that felt weird to write.

Speaking of divisions, when the NFL undertook its divisional realignment a few years ago, it promised to maintain any of the (not so) traditional rivalries lost in the process, which is why the Cardinals get to face-off against all of their former NFC East counterparts this season. (Quick interjection: The fact the Cardinals used to belong to the NFC East is made even more comical every time I have to hop on a 5-hr plane ride back home to New Jersey…that was quite the geographical error.)

The NFC East is perceived to be as good as the West is bad, which is why I consider the Cardinals’ trip to the Nation’s Capitol this Sunday to be a huge test for this football team. The Redskins are coming off a surprising win over conference favorite New Orleans, and the Cards arrive fresh off their undressing of the Miami Dolphins. For the Arizona Cardinals to go into hostile territory and take down a team from a “power” division would be quite impressive. I’m pretty sure people would stand up and take notice. People like the Cowboys, Giants, and Eagles, for example -- all future Cardinals’ foes in ’08.

Not that the Cardinals’ intention is for people to take notice (although, ya’ know, it wouldn’t hurt when trying to sell out a home game before the 11th hour…I’m just saying). All they want is a win. Nevertheless, three weeks into the season, this game is as big a test as the Cardinals have faced. To pass it would be a testament to just how good this team can really be.

The Cardinals were always part of the reason the NFC West was considered to be so bad. Now they appear to be the division’s only hope at respectability. Personally, judging from the way this team has performed thus far, I think they could hang with anyone, anywhere.


Sure, judging divisions is quite overrated, and actually sort of pointless. After all, no matter how noncompetitive a division is deemed to be, its winner goes to the playoffs, every time. Just ask the Los Angeles Dodgers. (And yes, in the span of 400 words I just threw ASU and the Diamondbacks under the bus. I certainly don’t have a good grasp of my audience…sorry.)

It took about two minutes last Sunday for the Cardinals to send a message to the Miami Dolphins. Let’s see how successful they are this week in sending a message to the rest of the NFL. I think they will.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Classic card of the week

Rufus Porter, 1989 NFL Pro Set

There are two things you can do when Rufus Porter is pointing directly at you, and looking as though he is going to kill you with his bare hands. You can a) take your chances and hope the offensive play in question is called for somebody else or will be run in the opposite direction of Rufus Porter (i.e., backwards and out of bounds), or b) immediately feign an injury and/or quit the sport of football altogether on the spot. Of course, these scenarios are intended for the hypothetical situation in which an anonymous blogger finds himself on a professional football field across from Rufus Porter circa 1989, and not for your average NFL player, who would most likely not be so intimidated by one of his peers pointing at him in a threatening manner.

But enough hypotheticalness. Let’s find out more about Rufus:

Began season as unknown free agent, ended it in 1989 Pro Bowl

I don’t mean to nitpick here, but somebody must have known who Rufus Porter was, right? Or:

Seattle Seahawks’ scout: Guys, check it out. Got an unknown free agent who I think might interest you.

Seattle Seahawks' front office: Awesome. What’s his name?

Scout: Don’t know. He’s unknown.

Front office: What college did he go to?

Scout: That is unknown.

Front office: How fast can he get downfield on punts and kicks?

Scout: Not sure.

Gets downfield very fast on punts and kicks…

Scout: Wait, scratch that. Very fast.

Front office: What else does he do?

Scout: Don’t know. Points a lot.

Front office
: We’ll take him. We shall call him “Rufus.”

Now I know what you’re thinking. You are thinking this: Okay, all that is well and good. But let’s say that the Seattle Seahawks are about to kick off. But then there is a penalty of some sort. So now they have to kick off from the 30-yard line. Also, they are playing the Houston Oilers. How does Rufus Porter react? I am so glad you asked that question:

Against Houston, Seahawks kicked off from 30-yard line after penalty, he made tackle at Oilers’ 11…

And there you go. That was hella specific.

Did you know?
There are two Rufus Porter museums. One for the artist, and one that honors the aforementioned tackle at the Oilers’ 11-yard line.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Cardinals impress, now must do it again

Note: This column appears in the 9/11 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 9/12 issue of the Peoria Times

There are almost too many positives to take from the Cardinals 23-13 win over the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday. Yes, too many. This is kind of scary.

Offensively, Edgerrin James looked fantastic and Tim Hightower served as the absolute ideal compliment. Kurt Warner played game manager and Anquan Boldin proved that any personal issues he has with the organization will be more motivation than distraction.

Defensively, the Cardinals forced turnovers and kept the 49ers at bay during the second half. From a coaching standpoint, the team exited the locker room at halftime and dominated the third quarter, a testament to Ken Whisenhunt’s motivational and tactical agenda. He also displayed his unique ability to mix things up by lining up Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at wideout, which, ummm, didn’t exactly work out too well, but still. Steve Breaston and the special teams unit looked solid and in sync as well.

The Cardinals won. On the road. In the division. And in doing so, defeated the thorn in their 2007 side. The Seahawks and Rams also lost, and the Arizona Cardinals are all alone in first place. I can’t imagine what could possibly go wrong.





Except, of course, a humongous letdown. Good news and the Cardinals don’t traditionally mix well, and now it’s up to this team to prove that 2-0 is not just a possibility, but that it’s exactly where they should be sitting come Sunday night.

It was months ago when we examined the Cardinals’ 2008 schedule and realized pretty quickly that it wouldn’t be an obstacle. If Week 1 of the NFL season was any indication, things have not changed. This Sunday the Cards come home to face Miami. Take it from someone who had Ricky Williams in his starting fantasy lineup last week (seemed like a good idea at the time): the Dolphins are not a good football team.

Miami won exactly one game in ’07, and last week they didn’t exactly set the world on fire. In fact, the lone highlight of their loss last week versus the Jets was when Joey Porter, their hotheaded linebacker, became so upset that the Jets’ kickers were warming up on his side of the field, that he felt compelled to kick their practice ball off the tee, almost inciting a pre-game brawl. (Sometimes I think Porter really would try to set the world on fire.) Apparently, the Cardinals can already cross “maturity” off the list of things they will face come Sunday. So that’s a start.

Hey, that guy in section 203 is sitting in the wrong seat! Hold my helmet...

It’s time for the Cardinals to take care of business. If the 49ers game was one that they had to win, then the stakes have only been raised for this Sunday. If this is indeed “their year,” then there should be no comfort in “same old Cardinals” logic. From an expectations standpoint, the Cardinals didn’t do themselves any favors with the way that they closed out last Sunday’s game, but such is the burden of a good football team.

The Arizona Cardinals and their fans aren’t used to being favorites, but with this team, and this schedule, and this opportunity, they better get used to it. For the second week in a row, there will be no excuse for them not to win. After all, they are a first-place team. Man, this is kind of scary.

Almost as scary as Joey Porter. Which reminds me -- maybe Neil Rackers should warm up on the sidelines before the game. Just to be safe.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Classic card of the week

Aaron Brooks, 2005 Topps Heritage Series

The Topps Heritage series is modeled after famous sets of Topps cards. On earth we call this concept “recycling old ideas.” For example, this particular card is made to look like the popular Topps baseball card series of that year when all the cards looked like this. I’m sorry -- I just didn’t feel like looking up the year. Mostly because I don’t care. Welcome to my blog!

Anyway, this card features Saints’ quarterback Aaron Brooks standing on the sidelines after being pulled from a game for throwing the football backwards for a 23-yard loss. The bright yellow background is the sun.

But maybe you would like to know more about Aaron Brooks. Well then, I’m glad you are here! Let’s use the back of this card as our guide, and feel free to ask as many Aaron Brooks-related questions as you’d like, and I will answer all of them to the best of my ability:

You: I love this card! I was wondering though, how tall is Aaron Brooks?

Me: Oh, that’s easy! Aaron Brooks is four minutes pass 6 o’clock tall.

You: What is the “year” in question on Aaron Brook’s Passing Record chart, and how did Topps manage to include his passing stats for his entire life?!

Me: To answer your first question: I don’t know. As for the second question, either Aaron Brooks did not start playing football until his rookie year in the NFL, or by “LIFE” they mean “NFL career,” and are not including that touchdown pass his threw to his friend Herbert in sixth grade gym class.

You: The NFL started in 1921, when did the Giants join?

Me: That question has nothing to do with Aaron Brooks. And who do you think you are anyway, Alex bleeping Trebek?

You: Would you like to rub the edge of a coin over my space for the magic answer?

Me: That is disgusting! And yes, I would.

You: Wait, so what is the answer?

Me: I am no longer taking Aaron Brooks-related questions.

Did you know?
After filing an official complaint, the Topps Company confirmed to me that in order to reveal the magic answer, one must use a coin that was produced earlier than the year 1870. Or the Internet.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Once again, Cards look to not stumble out of the gate

Note: This column appears in the 9/5 issue of the Peoria Times

One year ago in this very space, before the Arizona Cardinals opened up the season against the San Francisco 49ers -- which they apparently do every year -- I stressed that that game would be a hint of things to come for the season. I was wrong in that the Cardinals lost the game, but rebounded to finish a solid 8-8. I was right in that the loss, along with yet another brutal defeat at the hands of the same 49ers, prevented them from going to the playoffs.

So here we are again. The same two teams opening up their 2008 seasons against each other. And I feel the same way. This game just means so, so much for the Arizona Cardinals. These are the games that the Cards are going to have to win if they have any hopes of building upon the foundation they laid down last season.

There are plenty of “previews” for this game that can be found elsewhere, and even though these two teams aren’t necessarily NFL heavyweights, I’ve decided to do a “Tale of the Tape” for Sunday’s crucial game. I hope you are ready for some extraordinary insight.

Quarterback controversy: The Cardinals boast the league’s most recognizable QB dilemma, which was ultimately (or not) decided when Kurt Warner beat out Matt Leinart for the starting gig. The 49ers, however, have the most shocking QB situation, in which former first overall draft pick Alex Smith was beat out by (drumroll please)…J.T. O’Sullivan. For the Cards we have an elderly two-time MVP beating out a playboy and potential bust. San Fran has possibly the biggest bust of the decade backing up everybody’s favorite watering hole. Advantage: Cardinals.

This is J.T. O'Sullivan...as if you didn't already know

Running backs: Sometimes I feel like watching Edgerrin James run is like waiting for water to boil. But he’s been consistent, and it looks like Tim Hightower may provide a spark in the backfield every now and then. In Frank Gore the 49ers have a guy who lacks consistency, but can be great when he’s on his game, and healthy. But with the pass-happy Mike Martz as new offensive coordinator, Gore will probably see fewer carries. And by "fewer carries” I mean two carries. Slight Edge (pun intended): Cardinals.

Wide receivers: The enduring storyline of this game and possibly the season -- it’s what everybody is talking about, even more than Brett Favre and the Jets and even the upcoming presidential election -- is new 49er wide receiver Bryant Johnson facing his former team. All eyes will be on Johnson. Or not. Probably not. Either way, there is Kurt Warner throwing to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. And then there is J.T. O’Sullivan throwing to Johnson and Isaac Bruce. Even Kurt Warner can’t believe that Isaac Bruce is still playing football. Advantage: Cardinals.

The 49er's #1 wide receiver...in 2008

Defense: Believe it or not -- ya’ know, because they are not a good football team -- the 49ers defense is not bad. Patrick Willis is one of the league’s best young linebackers, and Nate Clements is a playmaker in the secondary. In 2007, the 49ers ranked ahead of the Cards in pass defense. But the Cardinals last season were top-10 in the NFL against the run, and were well ahead of San Francisco in total yards allowed. And it looks as though the Cardinals defensively in ’08 will only be better, and healthier. Advantage: Cardinals.

Pressure: The 49ers -- and forgive me if I mentioned this earlier -- are starting J.T. O’Sullivan at quarterback on Sunday. They won five games last year. Expectations are not necessarily high. The Cardinals have benched a first-round draft pick because they believe they can win now. They have arguably the most talented team in franchise history, are looking to erase years of futility, and are facing the team that pretty much ruined their 2007 season. But other than that, they’re carefree and fancy-free! Advantage: 49ers.

So there you have it. The Cardinals are better in virtually every major facet of football than the 49ers, but they have a lot to lose. Once again, one thing they definitely don’t want to lose is this game.

If a "49er" was a fish, I'd have a much better caption