Friday, November 30, 2018
The Franchise 9: Arizona Cardinals
I suppose this should be the St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals Franchise 9. But since the team never changed its mascot through the cities it has inhabited during the Super Bowl Era, I'm only going to refer to them by their current incarnation. The name aside, wow! this was a difficult team to choose. There were about four team legends that absolutely had to make the cut, but there was a whole list of players who were around the same level.
When I started researching, Jim Hart was nowhere near the top of my mind. I still feel somewhat like I may have slighted somebody to place Hart here, but I think the stats bear him out. Consider the fact that he left the team in 1983--yet he is still the franchise leader in passing yards and touchdowns. He is the team's approximate value leader overall, and Pro Football Reference ranks him in the top 150 of all NFL players all-time in weighted AV. The Cardinals have retired 5 numbers in their history. Three of those were of players who died during their playing career. Of the other two, one played for the Chicago Cardinals, well before the era that I'm examining. That means Jim Hart is the only Cardinal player to be honored entirely for his on-field play since the Super Bowl era began.
2. Ottis Anderson, RB (1982 Topps)
Ottis Anderson is another player who left the Cards in the 80s, but is still the franchise leader. He burst onto the scene as a rookie, gaining 1,605 yards and earning 1st Team All Pro as a rookie. He made the Pro Bowl again the following year. He he rushed for 1,000 yards in three of the next four years; he was halfway there after eight games when the strike ended the 1982 season in the other season. Another Cardinal who has been somewhat forgotten, Anderson was a fine player in his early days before he won a Super Bowl MVP award with the Giants.
3. Larry Fitzgerald, WR (2015 Topps)
Larry Fitzgerald is probably the best player in franchise history. Eleven Pro Bowls, almost 1,300 receptions, over 16,000 yards and 115 TDs make a fantastic career. His hallmark is consistency. And his production. And his overall good-guyness. There's a lot to love about Fitz, and I find it sad to think that he could be hanging them up soon.
Fun fact: Dan Dierdorf was born in Canton, OH. After a 14-year career--all in St. Louis with the Cards--he made it back home for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The most impressive thing to me about Dierdorf's career is the versatility. He played tackle for most of his career, but he also saw significant time at guard and center. His three All-Pro nods came while he was playing tackle, though. For about a decade, Dierdorf was an elite offensive lineman in the league.
5. Darnell Dockett, DT (2011 Topps)
Dockett spent a decade in the desert; his entire career he was a Cardinal. Like most interior defensive linemen, he didn't make headlines. Except when he did, of course. During the Cardinals Super Bowl run in 2008, Dockett was an animal. He tallied 3 sacks and recovered a fumble during the playoffs that year. That performance was sandwiched between Pro Bowl years. Like many on this list, Dockett is here because he performed for the franchise for a good, long time. The Cardinals don't seem to have many players stick around a long time.
6. Patrick Peterson, CB (2015 Topps Chrome)
I feel like this is a somewhat controversial pick. Whenever the name Patrick Peterson comes up when people are discussing top corners in the NFL, I hear a bunch of people crying overrated. But let's just see what he has done for his team, shall we? He's now in his eighth season with the team. In his first seven full seasons, he managed a Pro Bowl berth every year and has thrice been named All-Pro. One of those All-Pro nominations came in his rookie year, as a punt returner. That season, he took four punts to the house. Of his 23 career interceptions, Peterson has one touchdown. That means he has scored five non-offensive touchdowns. He has never missed a start in his career, even from Day 1. His consistency and performance earn him a spot in the Franchise 9.
All Roger Wehrli did for the Cardinals was play 14 years, intercept 40 passes, recover 22 fumbles, play in 7 Pro Bowls, and make 3 All-Pro teams. Oh, and get inducted into the Hall of Fame. Other than that, I'm not sure what his impact was for the franchise. The St. Louis Cards selected the local kid from Mizzou with their first round pick in 1969, and he paid off for them.
8. Aeneas Williams, CB (1996 Skybox Impact)
Wehrli was #2 on the Cardinals all-time interceptions list until 1999, when Aeneas Williams passed him up. Williams was one of the top corners of the 90s, and he has the All-Decade team nomination to prove it. He represented the Cardinals in seven Pro Bowls and garnered 3 All-Pro bids, but I somehow always felt he was underrated. He was a true ballhawk and playmaker. Of his 46 picks for the team, he scored on five of them. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.
9. Larry Wilson, S (1988 Swell Greats)
I mentioned that Aeneas Williams is second for career interceptions with the Cards. The top spot belongs to Larry Wilson, who passed Night Train Lane on that list with his 10th pick of 1966. Ten picks in a season is incredible. His 52 picks still leads the team. Wilson straddles the line between Super Bowl era and before. He fits solidly into the later era because he played his best football after the age of 27. Beginning at that age, he reeled off six consecutive Pro Bowl seasons and five consecutive 1st Team All-Pros. Wilson is the third straight Hall of Fame defensive back on this team.
The Cardinals seem to have a knack for finding top-flight DBs. I don't think any other franchise has four defensive backs of their top nine players. Players like Fitz, Wehrli, Williams, and Wilson were slam dunks for this team. Other players had some fierce competition. Jim Hart or Neil Lomax? Should another defensive back, Adrian Wilson, make the cut? What about Terry Metcalf, Calais Campbell, Anquan Boldin, or Jackie Smith? Or even kicker Jim Bakken? I don't think there is much separating any of these guys. So, what do you think? Who would you have chosen for the Cardinals? Let the discussion begin!