As I sit here and think about what transpired last Friday, imagining Anquan Boldin in a purple jersey is still a tough pill to swallow. Yes, we've known for the last two seasons that Anquan wanted out of Arizona and that time would eventually come. But knowing something will happen and actually seeing it first-hand are two different things.
Boldin was a diamond in the rough when he was drafted in 2003. He was tough as nails and came to play every game that season. For a rookie to break countless records in one of the worst times in Cardinals history shows the resiliency of Anquan. He was a modern day warrior and most Cardinal fans will be forever in his debt with how much be brought to the Cardinals day in and day out.
When he emerged in the league during that year, he turned me into a believer, and a faithful, die-hard Cardinal fan. He immediately became my favorite player. Over the years we've become used to his punishing play and he's been a consistent cog in the Cardinals offense. Although the contract situation has clouded his fan-support and many jumped ship to the Larry Fitzgerald club, I still loved the guy for what he brought to the team. He will remain one of my favorite players regardless of how he finishes his career.
In honor of Q, I wanted to remember him ROTB style, by listing the top ten games of his career. So today, he'll be the main focus.
10. October 9th, 2005 - Arizona 20, Carolina 24 - 10 Catches, 162 Yards, 1 TD
This game didn't signify winning the division and the Cardinals didn't even win, but it was another day in the office for Boldin, racking up over 150 receiving yards. Boldin wasn't the only receiver to have a big game, as Larry Fitzgerald caught 9 catches for 136 yards. This marked the first time in Cardinals history that two receivers both caught over 100 yards in back to back games and it was also the first time it was done in the NFL since 2001.
The nine other games are listed after the jump...
9. November 16th, 2008 - Arizona 26, Seattle 20 - 13 Catches, 186 Yards
You could call this game the passing of the guard. The Seahawks reign atop of the NFC West was nearly dead, and Boldin and the Cardinals were there to finish the job. Boldin was an enormous piece to the victory, averaging 14.3 yards per catch in the process. After the game, Boldin confirmed just how important the win and the division were to him in a usual Anquan-reaction: "We have heard a lot of talk about people doubting us, that we weren't playing anybody. What we did today speaks for itself," Boldin said. "They say the road comes through here. We came in and took care of business."
8. December 6th, 2009 - Arizona 30, Minnesota 17 - 7 Catches, 98 Yards, 2 TD
The Cardinals hit the national stage for the third time in 2009 when they played Minnesota. The Vikings were the powerhouse of the NFC and the Cardinals were merely a "product of a bad division". When the lights were on and the cameras were filming however, both teams played a different tune. The Cardinals gained most of the energy off the amazing play of Anquan. He began by squeezing his way into the endzone for a two-yard score to tie the game. The play of the game though, was an unbelievable circus-catch followed by a 39-yard run to give the Cardinals the lead. Staple plays like this would often get the momentum and energy flowing throughout the rest of the team and it's something the Cardinals will miss from Q.
7. September 23rd, 2007 - Arizona 23, Baltimore 26 - 14 Catches, 181 Yards, 2 TD
The last time Boldin played his current team - the Baltimore Ravens- it took place in 2007 when the Cardinals were in the midst of shuffling quarterbacks. After dropping to a 23-6 deficit in the 4th quarter, Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin stormed back, leading the Cardinals to a tie before Baltimore kicked the winning field goal as time expired. The 14 catches marked a new career high for Boldin, but after the game he made a Boldin-esk statement about the record: "I'll take the win over the numbers any day."
6. September 14th, 2008 - Arizona 31, Miami 10 - 6 Catches, 140 Yards, 3 TD
Not long after demanding a new contract or trade, Boldin responded with one of his best games as a Cardinal. Not only was it amazing that Boldin was able to catch 140 yards off of only 6 receptions(23.3 YPC), but he also caught three touchdowns during the game and sealed the fate for the Dolphins. The 140 receiving yards marked the 22nd time Boldin eclipsed 100 yards as a Cardinal, earning him another franchise record.
5. December 21st, 2003 - Arizona 10, Seattle 28 - 10 Catches, 122 Yards, 1 TD
The Cardinals lost this game by 18, so the actual game meant nothing. It was Anquan that reminded us how much of a consistent bright spot he was on such a bad team. He caught 10 passes for the 2nd time that season and caught over 100 yards for the 5th time. The game did signify how successful his rookie year was as well. Boldin was named to the Pro Bowl earlier that week, and he broke the rookie record of 90 catches by reaching 96 that game. Boldin would later finish the season with 101 catches - a Cardinals single-season record at the time.
4. December 4th, 2005 - Arizona 17, San Francisco 10 - 11 Catches, 156 Yards, 1 TD
When you want to think back and remember the times when Anquan Boldin was running over defenders, rewind to an away game at San Francisco. The Cardinals/49ers rivalry was just starting, and although the 49ers were experiencing one of their worst seasons, the game remained close. On a very important 3rd and 20, Anquan caught a dump-off pass and turned it into a 54-yard score. The touchdown was huge, but the bigger highlight was Q running over numerous defenders(5 broken tackles) and diving into the corner of the endzone. After the game, Boldin responded with a typical team-first response: "I realized that it was third-and-20, and I tried to cut back across the field to give us a chance to get the first down," Boldin said. "I made (about) two guys miss, and it just opened up from there."
3. December 23rd, 2007 - Arizona 30, Atlanta 27 - 13 Catches, 162 Yards, 2 TD
It was nearing the end of the 2007 season when the Cardinals found themselves in a shootout with the Falcons. Anquan scored the first two touchdowns of the game as the Cardinals got out to a 14-7 lead. The falcons stayed in the game till the end before Neil Rackers kicked the game-winning field goal in overtime. The win was great, but it was the final numbers that meant more. Anquan went off, catching 13 passes from Warner, making him the fastest wide receiver to reach 400 catches in just 67 games.
2. October 26th, 2008 - Arizona 23, Carolina 27 - 1 Rush, 30 Yards, 9 Catches, 63 Yards, 2 TD
Although the Cardinals lost this game and Anquan's stat line didn't stand out, it's the significance that mattered. The game was only three weeks removed from the brutal, bone-crushing hit against the Jets that left Anquan unconscious in the endzone. The hit caused a scare as teammates ran to Boldin's aid. He would later give a thumbs up on his way out of the endzone but needed facial surgery to repair a sinus fracture. After missing two games, Boldin returned to action against the Panthers and didn't skip a beat. He led the team with a 30-yard rush and also caught the only receiving touchdowns of the game. To return and play after the hit that he took, shows just how strong-minded and committed Anquan was to the Cardinals.
1. September 7th, 2003 - Arizona 24, Detroit 42 - 10 Catches, 217 Yards, 2 TD
It was the opening week of the 2003 season and the Cardinals hoped they had built a winner with the signing of Emmit Smith and drafting two 1st-round picks. They were playing the Lions on the road and a 2nd-round pick named Anquan Boldin was the 2nd string receiver on the depth chart. Unaware to what was about to happen, the Lions secondary was at the mercy of Boldin as he went wild, catching 10 passes for 217 yards(including a 71-yard scamper) and 2 touchdowns. The receptions and yards were both rookie records in an opening week and his production continued for the remainder of the season as Boldin would later win Rookie of the Year honors. Although the Cardinals lost by 18 to the Lions, the play of Anquan was what won me over and after that point I was hooked.
We may never appreciate just how much Boldin meant to the Cardinals organization, and just how much he was a pivotal piece in making a Super Bowl appearance. It's a shame that his contract disputes with the front office lost some of his fans, as he always kept his word and left his heart on the field. Anquan was a regular leader on offense, a team player to the fullest, a friend to his surrounding teammates, a class act(when not dealing with a contract), and one of the most exciting receivers to watch during this past decade. My favoritism won't change just because Boldin will be wearing purple and black next season. He'll always be in my Cardinal memories and his jersey will be framed on my wall from this point on.
Obviously I can't remember/catch all of Boldin's best games/moments, so if you have any that you'd like to share then drop them in the comments section. Thank you Anquan, for everything you have done for the Arizona Cardinals and their fans.