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Humble Cardinals Provide Hope

Oakland Raiders v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The 2018 Arizona Cardinals are 2-8 at Thanksgiving.

But, from this fan’s perspective, there is much to be thankful about with regard to my beloved Birdgang.

There a number of players on this team who, no matter what the record, are steadfast exemplars of humbleness.

Cases in point:

11—-WR Larry Fitzgerald.

  • Has an NFL player ever displayed more class than Larry Legend?
  • Has a star, sure-fire Hall of Fame worthy player who has played his entire career for a franchise that has never won a Super Bowl, ever been more loyal?
  • When asked about playing in 2019: “If I am not playing in Arizona, I won’t be playing anywhere.”
  • “Playing in the same place for 15 years is a true blessing.”
  • No player took last week’s 23-21 loss to the Raiders harder as he left the locker room hastily and visibly upset.

31—-RB David Johnson

  • Nicknamed the Humble Rumble for good reasons.
  • Always expressing ways in which he needs improve.
  • Has come on like gangbusters the last few weeks.
  • Never complained about being used so predictably and unimaginatively the first few weeks of the season.
  • When asked about being compared to some of the great RBs in NFL history, Johnson said, “The biggest thing is it’s just a great honor just to be talked amongst those guys, compared to those guys. I always think about everything that I went through. That’s what I always think about is, man, think of where I was growing up and then think of where I was even college and having to work so hard to get to this spot. I’m so proud, and I’m so gracious of everyone who’s helped me get here.”

55—-DE Chandler Jones.

  • No player in the NFL has recorded more sacks in the last four years than Chandler Jones.
  • When asked about his stardom, Jones repeatedly says that he can and needs to improve.
  • “You could say I’ve played well enough and I’ve been happy with it, but I’m not satisfied. There are so many plays that I’m leaving out there on the field, so many times I’ve slipped off the QB.”
  • “I know guys say that but if you watch the film, it’s true. A lot of that is on me. I’ve got to play better. I’ve got to finish plays. I’ve got to take the quarterback down. I can do more to help us win games.”

41—-Antoine Bethea

  • Antoine Bethea is 34 years old and is still playing with youthful exuberance and supreme toughness.
  • “There have been a lot of guys that have played at a high level at this position,” Bethea said. “You won’t be moving like you were in year one, year two, but the knowledge of the game, it helps you get to the ball quicker. I still love playing the game. It’s still fun. It’s intriguing. Plus, I love seeing the new guys come in every year and being able to pass my knowledge on to them. That’s important to me.”
  • Bethea is a stickler about the fundamentals, particularly in displaying form tackling, which is why he won NFL Week 5 “Way To Play” award:

  • “The most important thing I’ve learned is paying attention to details. Details help you win, but if you don’t pay attention to them, they can definitely help you lose.”
  • When asked what trends do we currently see in the NFL that he likes or dislikes, Bethea said, “The new trend I like is seeing is players exchanging their jerseys after games. At the end of the day, we all respect each other and the work we put in. There is nothing wrong with being fans of your peers.”
  • “I go to Indy and after my eighth year, they feel as though I’m losing a step. I go play at San Fran for three years, on top of my game, and they tell me, ‘We want to get younger.’ I come here and I’m too old. In every aspect since I’ve been in the league, I still feel as though I’m an underdog. I still feel like I’m fighting it.”
  • “I’m pretty good at not letting it (losing) drag me down, because at the end of the day, regardless of what it is, we are in a blessed situation,” Bethea said. “To be in here with a great group of guys and a great coaching staff, to play a game, and get paid well for it -- in the big scheme of things, it’s great.”

Fitzgerald is starting to heat up. He leads the team with 4 TD receptions and 23 first down conversions. Talk about heating up? Johnson amassed 357 all-purpose yards the last 2 games. Jones has 10.5 sacks in 10 games (3rd in NFL). Bethea leads the Cardinals in tackles with 80 (11th in NFL, 2nd in NFL for DBs).

While all three of these standout Cardinals are manifesting stellar leadership, there are a couple of young Cardinals who appear to be following in a similar track.

The pre-draft rap on QB Josh Rosen was that he is brash and arrogant. Sure, when he was drafted 10th overall he vowed to make the teams who passed on him regret it. But, in his short time in Arizona has been refreshingly humble and self-critical. He has taken a pounding in some games and never once used that as an excuse; instead he has factored it into his learning curve.

In a lead-up to heading back to LA this week to play the Chargers, Rosen summarized his response to the Cardinals current futility as: “Just trying to stay positive through the whole thing, I mean, it’s (losing’s) frustrating … But $20 million of your salary cap is going to a quarterback that’s not playing and you got your OC [offensive coordinator] fired. It’s just trying to stay positive and keep all the guys going in the right direction.”

On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals have a fast emerging star in Budda Baker. Baker has always been told he is too small to play safety in the NFL and he is still trying to cope with the tragic murder of his brother. In interviews, Baker is very modest and soft-spoken, but when he dons the pads, he goes all out, play-in and play-out. As with Josh Rosen, whose focus is more on his teammates than on himself, Baker revealed recently that he joins the Cardinals’ fans when they chant “Larry! Larry!”

Baker said, “It’s the same thing for us. How is he, 34, 35? He’s still doing what he’s doing right now. I can only aspire to be that. I’m 22. I’m young. Him doing that, I’m with the chants. Every time they’re chanting, ‘Larry!’ I’m chanting ‘Larry!’ as well.”

Thank you Larry, David, Chandler, Antoine, Josh and Budda for keeping things real and for providing hope through humble leadership. You are not the only ones—-and you would be the first to say that.

Thank you to the Cardinals organization, the players, the coaches, the front office and the Bidwill family—-through thick and thin, you are my favorite team on the planet.

Thank you fellow Birdgangers—-and especially my fellow ROTB members—-walking this journey with you on a daily basis is a privilege and an honor.

And lastly, thank you Seth Cox, for being the straw that stirs the drink and the wizard behind the curtain. Revenge of the Birds wouldn’t be what it is today without your diligent leadership.

As Tiny Tim would say, “God bless us, everyone!”