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Carson No Average Johnny

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals made a surprise announcement yesterday in selecting QB Carson Palmer as its 18th inductee into the Ring of Honor. This announcement came just a little over a year since Carson Palmer retired, which is about as lightning fast as the abrupt ACL tear that Palmer suffered on a low hit by Steelers’ defensive lineman Kimo von Oelhoffen in Palmer’s first playoff game with the Bengals---on a 66 yard completion, no less.

Whether you believe Carson Palmer deserves this distinguished honor or not (as of this morning 55% of the 552 Cardinals’ fans on the Arizona Republic poll believe he does not)---its a moot point.

When one listens to C A.Q. Shipley describe with such forceful passion how Palmer was the toughest teammate that Shipley has ever seen lace up the pads, it’s hard to argue with anything Shipley says. Carson Palmer was one tough hombre and a fierce competitor who relished playing in a Ring of Fire, despite all of its potential perils.

As a Heisman Trophy winner from USC and #1 overall pick of the 2003 NFL Draft, much was expected from this prototypical 6-5, 235 pound rocket armed pocket passer.

However, Carson Palmer’s career was defined as much by injuries and conflict as it was by his laudable passing statistics. The ACL tear in 2005 was so untimely and unfortunate, it paved the way for a now customary NFL rule change where defensive linemen are prohibited to hit defenseless QBs at or below the knees.

Then there was Palmer’s notorious trade demand in light of the rift between him and Bengals owner Paul Brown, which landed Palmer in Oakland where he languished for two years before the Cardinals swooped in and stole him in 2013 for what was essentially a 7th round draft pick.

Palmer said to Cardinals’ owner Michael Bidwill that he wished he had become a Cardinal sooner. For sure---in Palmer’s mid 30s as a Cardinal his record was 29-9. Wow. After a 10-6 inaugural season, Palmer won his first game versus the Chargers, but suffered nerve issues in his shoulder after a hit he took by S Eric Weddle. After a 3 game hiatus, Palmer was on a new 5-0 roll when he suffered his 2nd ACL tear versus the Rams on a fluky non-contact attempt to avoid pocket pressure.

Then came his rather mysterious press conference, where he was wearing street clothes and a dark green hat and was sounding like his days in Arizona were over. It was in the days that followed that we learned how close Carson Palmer had become to the family who donated the ACL ligament for his first surgery in 2006. A drunk driver had killed 44 year old Julie DeRossi and DeRossi’s mother, Dorothy, donated the ACL that the doctors used to reconstruct Carson Palmer’s knee. The donation came as “anonymous”, but to Carson Palmer’s credit, he wanted to find and thank the family of the donor.

In 2014, doctors used Palmer’s own patella tendon to repair his ACL. Palmer recovered much faster than the first time and proceeded to have his best season in 2015 as a pro, setting Cardinals’ single season passing records in yards (4,671), TDs (35) and passer rating (104.6), while leading the Cardinals to a record 13-3 season, the NFC West title, a playoff win versus the Packers and a trip to the NFC Championship game in Carolina.

Down the stretch of that historic “All or Nothing” 2015 season, two injuries versus the Eagles the week before Christmas had a significant impact on the Cardinals’ Super Bowl hopes---Tyrann Mathieu’s 2nd ACL tear during a 4th quarter interception return with the Cardinals up 40-17 and Carson Palmer’s dislocated and slightly fractured index finger which he popped back into place, when the Cardinals were leading 30-10 late in the 3rd quarter.

It didn’t help the Cardinals’ chances either that the coaches decided to play Palmer and the starters in the last game of the season versus the Seahawks, who laid a major Week 17 36-6 pounding on the Cardinals---and served as a harbinger for the Cardinals’ humiliating 43-13 loss to the Panthers in NFC championship game.

But, in the playoffs the week before versus the Packers at home, following the uncanny Hail Mary TD from Aaron Rodgers to Jeff Janis that sent the game into overtime, Carson Palmer provided perhaps his most signature play as a Cardinal when he maneuvered just enough around a quick pass rush and collision with his own tackle to find a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald on the opposite sideline, which Fitzgerald ran all the way down to the Packers’ 5 yard line---and then scored the GW TD on a shovel pass from Palmer on the very next play. The 75 yard pass play to Fitzgerald will forever go down in Cardinals’ lore as “The Hail Larry!” Treat yourself to another look.

This is the stuff that dreams are made of!

Sadly for the Cardinals and Carson Palmer, the team and the QB suffered through two disappointing seasons in 2016 and 2017, during which Palmer’s record dipped to 9-12-1. By now, Palmer was taking and absorbing hits with astonishing regularity. In 51 games as a Cardinal, Palmer was sacked 137 times and despite his 107 TDs, he threw 57 interceptions and fumbled 31 times.

Regardless, like A.Q. Shipley so aptly said, Carson Palmer remained tough as nails right to end---which occurred in London versus the Rams in the first half of a galling 33-0 loss when Palmer was blasted by a blitzing linebacker and suffered a season-ending broken arm. Shipley said that even though the bone was showing in Palmer’s arm, Palmer was trying to help the team at half-time.

With Carson Palmer---there was never any quit---right to the very end.

When reporters tried to ask Palmer about his possible return in 2018, he rolled his eyes. Palmer had spent some time contemplating his return in 2017, thus it seemed like retiring before the 2018 season was the right decision. By then Bruce Arians was headed to the broadcast booth and a new head coach, offensive coordinator and 1st round QB were on their way to the desert.

But, there remains some ambiguity about the way things ended in Arizona for Arians and for Palmer. Later on, Palmer conceded to the media later that he really wasn’t planning to retire after the 2017 season. The question is just how much Arians and Palmer were encouraged to retire.

It seemed that Michael Bidwill was very eager to turn the page after two painful seasons marred by the head coach’s and star QB’s health issues. On the other hand, Steve Keim did not seem quite as eager to move on from Arians and Palmer---the HC/QB match that will forever be the signature move of Keim’s first season as GM.

Perhaps the timing of Michael Bidwill’s gesture to induct Carson Palmer into the Cardinals Ring of Honor this quickly is an effort to smooth over what was an extremely painful departure for the winningest head coach and QB in the history of the Arizona Cardinals. The fact that Bruce Arians is back on the sidelines with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at least gives Arians another chapter to write in his coaching career.

Yet, Carson Palmer’s playing days are over---and thus---the Ring of Honor induction feels like Michael Bidwill’s appreciative way of assuring that Palmer’s last chapter ends with a happy, satisfying exclamation point.

This time, with his induction during half-time of the Cardinals/Seahawks game on September 29th, unlike what happened in London in his final play as a pro, Carson Palmer can stand tall in the Ring of Fire and come out of it as clean as a whistle.