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Modern Day “Billy Budd” Cardinals

NFL: Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

As many of you know by now, I often love to apply literary archetypes to modern day personas.

For example, I once thought of Bruce Arians as a model day version of Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab or of Homer’s Odysseus. Both were single-minded sea captains who wound up losing all of their crewmen, save one —- Ishmael was the sole survivor of the sunken Pequod —- the one shipmate who lived to tell the tale —- and perhaps, in the case of the Cardinals’ sunken dream of winning a Super Bowl under Bruce Arians’ command, a case might be made that the sole survivor of note was Larry Fitzgerald.

For the duration of Fitz’s long, historic career, he served under five commanders: Dennis Green, Ken Whisenhunt, Bruce Arians, Steve Wilks and current Cardinals head coach, Kliff Kingsbury.

Over the past few days it has dawned on me in an uncanny way that the personas of Larry Fitzgerald and Kliff Kingsbury could be applied to another one of Herman Melville’s seamen, Billy Budd.

You see —- Billy Budd epitomizes the literary archetype of the “peacemaker.”

Back in Herman Melville’s days of the 19th century, if sea captains could draft their crewmen, the most desired shipmate of all was the “peacemaker.”


Because what sea captains feared most was the ominous threat of mutiny.

Billy Budd, like Larry Fitzgerald and Kliff Kingsbury, was recruited:

Per Wikipedia:

Billy Budd is a seaman impressed into service to Captain Vere aboard HMS Bellipotent in the year 1797, when the Royal Navy was reeling from two major mutinies and was threatened by the Revolutionary French Republic’s military ambitions. He is impressed to this large warship from another, smaller, merchant ship, The Rights of Man (named after the book by Thomas Paine). As his former ship moves off, Budd shouts, “And good-bye to you too, old Rights-of-Man.”

Both Larry Fitzgerald and Kliff Kingsbury climbed on board a Cardinals’ ship that was in utter chaos and disarray, when they first arrived on the scene.

Billy Budd was an orphan.

Larry Fitzgerald and Kliff Kingsbury both tragically lost their mothers to cancer at a very early ages and have professed how much their mom’s life-lessons have molded their humble, assiduous and loyal outlooks on life.

Billy Budd’s shipmates on the HMS Bellipotent admired him because of his humble, assiduous and loyal nature.

Billy Budd’s unbreakable loyalty to the captain who recruited him become one of the most salient themes of Billy Budd’s story.

The same can be said about Larry Fitzgerald’s loyalty to Bill Bidwill and Kliff Kingsbury’s loyalty to Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim.

Then there is the unquestionable loyalty that Fitzgerald and Kingsbury have consistently demonstrated toward the players on their teams.

Fitz was legendary for reveling with such pride and joy in his teammates’ success by always being the first on the scene to celebrate big plays with high-fives and hugs.

When Cardinals’ coaches were fired, who was the first to speak up for them? You might recall that when OC Mike McCoy was fired at mid-season, Fitz lauded McCoy for his work ethic and the personal sacrifices McCoy had made while living in a hotel apart from his family.

Kliff Kingsbury, who was described by J.J, What on the Pat McAfee Show as “without a doubt, a player’s coach”, has a habit of not only speaking very favorably about his players, but for shouldering the entire blame when games are lost.

Yet. like Billy Budd, both Larry Fitzgerald and Kliff Kingsbury have been the victims of misfortune and what could be described as subsequently unwarranted scrutiny.

In Fitz’s case, his last year in the NFL and his historic chase of trying to break Jerry Rice’s all-time receiving records came to an inglorious halt after the team could not clinch a playoff berth during an ill-fated season in which Fitz’s role as top dog WR was handed over like a baton to DeAndre Hopkins and down the stretch, he suffered through a nasty bout with COVID-19 and only appeared to be a shadow of himself after he returned.

Fitz had always said that when his playing days were over, he wanted to ride off quietly into the sunset —- which is precisely what Fitz did at the end of the 2021 season.

There appeared to be a great deal of unrest about the way things ended in Arizona for the shoe-in first ballot Hall of Famer, particularly after Larry Fitzgerald Sr. posted this March 1, 2022 tweet about Kyler Murray:

“He’s spoiled...brings his Oklahoma offense to the NFL team has to catch up great talent.He’s never been humbled keep working.”

There was speculation that Larry Fitzgerald Sr. may have been one of ESPN’s Chris Mortensen’s informants which may have spawned this tweet;

Plus, former NFL WR Greg Jennings spoke about a conversation he had with Fitz about Kyler Murray, possibly breaking a trust of confiedntiality:

“They’ve created this problem,” Jennings told The Herd with Colin Cowherd on Tuesday. “It was good friend Larry Fitzgerald … I remember sitting down and talking to him and asking him about Kyler. (Fitzgerald) said one of the things he felt was that they rolled out the red carpet too soon. Too soon for a young guy. They gave (Murray) everything that he wanted, anything — he had free reign, and it started to show in his personality and how he carried himself.

“When you do that, when you make that decision early, you set yourself up to fail. This is what has happened in that organization right now with Kyler Murray. You’ve already given him everything he’s ever asked for. You rolled out the red carpet and you turned over the car keys, you said, ‘Here this is your car, we go as you go.’ All of a sudden, he doesn’t want to drive that car anymore.”

However, as has been the case before with regard to other people speaking for him and some of his dad’s acrimonious tweets, Fitz immediately responded on March 3rd by tweeting: “This isn’t factual information. I have never had a problem with a teammate in 30 years of competitive sports.”

And now, on what could be the eve of Kyler Murray receiving his much anticipated contract extension, Fitz had this to say (captured beautifully by Joanna Cards Fan on Twitter):

This is classic Fitz still relishing his role as the peacemaker. Clearly, Fitz is still heavily invested in the fortunes of the Arizona Cardinals.

Larry Fitzgerald is setting the record straight. He harbors no grudges toward Kyler Murray or the Cardinals:

Kliff Kingsbury is a man who does not harbor grudges. When he was fired by his alma mater after going 35-40 in 6 years as Texas Tech’s head coach, he wrote,

“It has been the honor of my life to be the head coach at Texas Tech and live in this community with the finest people in the world for the last six years. From the first day I stepped foot on campus as a freshman, I knew this place was home. In my heart, it always will be. This was never just a job to me. Texas Tech was a dream come true and I am sincerely humbled to have worked at a special place that I love so dearly. My only regret is that we didn’t get this program to the level that this university and community deserves. Please continue to take care of and support this football team. We have an incredible group of young men that I love and they are on the verge of doing some great things. I will always be Texas Tech and West Texas’ number one fan with my Guns Up forever! Thank you for all of your loyal support!”

The positive outreach from his players at Texas Tech in the wake of his firing was inspiring, epitomized by this tweet from Patrick Mahomes:

Over his three years of being the head coach of the Cardinals, Kliff Kingsbury has said what he learned as the head coach of Texas Tech has helped him deal with being on the “hot seat” in the NFL:

I think going through being the head coach at your alma mater and getting fired, it’s kind of walking through fire in this profession. So, after going through that, not too much really fazes you.

The Kingsbury Stigma:

The truth of Kliff Kingsbury’s late season swoons, turned stigma, is daunting.

The question is, however, how much of these late season disappointments have to do with injuries and, in virtually all cases, of him at Texas Tech and with the Arizona Cardinals not having the kind of defenses and roster depth that many other coaches have had?

I have mentioned this numerous times before, but it bears mentioning it again —- that at 5-2 in his last season at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders were up 31-28 at half-time at home versus Kyler’s Murray’s Oklahoma.

Kingsbury’s young QB Alan Bowman, was out-performing Kyler Murray in the 1st half, throwing for 21/26 for 227 yards and 2 TDs. The Red Raiders’ defense had picked off Kyler Murray twice in the first half, but late in the first half Murray was starting to find his rhythm.

The atmosphere at Lubbock that night was electrifying.

Alas, Alan Bowman had to be taken out of the game before the end of the first half because he was having trouble breathing due to a partially collapsed lung he had suffered a few weeks previously.

Bowman’s backup Jett Duffey played gallantly throwing for 139 yards and 2 second half TDs, plus rushing for 47 yards, but in the end, Oklahoma held on to win 51-46.

Had Alan Bowman been able to keep playing in that game, and had the Red Raiders beaten Oklahoma that night and were able to ride a healthy Bowman through the rest of their schedule, it’s quite possible that Kliff Kingsbury might still be the Texas Tech head coach.

A similar argument can be made about how well the Cardinals might have played down the stretch the last two years had Kyler Murray and other key players like DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt and Rodney Hudson had not been injured.

In terms of holding grudges, one would think that Kliff Kingsbury would have felt betrayed, of sorts, by what happened with Terrell Suggs and Patrick Peterson under his watch. Suggs skipped OTAs and played at half speed for most of his snaps.

No sooner had Kingsbury been hired, Peterson was suspended 6 games by the NFL, had a social media tantrum because the Cardinals were refusing to pay him while suspended, then refused to attend OTAs and after he returned to the active roster in Steve Keim’s car at midnight, he struggled mightily for his last year and half, before signing with the Vikings as a free agent in 2021.

Yet, to this day, whenever Kingsbury is asked about Pat P. he says, “I love Patrick Peterson.”

Some might think Kingsbury is being disingenuous —- but they might want to think twice about that. Kliff finds a way to love all of his players. He may not love how they play from time to time, but like the best of teachers, Kliff finds the positives in people and tries to build off of positives, not negatives.

What no one has been able to see just yet is how successful Kliff Kingsbury can be with a relatively healthy, deep roster late in the season —- something Kliff’s predecessor, Bruce Arians, did not have the luxury of having come playoff time, especially when both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton were lost for the season prior to Arians’ first playoff game in 2014 —- then with the Honey Badger going down in Week 16 in 2015 just as Carson Palmer was trying to play through a broken index finger on his throwing hand.

The point is —- you will never hear Larry Fitzgerald or Kliff Kingsbury make excuses or point fingers at others.

And, of course, neither would Billy Budd.

Billy suffered one of the most dire misfortunes imaginable. His ship’s Master of Arms, John Claggart, summoned him to Captain Vere’s quarters to accuse Billy of conspiring to commit mutiny —- when it was just the opposite.

Billy, who had suffered from birth from having an awkward, nervous stutter, was so shocked at the allegation that he couldn’t form the words to defend himself. So, instead, feeling he had no other recourse, he threw a punch at Claggart that knocked Claggart backward and caused him to suffer a fatal blow to the head on his fall.

Captain Vere, sensing all along that Billy was honorable and sincere, tried to find a way to excuse Billy for the fatal punch, but maritime law required the captain to hang any shipmate who kills a superior or fellow mate.

Billy never fought his fate. He knew that his captain’s hands were tied.

In the end Billy had saved the HMS Bellipotent from mutiny and was hailed a hero by his shipmates.

Billy’s dying words were, “God bless Captain Vere.”

The most alarmingly ironic aspect of the conclusion of Herman Melville’s “Billy Budd, Sailor” is that the newspapers back in England described Billy Budd as a mutinous traitor. Back in the late 1700s, the British Navy was so concerned about mutinies that whenever a hanging at sea was made for disciplinary reasons under maritime law, the British Navy wanted to make sure that newspapers condemned the shipmen who were hanged —- whether it was the truth, or not.

In recent days, Larry Fitzgerald has been doing everything he can to set the record straight about his loyalty to the Cardinals, his coaches, Kyler Murray and all of his teammates.

As for Kliff Kingsbury, if the Cardinals falter in any way this season, even though they are unanimously forecasted to be the 3rd best team in the NFC West, and per PFF, as currently having the 23rd best roster in the NFL, you can rest assured that the benevolent 4th year head coach will take the lion’s share of the blame.

All of it.

After all, that’s what peacemakers do.