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Great Day for Underdogs

Syndication: Arizona Republic Andrew Nelles/ / USA TODAY NETWORK

Background: Tennessee Titans tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo (85) is stopped by Arizona Cardinals linebacker Chandler Wooten (50) and safety Tae Daley (48) during the third quarter of an NFL preseason game at Nissan Stadium Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. Syndication The Tennessean

Look at that tackle! Look at Tae Daley’s perfect wrap on the ball carrier’s leg. Look at Chandler Wooten’s perfectly fundamental tackle with arm coming toward the football and his head up.

A couple of hours before the 2022 NFL pre-season kicked off in Canton at the Hall of Fame game, on ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption, Tony Kornheiser asked Michael Wilbon whether he would be watching the game. Wilbon said he had far better things to do than to watch bad, meaningless football.

As they say, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”

It is no secret here that I love watching my Cardinals play pre-season football games. I equate it with diving for pearls. I am always anxious to see the classic underdogs leave everything they’ve got out on the field for the sake of making the team, either the 53 man roster or the 16 player practice squad.

One of the most illuminating highlights of the Cardinals’ pre-season was listening to Antonio Hamilton’s press conference on the day that he was told he was going to be one of the team’s starters at CB.

Antonio spoke very passionately about how important it was for him to be in the building as much as possible during the OTAs so that he could continue learn the playbook inside and out. He said that he spent much of last season, because of his early September arrival to the team as a practice squad player, “learning the playbook on the fly.”

Then, Antonio placed strong emphasis on how he prides himself on special teams and showcasing his skills on defense.

The most illuminating segment of his press conference was hearing how with every opportunity he’s had to try to make an NFL roster, when he first arrived, he always saw his name on the last line of the depth chart —- and with that, how much he understood that nothing was going to be given to him —- that any chance he had of working his way onto the roster and up the depth chart was dependent on his commitment to being the best player he could possibly be.

The greatest excitement that Antonio felt with the news that he was going to be a stater was the thought of how a new contract could help him realize his life-long dream of helping his mom happily retire in a new house that he would be able to provide for her.

Hopefully, Antonio Hamilton can pick up right where he left off after he recovers from his current health issue.

What Antonio Hamilton provided in this press conference is emblematic of the kind of underdog success stories that can make the pre-season so meaningful and exciting.

A Day of Happy Tweets

Practice Squad Bonanza

Heading into the day, after sweating out the waiver wire claims, I was crossing my fingers that the following 5 players would go unclaimed and would re-sign to the Cardinals’ PS:

  1. OLB Jesse Luketa
  2. ILB Chandler Wooten
  3. DT Manny Jones
  4. WR Victor Bolden Jr.
  5. QB Jarrett Guarantano

I thought for sure that some team was going to claim Jesse Luketa to be one of their special teams studs. It was such a tease to see him at practice and read tweets about him making the 53 man roster, only to then see that he was the player cut when the team traded for CB Trayvon Mullen.

Plus, I had spent much of the last pre-season game focusing in on Luketa every defensive snap and the physical effort and power he showed, snap after snap was relentless. His physicality at the point of attack is James Harrison-esque.

As I wrote when I learned Luketa had been cut, “Man, thought the whole point of releasing Devon Kennard was to keep Jesse Luketa so he could be a special teams slobberknocker and develop into a top edge defender.”

I also thought that the explosive athleticism that DT Manny Jones put on tape would catch the eye of some defensive line needy team. It is rare when a 6-4, 285 pound defensive tackle is making chase tackles at top speed 5 to 10 yards downfield.

Next, due to Victor Bolden’s MVP type success as a kick returner and WR in the USFL and the superb flashes he showed durning camp and the pre-season games, I expected that a team needing a return man would claim him.

I was very nervous and fearful about some team claiming Chandler Wooten —- while he (6-2 5/8, 232, 4.85) isn’t the physical prototype of an NFL MIKE ILB, the instincts, leadership and finishing ability that he displayed while making 16 tackles, 2 tackles for losses and 1 interception for 14 yards, had me cueing up his Auburn tapes. The more I watched, the more convinced I was that this young man is a iridescent gem.

What I also noticed is that while Chandler Wooten doesn’t sport blazing speed, he has twitchy quick feet and the kind of anticipation in pass overage that allows him to be in the right place at the right time. The passer rating against him during the pre-season was 55.1. This was a sight for sore eyes in light of the subpar pass coverage the Cardinals have been getting from their ILBers over the past three seasons.

I am still amazed that the Cardinals kept 6 ILBers on the initial roster and Chandler Wooten was not one of them.

Take another look at how fundamental Wooten is —- on Baldy’s 1st play, watch Wooten stack the offensive tackle, shed the block and make the tackle. Then, watch his big-time TFL and interception.

I figured that if Chandler Wooten was garnering Brian Baldinger’s attention, then he certainly could have drawn the attention of other teams.

Well, this is the thing about unsung under-the-radar, undrafted rookie free agents —- they typically do not come with bandwagons. And with undrafted so-called “camp bodies” (ugh), there is often the presumption that they must not be any good because 32 teams passed on them.

Thus, their dream has to start somewhere —- somewhere on a football field where people like Steve Keim and Brian Baldinger are watching.

James Harrison was an undrafted free agent —- he was cut 4 times and passed over by GMs hundreds of times.

How about Kurt Warner? How much interest did he garner from NFL GMs and scouts?

What it takes is one GM and one highly influential coach who is a believer —- and seizing the most of the key word that was the primary focus of Hank Aaron’s Hall of Fame speech: “opportunity”.

Did you know that Hank Aaron had two major things going against him with regard to major league GMs and scouts: his race and the fact that he batted cross-handed. Imagine that!


This morning I awoke to a bright planet hovering over a blue horizon to the east —- and when I opened up my Facebook page, from out of the blue I received this message from Kyle Furman, a former football player of mine from the Rivers School, in Weston, MA.

Kyle sent this photo and wrote:

32 years ago my friend.

Moment in time.

Must have missed my wide side “contain” on DEF End.


If you have ever coached, you know how much a message like this means. Talk about underdogs. Kyle Furman was one of the few, courageous young men who showed up to play for his high school team that hadn’t won a game in a couple of years. The ISL (Independent School League) had told Rivers to become competitive in football or they may have to be removed as one of the 16 schools in the league.

Kyle and his band of Rivers brothers were the stalwarts to help turn the program around. Not one of those young men quit and they remain a steadfast band of brothers to this day.

And by the way, Kyle was great at keeping contain —- “keep your outside shoulder free”, right, Kyle? —— contain so good that our 5’11 170 pound All-Star middle linebacker Keith Costello could fill the hole and stuff the running back in his tracks.

Dreams have to start somewhere —-like in the heart of a Rivers Red Wing named Kyle Furman.


Yes, it was a great day for underdogs —- on this guy's birthday, no less:

Thrown to Fitz by arguably the most uncanny NFL underdog on an underdog team of all time, Kurt Warner.

Click here for the short video and call by Al Michaels and the legendary John Madden:

“Kurt Warner threw to the perfect guy, at the perfect time, in the perfect place.” John Madden