My buddy Dave, a fellow employee at the Roundup and a genuinely good guy, and I enjoy talking football even though he’s a huge Packers fan and I’m a Cardinals backer.
Together we can dissect games and strategies with the finest of armchair quarterbacks, although we usually refrain from criticizing coaches and players unless we eyeball something really bizarre.
Such as, something as wacky as Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s fourth down gamble deep in his own territory to go for a first down while leading the Indianapolis Colts, 34-28.
With 2:04 remaining in the game, the gamble failed and the Colts took over possession at the Pats’ 28-yard-line. Seconds later, the Colts scored a TD to win a game in which they had once trailed 31-14.
Belichick’s gamble has been debated over and over and not just in the Payson Roundup offices.
While Dave and I have mulled over hundreds of games, a conversation that stands out in my memory occurred in the summer of 2008 following a weekend I’d spent in Flagstaff watching the Cardinals in their preseason training camp.
At that time, Matt Leinart, formerly a Southern California Heisman trophy winner with a reputation for questionable decisions, was the Cardinals’ golden boy and seemingly the quarterback of the future for the Cards.
Just two years earlier, Kurt Warner had been benched after a loss to the Falcons and in 2007 played only because Leinart was injured.
At the 2008 camp in Flagstaff, the starting quarterback job looked to be Leinart’s to lose and Warner was being thought of as a veteran backup.
It seemed all eyes at the camp were on Leinart as fans lined up in droves eager to get his autograph.
But after watching Leinart and Warner practice, I returned to work eager to tell Dave that Warner should be the starting quarterback over Leinart.
Warner is aging, but he is much better, I told Dave.
He argued I was biased because I was in the Coliseum stands years earlier watching Leinart, then the Southern California quarterback, rip apart my beloved Sun Devils in a Pac-10 showdown.
He said I’d never forgiven Leinart and teammate Reggie Bush for that unmerciful Devil spanking.
Dave didn’t argue much more about my contention that Warner was better — he’s a pretty respectful friend.
I do, however, believe he thought I was a few fruit loops shy of a full bowl.
But sure enough, coaches opened up the QB competition in Flagstaff and Warner won the starting job.
We now know what transpired since, as Warner went on to lead the Cardinals to the 2009 Super Bowl and two of the finest seasons in team history.
He became one of the most popular figures in Arizona sports history and almost everyone’s man of the year, on and off the field.
With Warner’s retirement announcement last week, Leinart finally has his shot at becoming the starting quarterback.
As a Cardinal booster, I must now put aside my dislike for everything University of Southern California and find a way to root for Leinart.
It’ll be a tough challenge and I’m questioning myself, but Dave says I’m up for it. — Go Matt!