Larry Wilson wanted to straighten out one detail of his legendary ability to intercept passes wearing casts on both hands – it wasn’t broken wrists he was protecting, but broken fingers.
It makes what the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame safety did in 1965 and what current Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie did Sunday against Houston that much more similar.
Wilson was at University of Phoenix Stadium and watched DRC, part of his right hand in a cast because of a broken finger, repeat his feat.
“Back when I played we didn’t have as many players and (playing in) that game was more about me having to play,” Wilson said Wednesday. “Dominique was out there because he wanted to be there. To be compared to him is exciting.”
The words carry some irony, because the first reaction inside the locker room – including from Rodgers-Cromartie himself – were that comparisons to Wilson may be a bit too early.
“I don’t think he’s at Larry Wilson’s level just yet,” safety
“Larry did some phenomenal things. If you want to put (DRC) up there, you can, but I wouldn’t, personally. But it was a good play.”
The play capped a comeback of sorts for Rodgers-Cromartie, who had stewed about a poor performance against the Colts two weeks previous and after some other errors in games against Jacksonville and San Francisco.
It was important for him to play well against the Texans. He said he knew the comeback route on which he made his interception – returned for a 49-yard touchdown and the game-winning points -- was coming after seeing it much of the game. And while there had been bad moments, Rodgers-Cromartie will never be lacking in confidence.
“I got down on myself for the plays I know I can make, like the deep ball against the guy I know that isn’t faster than me and is just me being out of position (Colts receiver Pierre Garcon), stuff like that,” he said. “But as far as the (overall) performance, I can’t get down. If you get down, you’re going to stay in that slump.”
That’s the thinking that leads Larry Wilson to believe DRC can eventually become “one of the best in the business.” Wilson met Rodgers-Cromartie right after the 2008 draft, when Wilson accompanied the Cardinals’ rookie class to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Wilson praised Rodgers-Cromartie as both a player and a person, while DRC called Wilson “a great man.”
“To me, the kid needs to be appreciated for playing,” Wilson said. “Today, not a lot of players will play when something is wrong.”
Toughness was at the core of Wilson’s career. His casted interception also led the Cards to a win when they beat the Steelers, 21-17, on Nov. 7, 1965. Wilson leaped to block a pass by Pittsburgh quarterback Bill Nelsen, caught the ball in his arms as it came down and returned it 35 yards to set up a touchdown.
Beforehand, DRC wasn’t predicting an interception while playing in a cast, but he never once thought he’d sit because of the injury.
“I couldn’t go around and look at anybody in the face if I didn’t play and tell them it’s because my finger was broke,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “They’ll look at me like I’m crazy.”
Despite 52 career interceptions, Wilson joked he thought he had “better hands” with the casts on. There was irony there, after coach Ken Whisenhunt joked before the game that it was possible DRC would catch better with a cast on after DRC had dropped a couple of interceptions earlier in the season.
Maybe it wasn’t a surprise to hear DRC agree with Wilson that an interception, in some ways, was easier to come by with his two-finger club.
“You think, ‘If they throw it over here, am I going to be able to catch it?’ ” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “So your concentration is that much more. It was the first time I looked the ball all the way in.”
He’ll have time to perfect the possibility. DRC said doctors have told him he’ll likely have to wear the cast for a couple of months. Larry Wilson never got another interception with the casts, so Rodgers-Cromartie will try to best him in that category.
As long as DRC keeps playing well, however, that’ll be enough for the Cardinals.
“Whenever he’s playing good,” Adrian Wilson said, “we all play good.”