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The Cards' Born Identity

Posted Jul 13, 2010

For four players, remembering team before Arizona impossible

Quarterback Neil Lomax is introduced before a game in Sun Devil Stadium during the Cards' first season in Arizona in 1988 -- the year four current Cards were born.


John Skelton considered the name he just heard.

“Neil Lomax ….,” the rookie quarterback repeated, but it rang no bells.

A.J. Jefferson shook his head when asked to talk about the St. Louis Cardinals. The St. Louis football Cardinals.

“That’s strictly a baseball team for me,” the rookie cornerback said.

Once, the move of the Cardinals to Arizona was radical news, as with any franchise shift. For many years, the lack of a local history – along with sub-par play -- was one of the reasons it was difficult to grow the fan base.

But the team’s 20th season in Arizona came in 2007, coincidentally the first year of head coach Ken Whisenhunt and the team’s revival. And now, the team has begun to bring in players who can be forgiven if they have no recollection of the pre-Valley Cards – because they weren’t born yet.

Four players on the roster – Skelton, Jefferson, rookie wide receiver Andre Roberts and running back Beanie Wells – have birthdates in 1988. The same year the Cards came to Arizona.

The Cardinals have been around since 1898 and are charter members of the NFL that emerged 22 years later. But these days, for these four players, the history is a little more shallow than that. For Wells, his first thoughts of the franchise are Emmitt Smith’s arrival in 2003. Same with Skelton, who grew up in New Mexico, where the Cardinals are geographically the closest team but where everyone was a Cowboys’ fan.

Lomax? No. Roy Green? Nah. Roberts does know about former Cardinals’ running back Stump Mitchell, but even that is sort of cheating – Roberts attended The Citadel, from where Mitchell is the highest-profile NFL product.

“I was in high school when Fitz was in college,” Roberts said. “I knew about him at Pittsburgh. That’s my history.”

That’s it. Larry Fitzgerald, whose arrival to the Cardinals spans all the way back to 2004, is history to this group. Or Kurt Warner’s resurgence. In 2008.

“What I knew about the Cardinals, there wasn’t much to the organization other than that past year where they went to the Super Bowl,” Wells said, although “I knew it was a program on the upswing.”

Maybe that’s the best part for the Cards. Skelton joked that some of his historical idea of the Cardinals came at the recent rookie symposium, where “every highlight from 1980s to the 1990s, it seemed, was the Cowboys (beating) the Cardinals or the Niners (beating) the Cardinals.” That’s no longer the case, though. Rookies arrive in Arizona seeing a franchise that has won back-to-back division titles and has made a recent Super Bowl appearance. Old struggles are forgotten, whether they were in St. Louis or even in the desert.

“It’s definitely positive, with the playoffs and Super Bowl,” Jefferson said of the team’s reputation among young players. “A lot of people in here, we’ve got that in our minds, to go back.”

It’ll give the young quartet their own history – and avoid the topic of the pre-Arizona Cardinals.

“I was born in ’88,” Roberts said, “so that’s all I can say about that.”
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