The story begins all the way back in the preseason, even before the infamous third game of that preseason in 2006, the one no one should treat as bull … well, you know the rest.
No, this story begins before the second preseason game, when Matt Leinart was still a first-round draft pick holding out. More than two weeks had passed in training camp, and his head coach, Dennis Green, had had enough.
Rumors started flowing before Green's daily press conference in Flagstaff that he might have something to say about the holdout. He eventually did – even though the question he was answering was about an injury to a defensive player.
It would be too bad if the injury kept that player out of that weekend's preseason game at New England, Green said. It was an honor to play in NFL games, Green added, before noting the Cardinals had offered Leinart a generous contract.
"I look forward to Kurt Warner going on the field, looking over and seeing Tom Brady – who was not the 10th pick, he was in the (sixth) round, so it's not always about the draft," Green said then. "I look forward to seeing Kurt Warner for a quarter, to see Tom Brady for a quarter.
"It'd be a shame if Matt Leinart is still sitting there as the only guy in the National Football League who is not in the National Football League."
And as Green's voice level rose – never a yell, but forceful nonetheless – he abruptly said "I'm in one of those moods" before cutting off the press conference by leaving the podium
It was answer whiplash given the question. But given Green's much more famous press conference speech just about two months later, perhaps it shouldn't get lost in history.
Then again, it was that next preseason game in Chicago that set into motion what eventually became one of the most memorable postgame rants ever, a speech (and podium slap) that was meme'd before there were memes.
Dennis Green was what we thought he was. And, at least in terms of what the longtime NFL coach would be remembered for, no one would let him off the hook.
Before there was the Monday Night Meltdown, before there was Green's epic speech or the constant imitations and the beer commercial it spawned, there was the 20-6 lead the Cardinals held on the Bears at Soldier Field through three quarters on Aug. 16, 2006 – the aforementioned third game of the preseason.
Both starting quarterbacks, Warner and Rex Grossman, played through those three quarters, and yeah, Green was satisfied.
But two months later, when the Bears – now 5-0 to start the season and a darling to make a Super Bowl run – and the Cardinals – struggling to a 1-4 start in their new stadium – were to meet on "Monday Night Football," Lovie Smith saw that August evening through a different prism.
The Bears head coach told Chicago reporters in the week leading to the game the preseason game was a "glorified practice," and that Leinart – who was by then the Cardinals starter – hadn't seen what the Bears defense was really all about.
"Denny's message to the team was, 'Hey, block out all the noise,' " Cardinals senior vice president of media relations Mark Dalton said. " 'Don't forget it wasn't that long ago, we were in Chicago and we stood toe-to-toe and we're every bit their equal, if not more.'
"That's important to know. And to understand that, that Denny was probably a little disappointed when Coach Smith said, yeah, 'That preseason game didn't mean as much to us as it seemingly did to you.' "
That game was "the real dry run" before the regular season, defensive end Bertrand Berry said. It would still be a few years before preseason work would dry up to nearly nothing for many high-profile NFL veterans.
"We felt good about our chances going up against these guys because they were who we thought they were and we wanted to go out and show that there wasn't much separation," Berry said, with more than a hint of dramatic irony.
It wasn't just "Monday Night Football" that turned the game into an event, even with the Cards' struggles. It was only Leinart's second start, and he was still a major celebrity – among his guests for the game were the power couple of actors Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. The shine of attending a game at then-University of Phoenix Stadium, in its first season, hadn't worn off.
The Bears' defense was being called another version of the Monsters of the Midway. And a young Cardinals' unit – with eventual Super Bowl participants like Berry, linebacker Karlos Dansby, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and safety Antrel Rolle – didn't love being ignored.
"The building was electric," Dansby said. "We viewed it that it was our defense versus their defense. And we wanted to measure up."
There was no doubt it was possible, not after that night in August.
"We knew that late into the preseason, that, honestly to this day, I still think that we had the better overall team," defensive tackle Gabe Watson said.