The Cardinals hosted over 50 Cardinals Alumni at Sunday's game as part of the first "Cardinals Alumni Weekend."
When the Cardinal players were introduced prior to Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, their usual run through the tunnel and a corridor of Cardinals Cheerleaders had a unique twist. Also on the field during pregame festivities were over 50 former Cardinal players and coaches, in town as part of the first "Cardinals Alumni Weekend."
"The whole weekend has been tremendous," said Jim Hart, who played quarterback for 18 seasons with the Cardinals from 1966-83 in St. Louis and was today's honorary Alumni Captain. "It's a great gesture on the Bidwill family to bring all the guys back together again. We've had so much fun. We've all been smiling and laughing the entire time we've been here. And this stadium is just fantastic."
Bill Lewis, the Cardinals' Alumni Relations Manager, looked at the collection of former players spanning the past 50 yards of Cardinal Football and realized how important this first step is in laying the groundwork for a successful alumni program.
"It was monumental," said Lewis. "You've got to start someplace, and this is something we can use to build on for next year. To reach out to all the guys who played in St. Louis and Chicago, to get them out here and be a part of this alumni weekend has been great."
The weekend began on Friday when the Cardinals hosted a reception and dinner for over 100 at the Arizona Grand Resort. Former players from as early as the 1950s—the days of the Chicago Cardinals—swapped stories and renewed friendships with fellow Card alumni not only from their era but with those who played for the Cardinals since they relocated to Arizona in 1988.
"I think it was great for the Cardinals to bring so many former players back together," said Eric Swann, a defensive tackle for the Cards from 1991-99. "It's been wonderful to see all the camaraderie between players from so many years, and they all had one common denominator—to play for the Cardinals. It's been great to see players over several generations coming together as one."
After the Friday evening dinner, the alumni played golf at the Phantom Horse Golf Club on Saturday, signed autographs and attended Sunday's game, then will participate in an NFL Alumni Celebrity Golf Challenge at Whirlwind Golf Club on Monday.
But despite the differences in age and playing-era, conversations among the alumni boiled down to the basics of the game of football. "It's ironic," added Swann. "Some of these former players are old enough to be our fathers, and we've all had the common interest of playing for the Cardinals. We've been talking about techniques, uniforms—just so much we've all experienced playing this game. But football is football, whether you're talking about the 1960s or the game today."
John Roland, who played running back for the Cardinals from 1966-72 and was an assistant coach from 1997-2003, echoed Swann's feelings. "This is something that's been needed for a long time. I'm so glad I was able to take part in it," Roland said. "There are a lot of guys here that were teammates, and so many other younger guys we've just seen or read about. I feel blessed that I had seven years as a player with the Cardinals, and I had seven years as a coach for the organization as well. This is a fantastic weekend."