Skip to main content

Arizona Cardinals Home: The official source of the latest Cardinals headlines, news, videos, photos, tickets, rosters and game day information

Kent Somers: A History Of QB1 Battles

Gannon seeks to earn win in first outing as Cardinals coach like few do

Quarterback Shaun King (4) leaves the Sun Devil Stadium field while walking past fellow QB Josh McCown during a loss to the Jets in 2004.
Quarterback Shaun King (4) leaves the Sun Devil Stadium field while walking past fellow QB Josh McCown during a loss to the Jets in 2004.

Quarterback has been a turnstile position for the Cardinals in their history in Arizona, in terms of both numbers (37 different starters in 35 years) and drama (immeasurable).

For those of us who have followed the franchise for more than a minute, it's hard to imagine this 36th season would produce a unique circumstance at the position. But as the cliché goes, as soon as you think you've seen it all, a reminder comes that you haven't.

All we know for sure is the Cardinals will open the season Sunday in Washington with a new starting quarterback, either Joshua Dobbs or Clayton Tune. Coach Jonathan Gannon isn't publicly revealing more than that, hoping it might give the Cardinals an advantage over the Commanders.

It's something no other Arizona coach has tried, at least according to my memory, which is saying a lot, because Cardinals coaches have tried nearly everything else at the position.

The Tune vs. Dobbs debate is intriguing, but it's not causing hearts to flutter or for people to pick a side. This is a situation, not a controversy, because we all know, or should know, that when Kyler Murray is healthy, it's his job.

This competition, if it truly is one, ranks pretty low in Cardinals history. That's no slight to Dobbs, Tune or the 2023 Cardinals, because the team's history in this area is rich.

For drama and/or controversy, it's hard to beat these three:

1994: Starting the season opener is nice and all, but sometimes it doesn't mean much. Steve Beuerlein started the first game for new coach Buddy Ryan, but the relationship soured quickly.

Ryan's doghouse had no exits. Receiver Ricky Proehl found that out when he dropped a pass against the Rams in the first game. Beuerlein found that out after week two when Ryan benched him for Jay Schroeder, implying that Beuerlein was a cancer that needed to be cut out.

Jim McMahon also started a game that season.

Beuerlein started five more games that season and despite the churn at quarterback, the Cardinals finished 8-8.

2004: New coach Dennis Green loved quarterback Josh McCown, which played a small part in the Cardinals decision to pass on a quarterback and take receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the 2004 draft.

Green was just slightly more patient than Ryan when it came to quarterbacks. McCown started the first nine games and had the rare distinction of finding out he was being benched for game 10 the night before at the team hotel in Charlotte, N.C.

Two Shaun King starts and two losses later, Green turned to rookie John Navarre, who lasted only one start before Green returned to McCown for the final games.

2010: There was no quarterback controversy when the Cardinals opened training camp in Flagstaff. Kurt Warner had retired, and it was assumed Matt Leinart would at least open the season as the starter.

That plan changed a few weeks into the preseason. Dissatisfied with Leinart, the 10th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Ken Whisenhunt benched him after unimpressive performances in practices with the Titans.

Leinart didn't hide his unhappiness with the move. "I'm not exactly sure why this decision was made," he said.

It was made because Whisenhunt and his staff thought Derek Anderson was the better option, and they were also high on rookies John Skelton and Max Hall.

All three ended up starting in 2010, none effectively, and the Cardinals traded for Kevin Kolb the following offseason.

Kolb played in 14 games over two years and then retired because of concussions suffered over six NFL seasons.


Former Cardinals coach Vince Tobin, who died in July, rarely showed anger, but he was mildly irritated one day when a reporter brought up some negative statistic about the franchise. Tobin said he preferred pioneers to historians when it came to such things.

That came to mind this week when I looked up how the Cardinals have fared in Washington lately, and how the Cardinals have done in their first games under a new coach.

The Cardinals, as it turns out, could use some pioneering this weekend. The last non-interim Cardinals coach to win his first game? Don Coryell in 1973.

Gannon has never been a head coach before, and there could be growing pains. Young coaches, as well as young players, go through them.

Whisenhunt, for instance, took much of the blame for his first loss, saying months of planning and scheming resulted in an overly-complicated game plan.

The Cardinals were so miserable in Kliff Kingsbury's first outing in 2019 (a tie with the Lions) that Kingsbury later said he thought he might be fired at halftime and have to sell the Paradise Valley mansion he had just purchased.

Gannon didn't get into specifics, but he said he spent part of the off-season working on game-management skills.

"You've got to study, and then you've got to ask questions," he said. "You've got to listen to people, and you've got to study some more. Whatever role you're in, you try to put yourself mentally through that process, and then be willing to adjust and learn from it, so I feel good with where we're at with it."


If the Cardinals do win Sunday, it will be in an unlikely place. Washington has not been kind to them this century. The Cardinals have lost eight consecutive games at Washington, with their last victory there coming in 1998. They were pioneers that season and won a playoff game for the first time in 51 years.

They won a memorable game there in 1996, too, 37-34 in overtime. Boomer Esiason passed for 522 yards, still a franchise record and the third highest total in NFL history at the time.

It was a contender for the most bizarre Cardinals game in history, and that's saying something.

Esiason had been benched by Tobin after the first three games, replaced by Kent Graham. But Graham suffered a knee injury, so Esiason returned to the starting lineup that day at RFK Stadium. He had two passes intercepted in the first 2½ minutes.

"I'm grateful Vince didn't bench me after the first quarter," Esiason said that day. "He has a habit of hooking me out of games, you know."

The game lasted more than four hours, included 1,016 yards of offense and seven turnovers. Esiason passed for 252 yards in the fourth quarter. Cardinals kicker Kevin Butler missed two field goals in overtime, but was given another chance when Washington was called for offsides on a 37-yard attempt that clanked off an upright. Five yards closer, Butler hit the game winner with 33 seconds remaining. It was the first team with a winning record the Cardinals had beaten in two years.

"What a great way to make a living," Cardinals defensive coordinator Dave McGinnis said afterward.