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Folktales Money Mike Inside
Folktales: Money Mike's Redemption
In a playoff game of 1,000 yards and two future Hall of Fame QBs, the smallest guy on the field makes the biggest play
By Darren Urban Nov 18, 2021
Photographs By Arizona Cardinals

The journalist is about finding the best story, not the best game result, although it was easy to understand why Jason Wilde had a vested interest in what the Packers would do in Arizona against the Cardinals in the Wild Card playoff round of the 2009 season.

Wilde's wife Paula was pregnant with the couple's first child, due in a few days. And as the long-time Packers beat writer for the Wisconsin State-Journal took his seat in the then-University of Phoenix Stadium press box, he was just hoping his daughter wasn't going to arrive early. He planned for it the best he could – Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, knowing Wilde's situation, offered to let Wilde fly home on the team charter after the game if necessary – but the reality was simple.

If the Cardinals won, Wilde could go home, cover the Packers post-mortems, and be able to handle whatever happened with his family. If the Packers won, it got more complicated.

The game that unfolded was one of the most incredible anyone had ever seen. But it was the plainly named Michael Adams that became the Cardinals – and Madison Wilde's – hero by the time the game was over.

Two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks matched each other throughout. The Cardinals' Kurt Warner, playing what he knew -- but few others did – was his final game in Arizona, threw more touchdown passes than incompletions. Aaron Rodgers, just starting out his career, rallied the Packers from a big early deficit. There was a last-second field goal miss, and, fittingly, overtime.

Then there was Adams, the Cardinals' nickel cornerback, favorite of the locker room, and survivor of the roster.

Adams committed multiple penalties and missed Rodgers when coming on the blitz. For much of the afternoon, it was not a game he would remember fondly, until it was.

"I was kind of on the bubble every year, and every year, they would bring somebody in to beat me out," Adams said. "And every year I would beat them out.

"That's kind of my philosophy in life. I mean, I'm a fighter, and you can't make it in this game, you can't be successful in a lot of sports as a smaller individual, if you don't have that fighter's mentality."

When Cardinals defensive coordinator Bill Davis, one more time, called Adams' number on the blitz, he did not miss. Adams launched himself into Rodgers, the ball popped loose, and teammate Karlos Dansby ran it into the end zone for a stunning 51-45 win.

On the field, Adams cried tears of joy and relief. Up in the press box, Wilde too was able to exhale.

"I'll admit, it was three things as I watched it unfold," Wilde said. "It was, 'Holy cow what a way to end a game,' 'What a great game this was,' and 'OK, as long as Paula does not go into labor between now and when my plane touches down, I will not miss Maddie's arrival.' "

The Cardinals were the defending NFC champions, their 10-6 record a game better than the Super Bowl season and worth a second straight NFC West crown. The Packers, who won a Super Bowl a season later, were a game better in the standings but had to travel to Arizona because they were second in their division.

The Cardinals built leads of 24-7 and 31-10, only to see the Packers rally each time. Rodgers was 28 of 42 passing for 423 yards, four touchdowns and an interception, but one of the incompletions still haunts him to this day (more on that later.)

Warner, meanwhile, may have had the finest game of his career: 29-of-33, 379 yards, five touchdowns, no turnovers.

"The thing I always say is what made that game so special was yes, I played one of my best games ever," Warner said. "But we needed every single throw. It wasn't like I played like that and we won by 25. I played like that and we needed every throw on every play."

There is a flip side to all that offense – more than 1,000 yards, with the Cards outgaining the Packers, 531-493 – and that is defenses that must absorb the blows.

In the second half, the Packers had five possessions, and scored touchdowns on all five. It was all Warner could do to keep the Cards in the game.

"All the great ones you play … (like) Aaron, you get a feel early on if they're in a rhythm or not," Davis said. "When they're not, it's the greatest day ever. But when they're in rhythm, there's not much you can do."

Said Dansby, "He was picking on everybody in that game, Aaron, and he didn't spare no one."

Adams, though, was a frequent target. Even announcer Joe Buck noted, "They've been picking on Michael Adams" during the telecast, and by the end of the game, Adams had drawn four penalty flags – two for interference, one for holding and one for an illegal substitution.

"You felt bad for Mike because you know, it killed him," former defensive end Bertrand Berry said. "The last thing that he ever wanted to do was be a reason why the team lost or didn't perform well. And it was as bad of a game as you could possibly have on the defensive side. And on the biggest stage. The timing of it couldn't be any worse."

Davis sent Adams off the edge on blitzes – something Adams rarely did, and he missed a chance at a sack. Adams went flying in just high enough where Rodgers ducked and Adams tumbled off him – with Rodgers then popping back up to complete a pass.

"In my mind, I'm like, 'Man, you kind of are playing bad and you got to make a play,' " Adams said. "You got to do something to, you know, change the narrative because being 5-foot-7, you know, if I give up a deep ball, 'He's gonna be too short,' (and if) a 6-foot cornerback gives up a deep ball, it's 'Oh, he made a mistake on that play.' Usually with me, it's always amplified."

Michael Adams measured out officially at 5-foot-seven and three-quarters, although he liked to say 5-8 "because it just sounds better."

Undrafted out of Louisiana-Lafayette, Adams made it on to the practice squad in 2007 and eventually the roster, playing in the Super Bowl after the 2008 season.

"Everybody loved the guy. They probably still do. He just doesn't play football anymore," said longtime Arizona Republic beat writer Kent Somers. "But yeah, you're talking about a small guy. I mean, it's like, you look at him like 'How were you in the NFL?' "

He did it by making himself valuable on special teams – as a gunner, he had a crucial downed punt near the goal line late in the Super Bowl, leading to a safety – and by integrating himself into the locker room culture.

He would start impromptu dance-offs in the locker room, or other sometimes unnecessary debates.

"He had all the energy in the world, he was going to talk the most smack," Berry said.

Added Dansby, "He kept me laughing. But he kept making plays, man. That was Money Mike."

Adams wanted to have some fun. But the constant chatter, in part, was a defense mechanism, to fend off any nerves or apprehension. Performing at the sport's highest level took focus – especially with his physical limitations.

"At the end of the day, if I'm not talking, I'm gonna be thinking too much." he said.

He also knew that every day was a battle to keep his job, week to week, season to season. He was feisty on the field, hitting hard, never backing down. Once, during a 2010 training camp practice, he had a fight with the normally mild-mannered Larry Fitzgerald.

Adams ended up lasting the entirety of Ken Whisenhunt's tenure with the Cardinals, from 2007 to 2012, before spending some time with the Buccaneers in his final NFL season of 2013.

"Michael had a swagger about him," former Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said. "He was boastful. He had that sort of small man man's chip on his shoulder. But he contributed to the football team."

Adams never wanted anyone to forget that part of the equation. He wasn't just a personality, he was a player.

"That was kind of my thing," Adams said. "Every time I come out here, you know, to practice, anytime you make a play, then it's gonna make them remember. You make them want to say, 'Who was that kid? How was that guy? What do y'all think about him?' "

The storybook ending was supposed to be Warner's. He was spectacular, right down to his final drive, working the Cardinals into field-goal range in a 45-45 game with just a few seconds left on the clock.

"I never really thought about it when I was in the midst of it, but it's fun to know, that was the last game that I ever played in the stadium in front of the home fans," Warner said. "In one of the last games I played in, arguably it was one of the best games I've ever played."

But Neil Rackers missed the 34-yard field goal. The game went to overtime, and then the Packers – in the era of sudden death extra time – won the coin toss to get the ball to a red-hot Rodgers.

"When we lost the toss, I felt like I heard the fans kind of go, you know, like it was the end of the world," Adams said. "The first play, Greg Jennings is running wide open on a post. And he is overthrown. At that moment, it was like, 'Ah, it might be meant for us to win this game.' "

Indeed, Jennings got behind safety Antrel Rolle and was clear for what should've been a game-ending touchdown.

Rodgers simply missed him.

"One play always sticks with me from that game was 97-nude-right-X-fish," Rodgers said. "I have Greg down the seam, kind of had to pull up slightly off the back side of that fake and should've put a little more air on it. Greg made his guy spin around and if I put a little air on that, it probably would've been a walk-off 80-yarder to win. So disappointed about the way that thing finished."

On second down, there was a holding call, and then a dump pass for 14 yards to set up the Packers with a third-and-6 at their own 24.

Davis decided to call his Adams blitz from Adams again. Rodgers was just too hot, and the Cardinals desperately wanted to get the ball back in the hands of their own red-hot QB.

"If we blitzed and they picked it up, then I would've probably not gone back to it," said Davis, now back with the Cardinals as linebackers coach. "But if you've got a bullet that actually gets to the quarterback, you've got to fire that again. And that's what we did."

On the replay from behind center and Rodgers' point of view, Adams emerged suddenly and out of nowhere around the right tackle blocking Darnell Dockett. Dansby jumped into Rodgers' passing lane as Rodgers pumped the first time, giving Adams just enough time to arrive.

"I mean if you have a little mouse on the field running full speed, it's quite hard to see behind a 6-(foot)-4, 6-5 offensive lineman," former defensive tackle Gabe Watson said with a smile. "Don't be mad, Mike."

In his head, Adams reminded himself repeatedly not to jump and repeat the effort Rodgers ducked. He crashed into Rodgers, his right hand knocking the ball loose.

Announced Fox color analyst Troy Aikman on the broadcast, "Michael Adams, who they have been targeting, he's the one that they call on."

The ball never hit the ground. Rodgers accidentally kicked it upward, it dropped into Dansby's hands at the 17-yard line, and the linebacker raced for the winning score.

"It was like it was a gift," Dansby said. "I knew (Adams) was coming free. Because he came free the first time and we didn't go back to it. It was the perfect call."

It might not have quite been the perfect play, however. After Adams dislodged the ball, his hand grasped Rodgers' facemask long enough a penalty could have been called. It was not.

"I don't think that happened," Davis said with a smile. "I saw a turnover happen. I saw Karlos run it in. I didn't see any yellow flags."

Dansby was enveloped by teammates. After the celebration, Dansby's interview on national TV declared Adams' nickname "Money Mike" for the masses.

Adams, meanwhile, was just trying to wrap his head around the game he had just played. He was exhausted, physically and mentally.

"All I could do was just look up in the sky and just say, 'Thank you God,' because honestly, if I don't make that there, I'm probably not on the team," Adams said.

The emotion bled out of Adams through tears out on the field, sobbing before teammates tried to console him. He didn't want to take it into the locker room – "I had to hurry up and get those tears out" – because there was a win everyone else wanted to celebrate.

Maybe Adams didn't save his career with that final play, but for him, it felt that way. The season wasn't over either, with the Cardinals headed to an NFC Divisional round game in New Orleans.

The stories afterward revolved around that upcoming playoff game, Warner's spectacular day, and even Warner's potential retirement moreso than the small nickel DB from the practice squad.

"Mike Adams made one of the greatest plays in the history of the Cardinals for a guy that, again, I think if you asked, even Cardinal fans don't know much about Mike Adams or don't really remember that he was the one that made that play," Cardinals play-by-play voice Dave Pasch said.

The Cards had stars, but maybe it was fitting Adams was the one who finished it off.

"That was as money as you could be," Berry said. "And that's why we gave him the nickname 'Money Mike,' because when we needed him the most he came through with the ultimate play."

Jason Wilde filed his Packers stories for his paper and flew home to Green Bay. Madison was born a few days later. Wilde, who also hosted a radio show, had former NFL official Bill Carollo on to talk about the final play – specifically the Adams' grasp of Rodgers' facemask.

"Bill said, 'I can't believe they didn't call the facemask,' " Wilde recalled. "I remember saying to Bill, 'Yeah ... I'm OK with it.' "

A couple of weeks later, Madison Wilde received one of her first pieces of mail. It was a photo of Adams dislodging the ball from Rodgers, with an inscription: "Madison, I'm glad I could make sure your Dad was there for you."

It was signed, "Michael Adams."

"Man, that is crazy," Adams said with a smile when reminded of the autograph. "I'd like to see it because I have no recollection of that. I mean, I'm glad I was able to oblige him."

Images around Michael Adams and the Wild Card playoff game between the Cardinals and Packers after the 2009 season, which the Cardinals won, 51-45, in overtime.

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