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Cardinals' hard loss on 'Monday Night Football' was memorable, but not as much as Dennis Green after the game
By Darren Urban Dec 02, 2021

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.

The Cardinals were without wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, but it didn't matter. Leinart threw first-half touchdown passes to Bryant Johnson and Anquan Boldin, and the young QB actually looked at that point that he indeed might be the answer behind center the Cards craved.

(Warner, who was the correct answer for "the quarterback the Cardinals craved," had been benched three weeks before and didn't revive his Cards' career until the following season.)

But it was the Cardinals' defense that was spectacular – easily outplaying their much-hyped Chicago counterparts and the reason the score was 23-3, Cardinals leading, in the dying seconds of the third quarter.

Grossman, the Bears quarterback, "didn't have the best arm; he didn't make the best decisions," Berry said, so the Cardinals felt they could force turnovers. By the end of the game, Grossman had thrown four interceptions, lost two fumbles. The Bears had a mere 168 yards of offense while Grossman completed a dismal 14 of 37 passes.

"I can't remember being that dominant on the defensive side to where they really didn't score any points offensively and have, I believe, six turnovers," Berry said. "We just felt like we had their number."

The Bears had one possession – out of 14 – that gained more than 22 yards.

"Chicago was the hottest team in the NFL at the time," Dansby said with a smile. "And we just took them to the back alley, man, and we beat them up."

The Cards' defense allowed three points. The Cards' offense? It allowed 14 to the Bears, with another seven given up by special teams. Leinart fumbled on a sack on the next-to-last-play of the third quarter, returned by safety Mike Brown for a touchdown.

Even then it shouldn't have mattered. Green told offensive coordinator Keith Rowan to go conservative, and the Cards did – giving it to running back Edgerrin James over and over and over, James finishing with 36 carries for a mere 55 yards – as Urlacher piled up 19 tackles.

At one point, Cardinals radio analyst Ron Wolfley said during the broadcast that it was a good thing James didn't fumble much – and the next play, the ball was ripped loose from James (his progress seemed to be long stopped, but the officials' whistles never blew) and was returned for a touchdown.

The lead was down to six.

Then came a punt fielded by Devin Hester, then the best return man in the game. Hester started on his own 17-yard line and didn't stop until he reached the end zone, completing the improbable rally.

"I'll never forget," Cardinals radio play-by-play voice Dave Pasch said. "As soon as he caught the ball on the return, he made one move and you saw it, and it was like 'Oh my goodness, I can't believe this is happening.' "

Leinart still had 2:58 to save the day. And he did – down 24-23, he drove the Cardinals to a 40-yard field goal attempt from Neil Rackers with 52 seconds left.

"Matt Leinart marches us down the field and puts us in position for a field goal," Dalton said. "And we don't make it.

"Had we made it? History would judge the next half-hour or 45 minutes much differently than it does now."

It being a Monday night, Arizona Republic beat writer Kent Somers was tight on deadline after the game. He made the decision to stay in the press box and write, planning on getting quotes from co-workers later. He wasn't in the room when Green came to the podium.

"One of the biggest disappointments of my career," Somers said.

Clearly, Green could have said the same of the game's outcome.

As the players streamed into the locker room, Green seethed. He had his baseball cap off and his shirt untucked, a rarity for the coach. He kicked a paper Gatorade cup in the silence before finally addressing his shell-shocked team.

"I can't even repeat all the things that he said," Berry said. "But the basic crux of the matter was, he said, 'I don't want anybody saying anything to the media, because when I get in there, I'm going off.' He didn't say it quite like that. But you can kind of guess how colorful it got. We just kind of blew it off. Because we were all kind of disappointed, and we just wanted to go home."

Waiting in the press conference room, among many others, was Mark Brown. A local freelance writer who was doing a Cardinals story to supplement the game coverage of the Chicago Sun-Times, he had an easy subject – the dominating Cardinals defense.

"That was the essence of the question," Brown said. "I asked about the defense and we all know how he answered it."

First came a brief opening statement. Green was clearly upset, but under control. He then answered five or six questions in the same upset but relatively measured tone. Then Brown spoke up.

"Coach, four picks against Grossman, two fumbles. What did you see about the Bears to shut them down that way?"

Brown barely finished talking before Green started. And as he spoke – yelled, after awhile – it became less about his defense and more about something else entirely. Shades of his speech about an unsigned Leinart some two months previous.

"Naw, you know, we just … the Bears are who we thought they were," Green said. "They were who we thought they were. We played them in the third game of the preseason. Who takes the third game of the preseason like it's bulls**t? Bulls**t! We played them in the third game, everybody played three quarters, the Bears are who we thought they were! That's why we took the damn field!

"Now, if you want to crown them," Green loudly went on, slamming the side of the podium with his hand, "then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were! And we let them off the hook!"

Green finished. After a brief pause, Green staring out over a stunned press corps, Dalton, uttered his famous "Thanks, Coach," hands pressed together in front of him as if in prayer, telling the room Leinart would be next.

"I was like, 'Oh man, what am I walking in to?' " Leinart said in 2009. "I was upset with the loss too, but it's one of those things that will go down in history."

For Dalton, "there was a little bit of tongue in cheek in it, you know, because as I think back, we probably weren't going to get another question."

Green's time in front of the microphone wasn't over. He still had to do a live interview on radio with longtime sideline reporter Paul Calvisi. Calvisi was briefly warned something had happened, but on the other side of the wall, he didn't know exactly what.

"I knew he was frustrated." Calvisi said. "I didn't know that he had pounded the podium and gone viral for eternity.

"He almost said verbatim what he said in his epic rant in the radio Q-n-A that I conducted with him, just minus the volume, minus the drama, minus the Shakespearean tragedy."

Up in the press box, Somers was oblivious as well, until fellow Republic writer Paola Boivin returned to her seat.

"I'm like, 'What'd Denny have to say?' " Somers said. "And she goes, 'Yeah, he kind of went on a rant.' I'm like, 'Wait, really?' And she said 'Oh, yeah, he went off.'

"I was so disappointed that I was not there in the front row for that one."

In a time before social media had gained the power it has now, Green's video clip was nevertheless played non-stop on every outlet. Many players didn't even see it until the next day. And while it was a big deal, it was still overshadowed in the short term by a crushing loss.

The first thing Green did was say he wished he could lock the defense in a room with the offense, the latter having ultimately wasted one of the best performances ever by the former.

"He had always been, 'Hey, it's a team, offense, defense, special teams.' He preached that from day one, and we really believed that," Berry said. "But for whatever reason, something just snapped. Like when he was walking off the field after that game, something snapped in his mind. And I don't know if he ever really recovered from it.

"That Monday night game was kind of the straw that broke the back for him mentally. And I think, however you want to look at it. I don't think that it was something that he had tried to do. I just think that he was so spent, so done at that point and so disappointed at how we started out that year, because there were a lot of expectations."

The next day, Calvisi was hosting Green's radio show. The coach had moved on from the emotion of the moment.

"His doctor told him the best thing that he ever did was release that frustration," Calvisi said. "It was a good stress reliever to go ahead and pound the podium and go on that epic rant. To keep that stress inside would have been would have been unhealthy."

The well-placed boom mic carved out Brown's forever place in the story, even if no one usually knows whose disembodied voice it is that ultimately set Green off.

"I have not faded into obscurity regarding this particular experience," Brown acknowledged.

"I don't look at this as an iconic moment in (my) career," Brown added. "I don't look at it as an important part of Cardinal or NFL history. That's for other people to decide. I felt I was doing my job."

Then there was Dalton, hands pressed together, telling the room – and eventually the world watching the clip over and over – "Thanks, Coach." Like Green, over time Dalton became at peace with his role. Not that it's ever far from view even 15 years later.

"There are still people that bring it up to this day," Dalton said. "I do cringe whenever there's an event, a similar college basketball coach or a major league baseball manager (ranting). I'd be in the middle of a nice Thursday evening watching SportsCenter, and then you see it. I'm like, 'Oh, no. Here it comes.' "

As for Green, he eventually leaned into his place in postgame lore. The Coors Light commercial was made from the clip, and even when Green passed away in 2016, the program made for his memorial service featured a list of famous Green sayings – and "They were who we thought they were, and we let them off the hook!" was the first one listed.

However it came about, the moment – just like the forgotten rant about Matt Leinart that day in Flagstaff -- was very Denny Green.

"I think for him, it was almost like an out of body experience," Berry said. "I don't think he really understood how big of a moment that was. And then, once he processed it later on, he was like, 'I didn't realize it would be that big. But here we are -- I might as well own it now.' "

Images around the "Monday Night Football" game from 2006 when the Bears beat the Cardinals, 24-23, and the resulting Dennis Green postgame rant that will live in NFL history.

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