Markus Golden has had reasons to turn sour over life.
Growing up in a tough neighborhood, having to negotiate a path through junior college to reach Missouri in college, tearing his ACL after his breakout NFL season, a pricey free-agent contract never coming to pass after multiple chances in free agency.
"God's honest truth, I'm used to it," the Cardinals linebacker said. "It's always been my life."
Golden says this matter-of-factly. His smile is never far away, his passion for the game leaking out at every opportunity. There is no one on the Cardinals who stays more positive, win or lose.
"You have your days," Golden said. "When it's happening and you go through it, you have your time when you have to make a decision. You can be upset – I'm a normal human being, of course I got upset in those moments – but I've got to look myself in the mirror and say, 'OK, what are you going to do now? Do you stop here, and be known as the dude who didn't get it?'
"Or I can keep going, keep building it up, and the next time, more people will have my back. Eventually you'll break through, and that's always been me."
Golden is speaking about his perspective on life, but it's a direct parallel to his game. Relentless and non-stop. With a team-leading nine sacks this season – third in the NFL – on a team that is 8-1, it would be easy for anyone to be happy.
But that's Golden – the man they call "Junk," for "Junkyard Dog" -- anyway.
When he piled up 12 sacks in 2016, that was going to be his jumping-off point – he'd get a big pass rusher contract eventually. "I thought, 'Yeah, I finna going take off now. I'm finally not going to keep waiting for everything,' " Golden said. "I thought it was over after that. I honestly did."
Instead, he tore his ACL the next season. By the time he reached free agency, the big contract never came, the Cards decided to sign Terrell Suggs while Golden shopped himself, and he ended up with the Giants on a one-year contract.
He notched 10 sacks – but no one wanted to give big money again, and he went back to the Giants, with a new coaching staff, and subsequently lost his job. That's when his positivity admittedly wavered.
"In New York, when they didn't let me compete for a job, they took my love away from the game," Golden said. "Football didn't feel the same anymore. It did cross my mind, either I didn't need to play football no more, or I especially don't need to play here no more."
That's why his trade midseason back to the Cardinals, back to a team he never wanted to leave, meant so much to him. And why his arrival – necessary after the season-ending injury to buddy Chandler Jones – meant so much to the team.
That constant, upbeat, bring-on-the-world attitude mattered.
"As everybody knows, last year didn't go as well as I wanted to, but when he got here, things started changing," linebacker Isaiah Simmons said. "I started getting more and more playing time, and he was always someone who believed in me.
"Every day he was giving me a lot of motivation, keeping me up and going even on days I might be disappointed or not happy with the situation. Junk was always there."
Everyone, from coach Kliff Kingsbury to his teammates, loved Golden's personality. And Golden was home, has he has said many times, quickly re-signing to a two-year deal after the season.
(Golden's return along with Jones coming back from injury meant Haason Reddick, also a free agent, had to find a new team. That was the Panthers, who visit Sunday.)
Golden feels like he's in a perfect spot. His production is there, his team is winning. Even if that weren't true, he'd figure out how to see the bright side of things.
He's used to it, after all.
"I never wanted to walk around feeling sorry for myself and I didn't want people feeling sorry for me. That's my pride, number one," Golden said. "Two, I feel like you have to be positive, because if you stay positive, good things happen. That's how your brain works. If you are always positive and always thinking positive, 'Something will come from this. There's a reason why this is happening to me.'
"If you're a person that's always sad, you're just going to make everyone around you sad. I want to be the one bringing the energy to the room, the one being happy."
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