This week marks my 14th NFL regular season with the Arizona Cardinals, but I probably wouldn't even be in the NFL if it weren't for one man.
Way back in 1999, I began calling football and basketball games for Syracuse University. That same year, I met John Butler, the general manager of the Buffalo Bills, who happened to be attending Syracuse football practice. Butler helped build those Bills teams that went to four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s.
I struck up a conversation with John, which eventually led to a connection with other members of the Bills
front office, and eventually a shot at NFL play-by-play. In 2001, I called the Bills preseason games on local TV. Even though Butler had moved on, leaving Buffalo for the San Diego Chargers, we stayed in touch, and I considered him a friend. He had given me a huge break, as they say in the TV business.
I used a segment of a Bills preseason telecast as part of my résumé tape, which I sent to the Cardinals in 2002. Ultimately, the Bidwill family hired me to be their full-time announcer. Without the experience in Buffalo, who knows if I would've even had a chance at the Cardinals job. I remained grateful to Butler, who started the ball rolling a few years back.
I remember speaking with Butler in 2001, shortly after the NFL draft. San Diego had the number one overall pick, but made a trade with the Falcons. Atlanta selected Michael Vick. The Chargers got the fifth pick in return for Vick, and selected LaDanian Tomlinson. San Diego made the trade with Atlanta because it had another QB in mind, a player who had tremendous success in college at Purdue but whose draft stock began to drop over concerns he was too small to play quarterback in the NFL.
Butler and the Chargers took Drew Brees with the first pick of the second round. It turned out to be an incredible trade. While Vick has had an up-and-down career, Tomlinson and Brees went on to forge Hall-of-Fame-type careers. Brees would have been the most gratifying for Butler, if only he got to see what Brees had become. Butler died in 2003 of lymphoma at age 56, just a couple of years into Brees' great career.
So, as Brees begins his 15th season and his 10th with the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, I stand in admiration of his gaudy numbers and Super Bowl ring. Most of all, I think of the man who gave him -- and in a different sense, me -- a chance.