Over the course of my career, I've been blessed to broadcast and cover some incredible sporting events, including the college football national championship, Rose Bowl, NCAA basketball tournament, NBA playoffs, and The Masters. They're all special and unique.
Yet there is nothing like announcing the NFL playoffs.
Calling Super Bowl 43 is still the highlight of my career, with the Cardinals' win over Green Bay the following postseason a close second. What makes the NFL playoffs great is that it's a one-shot deal. There isn't a best-of-seven series to determine a winner, nor is there a short turnaround in between games to prepare for the
next opponent. It's one game, and one week of physical and mental strength, focus, and intensity (or two if you're fortunate enough to make the Super Bowl). The NFL playoffs is where legends are made, flaws are uncovered, and both the good and bad on display for millions to see and remember. Fair or unfair, players and coaches are judged on how they do in the NFL playoffs.
Larry Fitzgerald was a great receiver before he ever played in a postseason game. But he became legendary, at least in the eyes of Cardinals fans, for what he accomplished in the 2009 playoffs. In the NFC Championship game and Super Bowl alone he combined for 279 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He was just as productive the following year in the playoff victory against the Packers. I can't wait to see what Fitzgerald has in store for us on Saturday. It's truly amazing that Fitz enters the 2016 postseason coming off his best statistical regular season. Larry caught 109 passes, which is probably about 70 more than a lot of people imagined. This season further cemented, in my mind, that he is the greatest Arizona Cardinal of all time.
The profile on Carson Palmer is a bit different. Palmer, like Fitzgerald, has had tremendous regular-season
success. He's had five seasons where he's thrown for more than 4,000 yards and he's done it with three different franchises. He's averaged 22 touchdowns per season, and that includes three injury shortened campaigns. In fact, he has more career touchdowns than Kurt Warner.
Warner, however, is a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback because of his playoff heroics. Palmer is measured based on what he hasn't done in the playoffs -- win. What some people forget is that Carson has basically played in only one playoff game. His first appearance lasted only a few minutes. He threw just one pass in the 2005 playoffs before his first knee injury, which occurred on a 66-yard completion. His only other appearance in the post-season was in 2009, and it didn't go well.
But that was a lifetime ago for Palmer. Perhaps even two lifetimes ago, given his short stint with the Raiders. Since he came to the Cardinals, he's been nothing short of brilliant. He is the Cardinals' Most Valuable Player, and one could argue he is the most indispensable player in the entire league over the last two years. The stage is his on Saturday, and he can silence the critics and boost his profile with a playoff win against the Packers.
Like Palmer, Cardinals defensive back Patrick Peterson has played only one full playoff game. That was, of course, last season in Carolina. The Cardinals didn't have a capable playoff quarterback, so all of the pressure was on the defense. Plus, Peterson was still battling his weight and blood sugar issues. It seems unfair to judge Peterson's place among the NFL's elite defensive players based on that one game. He will get to prove himself Saturday, something I know he relishes. As good as Darrelle Revis has been in the regular season, he's been even better in the playoffs. He's carried a defense on his back several times in the postseason, including last year's title run with New England, when he allowed only one reception in the AFC Championship and Super Bowl combined. Even the Jets made consecutive AFC championship games, because of Revis' ability to shut down the opponent's best receiver. Peterson has surpassed Revis as the NFL's top corner, but he needs playoff wins on his résumé.
Peterson knows to be considered the best you have to shine when the lights are brightest. Fitzgerald, Palmer, and Peterson will have a lot to do with whether those lights stay on for the next few weeks, and whether those lights are clouded by confetti on Feb.7 in Santa Clara.