Carson Palmer woke up before 5 a.m. Wednesday in the cold of Yellowstone National Park, where he is camping with his family.
That is the kind of thing the former quarterback enjoys doing these days, his retirement from football more than a year old. But he still pays attention to the game, and he especially pays attention to his final team.
“I’m a Cardinal,” Palmer said in a conference call from his vacation. “We’re Cardinals fans. All my kids have David Johnson’s and Larry (Fitzgerald’s) jerseys, and Pat (Peterson’s) jersey. I still follow the NFL for some of the stuff I’m doing, but the draft, free agency and OTAs, once it’s in you, it’s in you. You can’t get rid of it.”
Palmer’s tie to the organization reached permanent status Tuesday when it was announced he would be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor in September.
“It’s an absolute honor and I’m humbled,” Palmer said, calling his final five seasons as a Cardinal “such a perfect way for me to end my career.”
Palmer reiterated sentiments he had expressed multiple times, how much he liked playing for the organization, team president Michael Bidwill and General Manager Steve Keim. The trade that took him from the Oakland Raiders to the Cardinals in 2013 left him with a lot of unknowns, only to be left with a “pleasant surprise” how well he fit with the Cardinals and how well his family fit in the community.
Palmer, drafted No. 1 overall by Cincinnati back in 2003, admitted he wished he had arrived in Arizona much sooner.
“But you can’t always have it the way you want it,” Palmer said. “I appreciate and loved the five years I was there.”
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said it was Palmer’s toughness that stood out, playing through injuries and absorbing blows in the throw-deep system of Bruce Arians. Fitzgerald talked specifically about Palmer playing through a dislocated finger in 2015 suffered late in the season.
“He’s one of my favorite teammates and I spent a lot of time off the field with him,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m elated for him. He’s deserving. He’s the biggest reason we had success in that five-year stretch. He was prolific.”
Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury may have come to the team long after Palmer left, but Kingsbury still had his own Palmer memories, having been Palmer’s teammate at the 2003 Senior Bowl.
“I remember walking out there that first day and he was like this Greek god throwing lightning bolts,” Kingsbury said. “I knew it was not going to be a good week for me.
“Phenomenal talent. If God made a quarterback, how it was supposed to look, how he is supposed to throw, how he was supposed to drop, great charisma and personality, I just think the world of him. I’ve known him a long time and I was thrilled to death he is going to be inducted.”
Running back David Johnson gave a special shout-out to Palmer all day Wednesday, wearing a special baseball hat first during an appearance on NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” and then again for the local media after practice. The hat, made by Palmer’s wife for Palmer’s retirement party, featured a picture of Palmer wearing a unicorn outfit at State Farm Stadium following one of his losses in the infamous weekly bucket challenge.
Palmer won’t be wearing such an outfit of his Ring of Honor night. Probably.
“Man, that would suck,” Palmer said. “But I can’t turn down a bet. I’m a sucker for the bucket drill. Anything is on the table right now.”
Fitzgerald said none of the players would do that to Palmer on Sept. 29. The night is special, a link to the impressive run Palmer had in Arizona.
Palmer said he has enjoyed waking up during the week feeling healthy. He’s enjoyed not having to spend hours in treatment to keep his aging body agile.
But “I’ll always miss the game,” Palmer said. “The thrill and the competition, the joy of winning.”