Arizona Cardinals: 6 Cult Heroes in Team History
The Arizona Cardinals have not had the greatest luck winning football games over the years.
Amid all the losing seasons in Arizona, there have been a handful of players who captured the attention of fans for one reason or another. Some by their play on the field, some by what they have done off it, some for a combination of both.
A “cult hero” is a person who is held in high regard by a number of people for things they have said or done. This list portrays that definition perfectly, so follow along as we sift through the Arizona years in search of Cardinals fans’ favorite players.
Kurt Warner, QB (2005-2009)
We start with the man who helped turn the franchise into something other than a laughingstock and perennial doormat.
Warner unleashed an aerial assault that gave defensive coordinators fits on a weekly basis, leading the Cardinals to back-to-back playoff appearances and the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl appearance.
He is the franchise leader with a 65.1 completion percentage and is fourth all-time in yards (15,843) and touchdowns (100). Warner was 23-14 in his final two seasons in Arizona—playoffs included.
His career famously ended on the turf in New Orleans following a vicious and unnecessary hit from Bobby McCray—a hit that is now part of a league investigation into the Saints and whether they put “bounties” on players’ heads.
Though his time in Arizona was brief, he made perhaps the greatest on-the-field impact any one Cardinals player has ever made.
Aeneas Williams, CB (1991-2000)
Throughout his 10 years with the Cardinals, Williams was selected to represent Arizona in six Pro Bowls, coming consecutively from 1994 to 1999.
He is No. 2 in franchise history with 46 interceptions and is the all-time leader with six returned for a touchdown.
Williams is also credited with the blow that ended Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young’s career (grainy video above). As morose to say as it is, that hit against the arch-rival QB cemented his legacy as a fan favorite and is the play for which most fans remember him.
Larry Centers, FB (1990-1998)
A culmination of stats over a long period of time is a great way to become forever loved by a fanbase. That is not how Larry Centers won the hearts of Cardinals fans—though he was productive.
Centers rushed for 1,736 yards and 10 touchdowns as Arizona’s fullback throughout much of the ‘90s. He also caught 535 passes for 4,539 yards and 19 more touchdowns—as a fullback.
He led the team in receptions four consecutive years from 1993 to 1996, totaling 343 catches for 2,978 yards and 14 TD over that span—as a fullback.
Yet despite all those numbers, one play has withstood the test of time and is the main reason he remains in so many hearts to this day.
In the middle of a blowout loss to the rival Dallas Cowboys on the final day of the 1995 season, Christmas Day, Centers hurdled Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown. All to gain just a few more yards. That’s who he was as a player. He gave all of his heart all of the time.
He also wore his emotions on his sleeve.
Shortly after head coach Buddy Ryan was fired, Centers was quoted as calling him “the devil,” which could not be argued by any fan. Ryan took what Joe Bugel had built and dismantled it into an unrecognizable mess. And Larry Centers called a spade a spade.
That’s what Cardinals fans love about him.
Anquan Boldin, WR (2003-2009)
If you could dream of a perfect NFL debut, it wouldn’t be near as amazing as Boldin’s NFL debut.
In his first game as a professional, Boldin outperformed fellow rookie—and No. 2 overall pick—Charles Rogers by catching 10 passes from Shaun King for 217 yards and two touchdowns. He was everywhere on the field that day, and it was clear that he could not be stopped.
Despite being traded two years ago, Boldin is still considered by many fans to be one of their favorite players. His presence—especially once Larry Fitzgerald joined him on the field—was felt by every defense that had the misfortune of guarding him.
His will, toughness and ultra-competitive nature is the reason so many people took to liking Boldin, and though he’s not with the team now, the memory of his play still is.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR (2004-Present)
The best player in franchise history is going to make this list. There’s just no getting around it.
Fitzgerald has been the epitome of professionalism since the day he arrived for his first training camp. All he has done since then is become the best receiver in the game despite sub-par quarterback play the majority of his career.
In eight years, Fitz has completely taken over the franchise’s career record book, owning the record for catches (693), receiving yards (9,615) and touchdowns (73).
In the team's 2009 run to the Super Bowl, Fitzgerald set playoff records with 30 receptions for 546 yards and seven touchdowns.
He makes the difficult seem routine, and the impossible seem possible.
Pat Tillman, S (1976-2004, RIP)
We end our time today with the only true American hero on the list.
Pat Tillman was, and is, the greatest person ever to don a Cardinals uniform. He will forever be remembered not for the way in which he played the game of football, but for what he sacrificed so that we all can enjoy Sunday afternoons in the fall.
Without men like Patrick Daniel Tillman, the very freedoms you and I take for granted every day of our lives could be considered impossibilities.
“My great grandfather was at Pearl Harbor, and a lot of my family has gone and fought in wars, and I really haven’t done a damn thing as far as laying myself on the line like that,” Tillman said in an interview the day after the September 11 attacks.
Tillman left the NFL following the 2001 season, leaving a three-year, $3.6 million contract offer from the Cardinals on the table to bravely serve our country.
He died by friendly fire on April 22, 2004.
Having just celebrated Memorial Day, you all should have already thanked at least one veteran for his or her service. If you have not, do it now.
I feel I need to end this by personally thanking every hero I know who has served—or is serving—in the United States military. Forgive me if I forget one of you.
Grandpa William Hoffman (RIP)
Grandpa Bernard Church
Uncle Tim Church
James Biondolillo (RIP)
Heather Marie Showalter
Gerard Catalano, Jr.
Timothy N Matteson
Timothy L Matteson
Thank you all for your service.