Fitting, because the sun has set on the most successful three-year run in Arizona Cardinals history:
- three NFC West Titles
- two NFC Championship Games wins
- one Super Bowl loss
- one Super Bowl win
- thousands of fans rewarded for 20 years of patience with one of, if not the most, inept franchise in the history of sports
It took a lot of time and emotions, but Kurt Warner has proven that you can be a winner as an Arizona Cardinal (not the Buddy Ryan-type winner either).
So, what now? That is the question Arizona Cardinals fans must ask themselves. What are they to expect now?
Kurt Warner is retired.
Anquan Boldin is gone.
Chris Wells is two years away from free agency and has become one of the better running backs in the NFL.
Biggest of all, Larry Fitzgerald's contract is up at the end of the season.
The Cardinals have continued in their practice of waiting until the final season of a player's expiring contract before they renegotiate.
They have signed extensions with pro bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and still emerging defensive end Calais Campbell.
Adrian Wilson is getting a little long in the tooth, but still has shown to be one of the better safeties in the game.
Antrel Rolle signed a very franchise-friendly contract, and has completely outplayed it. He has become the new disgruntled Bird in the nest.
The biggest thing that has taken place is the re-signing of Matt Leinart.
This shows the Cardinals' continued belief that Leinart has been in their plans for the future.
While he has produced nicely in his limited role as the backup to future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, he has not shown the ability to step in and fill the void that Warner will surely leave.
The Cardinals will begin to overhaul their offense. They are going away from the exciting pitch and catch offense, to a more mundane run, run, run, and maybe pass.
The coaching staff realizes that Matt Leinart is not Kurt Warner and they are going to put him in the best position possible to win games.
With the offensive line's improvement and two big pounding running backs, this offense is made to run the ball.
The question is, did the running game improve the last two seasons because of the dominance of the passing game? Will they be able to run the ball when teams know it is coming?
As the defense and running games have improved, fans begin to believe that the Cardinals can win no matter who is behind center.
Hopefully this is true and not a case of the fans drinking the Cardinals' Kool Aid.
The sport of football has engulfed the state of Arizona, and the Cardinals, more specifically, have captured the imagination of an entire population.
Can this continue without their quarterback?
Can they win with the golden boy from years ago?
The only thing that the fans in Arizona can count on is the coaching ability of Ken Whisenhunt.
Since he took over in 2008, Coach Whisenhunt has shown that he "gets it."
He has proven that he can lead and mold players to be the best they can be.
He has also butted heads, on more than a few occasions, with some ego-driven stars.
Can he coax a career-defining season out of Matt Leinart?
Can he encourage the organization to step up and pay players like Larry Fitzgerald (again) and Chris Wells, in order to keep the young core together?
Can he win without Warner?
Maybe Ken Whisenhunt has not been the key to the success of the Arizona Cardinals. Maybe it was, in fact, Kurt Warner.
I guess 2011 is a career defining moment for a lot of Arizona Cardinals and a pivotal moment for the organization as a whole.
Cardinals fans have enjoyed the last three years.
The unimaginable run to the Super Bowl in 2009.
The heartbreak of losing in the NFC Championship game in 2010.
The unfathomable fairy tale ending to a truly fairy-tale career with a 2011 Super Bowl win for Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals.
Now reality has set in. Now fans will really get to see who was the genius behind the whole operation.
Let's hope for the fans' sake that it was more Ken Whisenhunt than Kurt Warner.
Let's hope this is going to be a sustained success and a new era in the history of Arizona Cardinals football—not just a flash in the pan.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!