The Arizona Cardinals' Unsung Heroes
With the Arizona Cardinals having their first taste of success in about 10 years, it is easy to forget those lost, red souls who toiled for years to get the Cardinals even a glimpse of progress.
These are some of those who sacrificed their blood, sweat, and tears for a franchise that never seemed to care about winning.
These are the players who worked tirelessly to establish football in the desert and, for the most part, failed.
They endured numerous four- and five-win seasons, 100-degree temperatures in a college stadium, and an organization that seemed to care more about its bottom dollar than its team's often horrifying record.
These ten players had undeniable talent, but, for the most part, will never even be considered for the Hall of Fame.
Remember these names, because, if the franchise stays on this advancing path, they will be forgotten...
10. Jake Plummer, QB
When Plummer was first drafted by the Cardinals, he was pitched as the franchise's savior. The mobile, accurate winner who lead the hometown Arizona State Sun Devils to the Rose Bowl was billed as new coach Vince Tobin's key to the playoffs.
"The Snake" proved to be just that, leading the Cards to their first postseason appearance in 26 years in 1998, where they upset the hated Dallas Cowboys before being outed by the juggernaut Minnesota Vikings.
Plummer had become the first franchise quarterback since the team's move to the desert in 1988. His poise and leadership gave Cardinals' fans hope for the future.
But winning was not enough for Plummer, who was still being paid a third-round pick's salary. He pushed for a hefty new contract following the Cards playoff run, forcing the team to let go of several key players.
Plummer never lived up to the contract, throwing more touchdowns than interceptions just once in six seasons in Arizona, and setting franchise back once again.
Although Plummer's time in Arizona was not ideal, he was still one of the most popular and influential players to put on a Cardinals uniform.
9. Lomas Brown, OT
The Arizona Cardinals of the 1990s were notorious for their bad offensive lines. That changed when the team signed Pro Bowl tackle Lomas Brown from Detroit in 1996.
Brown added balance and leadership to a position that had been the bane of the team for many seasons. He provided veteran guidance to the younger linemen and became a consistent, steady presence the team had sorely lacked.
Brown started every game he played for the Big Red and became the team's first Pro Bowl offensive lineman since 1980. He was a part of the "Plummer Purge" after three very solid seasons with the club.
Despite the losing seasons, Brown was the rock the team often leaned on to get them through the rough patches.
8. Kwamie Lassiter, FS
Few Arizona players have been a fan favorite like Kwamie Lassiter.
Coming to the team as an undrafted free agent in 1995, Lassiter had to prove himself from day one. He became a special teams standout almost immediately and one of the team's most popular players with his reckless, hard-hitting style.
Lassiter's defining game was in the team's 1998 regular season finale against San Diego. Lassiter tied an NFL record by picking off four passes to help Arizona make the playoffs for the first time since their move from St. Louis.
Lassiter eventually became the team's starting free safety and was a playmaker teams had to watch for. He collected 356 tackles and 24 interceptions in eight seasons in Arizona.
But, as with so many of their players, Arizona's front office was not willing to ante-up and Lassiter left as a free agent in 2003.
7. Eric Swann, DT
Few players have taken a more uncommon path to the NFL than Eric Swann.
After standing out at Wake Technical Community College, Swann failed to qualify academically at North Carolina State and opted to play for the semi-pro Bay State Titans.
The team was part of the the Major League Football System, which did not pay its players but provided them with jobs during the week while they trained and played games on Saturdays.
Swann lugged pipe for an electrical company and ran errands for a restaurant before the NFL came calling.
Swann was overpowering in the MLFS and Arizona (then Phoenix) took notice, making Swann the sixth overall pick in 1991.
Swann used the blue-collar mentality he had been instilled with to become one of the Cardinals' most talented players, becoming a game-changer in the middle right away.
In nine seasons with the Cards, the North Carolina native lead the team in sacks three times, tackles twice and earned two trips to the Pro Bowl in 1995 and 1996.
Injuries eventually derailed his career, but few Cardinals players possessed the skill and defensive prowess of Swann, who was one of the Big Red's first superstars.
6. Ronald McKinnon, MLB
Few NFL players possessed the heart and desire of Ronald McKinnon.
Not blessed with great size or speed, McKinnon used his head to become one of the Cards' most consistent defensive players.
An undrafted free agent from North Alabama, McKinnon became the team's starting middle linebacker in just his second season.
He started every game he played in for seven consecutive years and became a reliable presence in the middle for a team starving for play—makers.
McKinnon also lead the team in tackles three straight years (1999-2001), collecting 640 total to go along with 10 interceptions and 12 sacks in nine seasons with the team.
The Arkansas native became a favorite with his consistent play and hard-nosed attitude, but he, like several players on this list, got lost in the proverbial shuffle.
5. Rob Moore, WR
After losing their top two receivers to free agency, Arizona traded for Jets' Pro Bowl wideout Rob Moore to be the marquee offensive threat they had been lacking.
Like most of the team, Moore struggled under Buddy Ryan, but thrived when the team brought in Vince Tobin.
Moore developed a great rapport with young quarterback Jake Plummer, culminating in the 1997 season. That year, Moore caught 97 balls for 1584 yards and eight touchdowns. Moore became the first Cardinals' receiver since Roy Green to be named an All-Pro.
Moore was one of Arizona's most consistent performers in the '90s. He caught 27 total touchdowns in the desert and was one of the Cards biggest talents, even providing the inspiration for Rod Tidwell in "Jerry Maguire."
4. Eric Hill, LB
Spending nine seasons in the red and white, no one knows what it is like to be a Cardinal like Eric Hill.
Through thick and thin, Hill remained a consistent performer at the linebacker position; never letting the continuous losing seasons derail his all-out play.
Averaging 98 tackles over his first five seasons, Hill became a brick wall for Arizona, known around the league for his prowess in stopping the run.
The LSU product quickly became the leader of the Cards' defense and no one earned their playoff run in 1998 like Hill, who continuously performed well, despite things rarely going right around him.
3. Aeneas Williams, CB
If anyone on this list has even a remote shot at the Hall, it is Aeneas Williams.
Like his mythological namesake, Williams stayed strong when everything was crumbling around him and stepped up to be a leader when he was needed most.
Drafted by Arizona in 1991 from tiny Southern University, Williams started all but one game in his rookie season.
He never missed a game in 10 seasons with the Cards, becoming one of the top cover corners in the league.
A Pro Bowl choice for six straight years (1994-99) and a three-time All-Pro, Williams cemented his place as a superstar corner, despite playing in a football "wasteland."
Picking off 46 passes and taking back six for scores while in the desert, Williams could always be counted on to make plays when needed.
While never flashy or loud, Williams was Arizona's first elite talent since their move to the desert and helped them stay afloat when it seemed their own weight was dragging them under.
2. Larry Centers, FB
In his time in Arizona, there was not a bigger fan favorite than Larry Centers.
Undersized for his position (6'0", 225 lbs), Centers won over everyone with his desire and tough play, never giving in or letting up even if a game was out of reach.
Drafted by Arizona in the fifth round from Stephen F. Austin, Centers exceeded expectations from the start, becoming a special teams standout before he found his niche in the backfield.
Centers became a major pass threat, steadily increasing each year in the league until 1995 when he broke Roger Craig's single season record for receptions by a running back with 101.
Centers earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl that season and followed it up with 99 receptions and another Pro Bowl invite in 1996.
The Texas native was rewarded for eight seasons of toiling with a playoff win in 1998, but was summarily let go as a part of the "Plummer Purge."
But few players have been as popular in their respective cities as Larry Centers; a blue-collar player who worked for everything and set the standard for future Cards.
1. Pat Tillman, S
No Cardinals player will be remembered like Pat Tillman, the man who gave up a budding NFL career to defend the country and was killed in action.
Tillman was already a favorite for his stellar play at Arizona State and was warmly received when the Cardinals drafted the long-haired linebacker in the seventh round of the 1998 Draft to play safety.
Very little was expected of Tillman at the start, but injuries forced him to start 10 games in his rookie season. He was a major part of Arizona making the playoffs, collecting 46 tackles.
Tillman steadily improved each year and earned a new contract from the Cardinals, passing up a much heftier deal from St. Louis out of loyalty to Arizona.
Tillman's career was moving along very well until 9/11. The attack deeply affected Tillman, who felt he was not making the most of his life playing football. He abruptly retired, married his longtime girlfriend and enlisted with his brother, Kevin.
Tillman was praised for his selfless act and his training and deployment were well-followed across the country, as was his death from friendly fire in the spring of 2003.
For the ultimate sacrifice he made defending his country, Pat Tillman went from unsung hero to American legend.