Our Christmas Cards Deliver All Year 'Round

Scott Z BradyCorrespondent IDecember 18, 2009

For years, even decades, be they in Chicago, St. Louis, or Arizona, Cardinals fans have had to suffer through some extremely lousy football. This is no newsflash, I know. But bear with me here.

Over the years, there had been a veritable plethora of 'reasons why’ offered, suggested, ascribed and/or screamed from masses, both in media and fans alike. Some of those reasons had merit. Others were absolutely ridiculous. Others floated somewhere in-between.

One of the more interesting assertions regarding the Cardinals woes (a reason we haven’t heard much about over the last couple years) is that the Bidwill Family, owners to one degree or another of this woe-begone franchise since the roaring twenties, put too much of an emphasis on character.
As preposterous as that may sound to many, there are those that held the belief that there weren’t enough high character and extremely talented guys to go around, to carry a team to glory. One or two bad apples don't spoil the whole bunch, girl, and in fact is necessary if you want to win in today's NFL. And in today's world.

This is one theory that falls face-first into the middle category.

There are approximately 1800 NFL players dotted all along the fruited plain. Some are from places like golden Southern California, or beautiful, sunny Florida, or the rolling melting pot of gleaming city and rural burgs of the great Midwest, or the upper coastal regions from cosmopolitan sea to gorgeous, shining sea. (Insert big cheesy smiley face)

Others are from the hard, mean streets of East Los Angeles, or the dark, poverty riddled streets of Miami, Tampa, or Jacksonville, ..'getting where they got’ from the graffiti’d city parks and foreclosed properties of the greater Chicago area, and from the dirty, debris-strewn alleys of metropolitan New York to the gloomy, dark cloud and rain drenched byways of the upper northwest. (Insert dark, sullen, sad face).


Many Cardinals fans, followers, and foes alike somehow got the perception that in order to be a top flight, all-pro type winning football team, you had to have a few bad apples. You had to have high character guys with a hard edge, and guys that had a hard time staying out of principals offices to police lineups.

The Cardinals couldn’t win, you see, because of their insistence as an organization, as well as member of whichever community they hung their hat, that character mattered.  And there just weren’t enough ‘character guys’ in the NFL to fill a roster that also happened to play above the level of their peers.

Frankly, that perception would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.

But stubborn ol’ Bill Bidwill, who must have as thick of skin as God ever happened to wrap a body in, dug in his heels and held to his belief. Being a winner and having talent beyond that of many of their co-workers had nothing to do with whether a player was more apt to get in trouble as a youth, or get in the volunteer line at a soup kitchen. A winner in life can be perceived as a loser, but character guys are winners from either side of perception.

It’s also no newsflash that the media focuses vastly more on what is wrong in society, than whats good about it. They don’t do this (solely) because they’re heartless, sadistic egotists soaked in real or imagined power because they wield that massive ‘pen’. They do this because, for whatever reason, society has more interest (and therefore a financial gain to be had for the purveyors) in the negative.

Therefore, while the fact is that the vast majority of NFL players, be they white or black or other, be they from Baltimore, Burtonsville or Bel Air, are good, solid citizens, it’s only natural for the media to use it’s intellectual but time/space limited influence on those that combine their football greatness, and spiced with crime blotter happenstances, whenever possible.

This whole scenario came to mind today with the announcement  that two more Cardinals players were recognized for their gridiron greatness as well as their Herculean hearts. And while two more players on this team are at or near equals in their stature at their position, the perception of the two is largely different.

Larry Fitzgerald has long been acknowledged as one of the NFL’s good guys. A high character fellow that has forever had positive influences molding his present high character persona. He’s been long established as a ‘character guy’.
He is as quiet a super-star individual as there is, from the time he trod the NFL soil as a childhood ball-boy through and beyond the time he graced a video game cover, when he is asked to talk of his own many accomplishments and/or his community concerns. He just quietly goes about his business of giving, regardless of which soil he trod that day.

Darnell Dockett, on the other hand, is more known for his boisterous, tattoo’d, uncaged animal-like persona between the lines, forged (obviously) from his incredibly difficult childhood wherein his father died just four months after his mother was murdered in their home when Double D was the tender age of 13 years old.
Immense talent aside, he often (and mistakenly) is perceived as an angry individualist either expressing dissatisfaction with his now quite undervalued contract, or vocalizing his justification for more attention and acclaim even after dropping down the draft charts due to run-ins with the law, as well as his coaches and mentors. 

Both players, today, were chosen as two of just 26 of those 1800-ish NFL players to the “All-Fundamentals” Team. This is a 26-man roster chosen by fellow players (NFLPA), as well as USA Football, the sport’s national governing body on youth and amateur levels. Its an award that honors “the NFL’s most fundamentally-sound players who also commit themselves to service in their communities”.

“In addition to their fundamentally-strong play, Fitzgerald and Dockett do exemplary work in their communities. The Carol Fitzgerald Memorial Fund (after Larry’s mother, who also passed away when he was young) raises money for urban education, HIV-AIDS and breast cancer. Dockett devotes free time to visiting local children’s hospitals and contributing to team charity function”, according to the Cardinals web site.


A ‘good guy’ and a ‘bad boy’. Two decidedly different players from two clearly different backgrounds. Two completely different perceptions to most. Two individuals who many would perceive only alike in talent and uniform, were recognized for their similarly outstanding personal as well as professional contributions to their craft and their community. We've had our share of perceived good guys (Kurt Warner) and bad boys (Anquan Boldin) recognized in the desert this year, their common bond fused in their high caliber character.

Character matters. Bill Bidwill believes that, and he always has. It may show up in different colors, or be dressed in different backgrounds, but it can come from any neighborhood in America. And it does.
It can look smooth like a gazelle, or as rough as a gorilla. But its what’s inside a man's heart that knows no color, circumstance, or background. There are those that give at certain times, and there are those that just give. And we're lucky to have more than our share of the latter in Arizona.
The common bond of good character often blurs perceptions in people. And that's a good thing. For Cardinals faithful. And for America as a whole.

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Photo Courtesy Arizona Cardinals