In the Cardinals' first preseason game of 2008, coach Ken Whisenhunt revealed what many already suspected: His so-called QB competition was nothing more than a sham. QB Kurt Warner, one of the stars of the Cardinals' 2007 season, didn't even play a single snap.
And he deserves better.
Fans should not have been surprised, as hints were abundant in the past few months. It was especially obvious when Whisenhunt recently praised Leinart's play last season—as if we had all forgotten how bad it truly was: "Yes, Kurt did a great job for us and played well," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "But Matt got hurt, he was our starter, and he was making progress."
And organizationally, the fix appeared to be in. On the Cardinals' official website, a fan poll for Cardinal MVP was published after the end of the season, and Kurt Warner was intentionally omitted. And then there was the 2007 season highlight film produced by the Bidwills that featured two-dozen touchdown catches with Warner's actual throws edited out.
But for those Cardinal watchers whose memories of 2007 are clear, the 2007 Matt Leinart season did not feature any resemblance of "progress"—but rather some of the worst football seen at the QB position in recent Cardinal history.
Leinart posted the lowest passer rating in the NFL (61.9) and threw for the fewest yards per game (129), all while supported by Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, two of the best wide receivers in the league.
Through five games, he completed one touchdown to Boldin and none to Fitzgerald. He averaged only 0.4 TDs per game, threw two interceptions for every TD, and completed only about 50 percent of his passes.
Furthermore, in the months leading up the 2007 season opener, Leinart was widely reported to be more focused on off-the-field "extracurricular" activities rather than the playbook, and his failure to grasp the offense was obvious.
After Leinart was injured—his second season-ending injury in his last five sacks—Kurt Warner elevated the passing attack from the worst-in-the-NFL to one of the top three.
With Warner at QB, the receivers, and the offense in general, enjoyed a resurgence. Warner finished in the top 10 in most QB categories, including passer rating (89.8), TDs per game, and yards per game. With only 11 starts, he completed 27 TDs.
Anquan Boldin, who was injured for much of the year, finished the season with nine TDs. Larry Fitzgerald finished with 10 and made the Pro Bowl.
In the last eight games, the offense was especially explosive, with Warner completing 21 TDs. Had the defense not been decimated by injuries, the Cardinals would have been a dangerous contender in the playoffs.
Yet in the 2007's final postgame press conference, Warner's performance was dismissed with a cliché. Whisenhunt declared that a player should not lose his job to injury, and Leinart was declared the 2008 starter.
As a side note, some of the all-time greats took jobs from injured players. Fortunately for Lou Gehrig and Tom Brady, neither played for a Whisenhunt.
Fans attending camp in Flagstaff have universally described Warner as razor-sharp—so sharp that the Bidwills and Whisenhunt have decided to bury him on the bench away from the public eye.
So apparently, the second-best Arizona QB will start again this season opener, just as he did last year. Again, the fans' hopes for a run at the playoffs may be dashed, but the meddling Bill Bidwill—the PT Barnum of the NFL—will be smiling.
Will "The Bowtie" be smiling toward the field at his marketing gimmick that he bullied into the lineup? Or will it be a sneer toward the stands at a perceived collection of "suckers born every minute"?