Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer turned 37 this week and his body turned 49. Over his 13-year career, Palmer has suffered injuries to his shoulder, ribs, nose, ankle, head, knee, and elbow. He has suffered a concussion and blown out his ACL twice.
But in the final game of a discouraging season Palmer may well feel rejuvenated today when he leads his Cardinals teammates onto the sun-soaked lawn of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, an arena that still rings faintly with cheers from his halcyon days with the USC Trojans. The fair-haired Palmer detonated the school and conference record books, collected a Heisman Trophy, married his college sweetheart and was drafted into the NFL by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003.
Palmer’s exploits in the Coliseum were perhaps more palatable to the modern fan than the goings-on in Rome’s first-century Colosseum, after which the stadium was named. There, before the emperor and the blood-thirsty wails of 80,000 spectators, criminals sentenced to death were released to fend for themselves against an assortment of beasts such as hippos, elephants, lions and leopards. A man might be mauled by a bear, trampled by a rhinoceros, and then have his rib meat picked over by an ostrich. Acrobats and magicians performed in the intervals, perhaps to lighten the mood (“Behold Emperor, the olive branch has vanished!!!”).
Palmer will face a stout Rams defense today, but there is little chance he’ll have a limb gnawed off by a Caspian tiger. Arizona is fresh off a road win against rival Seattle, a small consolation for a Cardinals team that will watch the playoffs from the comfort and safety of Barcaloungers. Another small prize is at stake today, as Arizona hopes to avenge a week-four 17-13 home loss to the Rams, who have lost 10 of their last 11 since.
Some will tune in today to see if Cardinals running back David Johnson can set a record: at least 100 yards from scrimmage in every game of an NFL season. Johnson, the 86th pick of the 2015 draft out of unheralded Northern Iowa, has been a revelation. He’s rushed for over 1,200 yards and added 841 receiving yards at a sterling 10.9 yards-per-catch clip. It’s not likely, but Johnson could hit another high mark today: with 159 yards receiving, he’d join NFL legends Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig as the only players to reach 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving in a single season.
With little else to play for, Arizona may well feed Johnson the ball today in hopes he might earn some personal glory. But the unassuming Johnson would gladly trade that for the game’s ultimate prize.
Tiffany’s silversmiths will not be etching Arizona’s name on the Super Bowl trophy this season. And one wonders if they might do so next season, considering that Palmer and star receiver Larry Fitzgerald are mulling retirement.
Cardinals Nation is hoping those inner fires will flicker to life next spring. And through the long off-season one question will enrich dinner conversations and barroom debates: Can coach Bruce Arians, movitator, philosopher and tinkerer, pry open the championship window that slammed shut this year?
This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation