Since their establishment in 1898, the Arizona Cardinals have been home to numerous talented individuals who have left an indelible mark on the franchise’s history. In this article, we pay tribute to the ten greatest players who have graced the Cardinals’ ranks. These exceptional athletes have not only achieved personal greatness but also contributed significantly to the team’s success. Their remarkable performances, unwavering dedication, and profound impact have cemented their status as legends in the annals of Arizona Cardinals history.
1. Larry Fitzgerald (Wide Receiver):
- Acquisition: Drafted 3rd overall in the 2004 NFL Draft.
- Notable Achievements: 11-time Pro Bowl selection, First-team All-Pro (2008), Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (2016), Cardinals’ all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
- Tenure: 2004-2019 (16 seasons).
- Peer and Fan Perspective: Revered for his exceptional route-running, remarkable hands, and consummate professionalism, Fitzgerald was widely regarded as a paragon of consistency and class. His ability to make acrobatic catches in crucial moments earned him the nickname “Larry Legend.”
- What Made Him Great: Fitzgerald’s unrivaled work ethic, football intelligence, and leadership skills made him a role model both on and off the field. His career was defined by his remarkable catches, yards after the catch, and ability to consistently find the end zone. Moreover, his commitment to the community and philanthropy elevated him to iconic status in Arizona and beyond.
2. Kurt Warner (Quarterback):
- Acquisition: Signed as a free agent in 2005.
- Notable Achievements: Super Bowl XXXIV champion and MVP (St. Louis Rams), Super Bowl XLIII appearance (Arizona Cardinals), two-time NFL MVP (1999, 2001), Cardinals’ all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns.
- Tenure: 2005-2009 (5 seasons).
- Peer and Fan Perspective: Warner was hailed for his resurgent career in Arizona and his ability to lead the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl appearance. He was lauded for his exceptional accuracy, clutch performances, and ability to read defenses.
- What Made Him Great: Warner’s inspiring journey from supermarket stocker to NFL MVP epitomizes perseverance and determination. His quick release, pinpoint accuracy, and mastery of the “Greatest Show on Turf” offense made him a dominant force. Warner’s leadership and cool composure in high-pressure situations were instrumental in the Cardinals’ success.
3. Charley Trippi (Running Back/Quarterback):
- Acquisition: Drafted 1st overall in the 1945 NFL Draft.
- Notable Achievements: Two-time NFL champion (1947, 1948), Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee (1968), three-time Pro Bowl selection.
- Tenure: 1947-1955 (9 seasons).
- Peer and Fan Perspective: Trippi was hailed as a versatile and explosive player who excelled in multiple positions. Fans admired his elusiveness, speed, and ability to change direction effortlessly. He was considered one of the most dynamic players of his era.
- What Made Him Great: Trippi’s ability to excel as both a running back and a quarterback made him a unique and valuable asset. His versatility, combined with his exceptional vision and playmaking ability, allowed him to dominate on the field. Trippi’s contributions were integral to the Cardinals’ success in the late 1940s.
4. Aeneas Williams (Cornerback/Safety):
- Acquisition: Traded from the Phoenix Cardinals to the Arizona Cardinals in 1994.
- Notable Achievements: Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee (2014), eight-time Pro Bowl selection, three-time First-team All-Pro, Cardinals’ all-time leader in interceptions.
- Tenure: 1991-2000 (10 seasons).
- Peer and Fan Perspective: Williams was revered for his exceptional coverage skills, intelligence, and leadership qualities. He was widely regarded as one of the best defensive backs of his era and respected for his commitment to the community.
- What Made Him Great: Williams’ combination of speed, agility, and ball-hawking abilities allowed him to excel in coverage. He possessed an uncanny knack for making crucial interceptions and game-changing plays. Williams’ dedication to his craft and his teammates made him a beloved figure among Cardinals fans.
5. Dan Dierdorf (Offensive Tackle):
- Acquisition: Drafted 43rd overall in the 1971 NFL Draft.
- Notable Achievements: Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee (1996), six-time First-team All-Pro, nine-time Pro Bowl selection.
- Tenure: 1971-1983 (13 seasons).
- Peer and Fan Perspective: Dierdorf was respected for his exceptional technique, strength, and durability. His dominance on the offensive line made him one of the most feared tackles of his era. Fans admired his consistency and leadership.
- What Made Him Great: Dierdorf’s combination of size, technique, and football IQ made him a force to be reckoned with. His ability to neutralize elite pass rushers and open up running lanes contributed significantly to the Cardinals’ offensive success. Dierdorf’s impact on the game was widely acknowledged, earning him a place among the all-time greats.
6. Roger Wehrli (Cornerback):
- Acquisition: Drafted 19th overall in the 1969 NFL Draft.
- Notable Achievements: Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee (2007), seven-time Pro Bowl selection, five-time First-team All-Pro.
- Tenure: 1969-1982 (14 seasons).
- Peer and Fan Perspective: Wehrli was highly regarded for his exceptional coverage skills, speed, and agility. His ability to shut down opposing receivers and make clutch interceptions earned him widespread admiration.
- What Made Him Great: Wehrli’s exceptional athleticism, combined with his keen anticipation and technique, made him a dominant force in the secondary. His ability to excel in man-to-man coverage and disrupt passing plays contributed significantly to the Cardinals’ defensive success. Wehrli’s impact on the game was recognized by his peers and fans alike.
7. Pat Tillman (Linebacker/Safety):
- Acquisition: Drafted 226th overall in the 1998 NFL Draft.
- Notable Achievements: Cardinals’ all-time leader in tackles (2000), Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year (1997), Arthur Ashe Courage Award recipient (2003).
- Tenure: 1998-2001 (4 seasons).
- Peer and Fan Perspective: Tillman was revered for his unwavering commitment, toughness, and selflessness. His decision to leave the NFL to serve in the U.S. Army following the September 11 attacks elevated him to an iconic status, earning him immense respect from his peers and fans.
- What Made Him Great: Tillman’s tenacity, physicality, and football instincts made him a standout on the field. His ability to read plays, deliver bone-crushing hits, and inspire his teammates contributed to the Cardinals’ defensive success. Tillman’s sacrifice and dedication continue to inspire generations and make him a cherished figure in Cardinals’ history.
8. Adrian Wilson (Safety):
- Acquisition: Drafted 64th overall in the 2001 NFL Draft.
- Notable Achievements: Five-time Pro Bowl selection, Cardinals’ all-time leader in interceptions returned for touchdowns, three-time Second-team All-Pro.
- Tenure: 2001-2012 (12 seasons).
- Peer and Fan Perspective: Wilson was hailed for his hard-hitting style, versatility, and leadership qualities. He earned immense respect for his ability to cover receivers, blitz the quarterback, and make impact plays.
- What Made Him Great: Wilson’s combination of size, speed, and physicality made him an imposing presence in the secondary. His ability to excel in coverage, disrupt passing plays, and deliver bone-jarring hits made him a game-changer. Wilson’s contributions to the Cardinals’ defense were instrumental in the team’s success during his tenure.
9. David Johnson (Running Back):
- Acquisition: Drafted 86th overall in the 2015 NFL Draft.
- Notable Achievements: First-team All-Pro (2016), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (2016), Cardinals’ all-time leader in yards from scrimmage in a single season (2016).
- Tenure: 2015-2019 (5 seasons).
- Peer and Fan Perspective: Johnson was celebrated for his exceptional blend of speed, power, and versatility. Fans appreciated his ability to break tackles, catch passes out of the backfield, and contribute as a kick returner.
- What Made Him Great: Johnson’s unique combination of size and agility made him a nightmare for opposing defenses. His ability to evade tacklers, make explosive plays, and contribute in the passing game made him a dynamic offensive weapon. Johnson’s breakout season in 2016 solidified his place among the Cardinals’ all-time greats.
10. Jim Hart (Quarterback):
- Acquisition: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 1966.
- Notable Achievements: Two-time Pro Bowl selection, Cardinals’ all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns.
- Tenure: 1966-1983 (18 seasons).
- Peer and Fan Perspective: Hart was respected for his longevity, durability, and leadership qualities. He was known for his strong arm and ability to lead the Cardinals’ offense through multiple eras.
- What Made Him Great: Hart’s ability to consistently deliver accurate passes and lead the Cardinals’ offense for nearly two decades was remarkable. His strong presence in the pocket and ability to read defenses made him a respected figure. Hart’s contributions to the Cardinals’ offense were significant and cemented his status as one of the franchise’s all-time greats.
Conclusion: The Arizona Cardinals’ rich history is replete with remarkable individuals who have left an indelible mark on the franchise. The ten players highlighted in this article – Larry Fitzgerald, Kurt Warner, Charley Trippi, Aeneas Williams, Dan Dierdorf, Roger Wehrli, Pat Tillman, Adrian Wilson, David Johnson, and Jim Hart – stand as testaments to greatness. Their extraordinary talents, accomplishments, and unwavering dedication have not only earned them accolades but also the admiration of fans and the respect of their peers. As we celebrate their contributions, we acknowledge the lasting impact they have made on the Arizona Cardinals and the NFL as a whole. These legends will forever be remembered as icons of the game, etched in the hearts of Cardinals fans for generations to come.