For a long time, two things felt as if they would always exist among Arizona Cardinals’ fans:
They would spend part of their summer in the cool pines of Flagstaff watching training camp, where hope springs eternal. Somewhere in the Big Red defensive backfield, Adrian Wilson was lurking, ready to pounce.
Neither of those long-standing certainties remain.
One is sad, but inevitable. After 181 games, 12 years, five Pro Bowls and one incredible run for the Big Red, Adrian Wilson was released on Friday. At age 34 and with skills and speed needed to deliver those ferocious hits fading, Wilson leaves with the respect and admiration of his organization and fans fully intact. The Ring of Honor at University of Phoenix Stadium awaits “A-Dub” but not before the uncomfortable vision of Wilson wearing another uniform in the twilight of his career.
The move makes sense for the Cardinals and was handled well. It’s what good organizations do. Save cap space, bring in the next generation and don’t wait a year too long. Stay classy and move on.
Moving from Flagstaff to Glendale for training camp? A total 180-degree move in the other direction.
Training camp in Flagstaff has always been one of the best things about having an NFL team in town. It really made the team feel like the “Arizona” Cardinals, with a true state-wide kinship. The Suns made the same mistake when they left both Flagstaff and Tucson for the cliffs of San Diego to train: More convenient for the owner, less so for everyone else.
I understand that life at Northern Arizona University hasn’t always been ideal. For some reason, the NAU leadership always seemed to take the Cardinals for granted: They asked the team to pardon their dust during stadium renovations, move over to this dorm so they could rent the better ones to other groups and shrugged their shoulders when the Big Red expected a salute.
Weather was a concern. The turf was a concern. Players running free on weekend nights in downtown Flagstaff was a concern.
When you come right down to it, the Cardinals have a right to practice anywhere they want. About half the teams in the league now practice in home cities or at its training facility. It’s a trend.
But don’t sell it with half-baked reasoning.
Don’t sell it by saying this move was done with fans in mind. There are so few places in the NFL where you can park a lawn chair under a pine tree, open your Igloo for a cool drink and watch your team go through its paces amid the incredible mountains and rolling clouds of Flagstaff. Access to the players was incredible and the fans knew they were experiencing something special.
You’re not going to get that in Glendale, whether the venue is inside an inflated bubble or in the antiseptic confines of the University of Phoenix Stadium. Ambiance be damned. Arizona State had a legitimate reason for leaving Payson — beautiful as Camp Tontozona is — because there just isn’t enough room. The Cardinals are leaving because they can.
Please don’t sell this as necessary due to economics. It was recently reported that the Carolina Panthers made $122 million in profits last season, and the Panthers have a much older stadium and a much smaller market. The Cardinals could afford to build a practice bubble on Mars if they wanted to.
Please don’t sell this on the economic impact this will have on the city of Glendale. It’s 115 degrees in the Valley during training camp. The monsoons will make afternoon practices an adventure. Fans will get in their air-conditioned cars that have been baking in the parking lot and leave for their air-conditioned homes and pools. Y’all come back now, ya hear?
The Cardinals should be commended for showing a heart and head with the end of Adrian Wilson’s career in Arizona. I hope they use both again in the next decision.
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.