Anquan Boldin never flinched.
Not when the Cardinals drafted Larry Fitzgerald with the third pick of the 2004 draft, seemingly making Boldin the "other receiver."
Not when he suffered a major knee injury that forced him to miss most of training camp and the first six games of the 2004 season.
Not when the Cardinals’ offensive system didn’t best utilize his talents and a long-promised contract extension was closer to myth than reality.
"There were a lot of questions about everything," Boldin said.
Boldin didn’t have the answers. But he wasn’t about to let it tie him in knots.
By last season, Boldin’s "Q81" Foundation was in place, dedicated to helping children in need both in the Valley and in Boldin’s home state of Florida.
His problems paled in comparison to theirs.
Besides, he never believed his own issues wouldn’t be worked out.
When training camp started, the Cardinals gave him a new $23.5 million contract, including $10 million in bonuses. His knee was finally 100 percent. Offensive coordinator Keith Rowen’s schemes used Boldin’s talents correctly. And he has a symbiotic relationship with Fitzgerald, with each putting up Pro Bowl numbers so far.
These days, life is practically perfect.
"I guess I take the approach that everything that happened," Boldin said, "was supposed to happen."
In a scene between agent Jerry Maguire and his client, Cardinals receiver Rod Tidwell, during the movie "Jerry Maguire," Maguire wants to know the meaning of Tidwell’s concept of "Quan."
"It means love," Tidwell says. "Respect. Community. And the dollars too. The entire package. The . . . Quan."
The Quan may have just been a concept to screenwriter Cameron Crowe. But the real Quan — one of Boldin’s nicknames — is also the entire package.
Q81 Foundation vice president Bobby Thompson was introduced to Boldin, a Florida State product, by another former FSU star and Cardinals player, Andre Wadsworth. Wadsworth asked Thompson to ease Boldin’s transition to Arizona. Eventually, Boldin told Thompson he wanted to be involved in the community, and Boldin’s foundation was born.
Boldin has held free football clinics, donated money to the struggling Glendale Independence High School football program and worked with the West Valley Child Crisis Center.
"I have always loved kids, point blank," Boldin said. "I think I take after my mom, because my mom thinks she can save the world. It’s a passion of mine, especially helping younger kids."
A product of poor, rural Florida, Boldin understands how bleak outlooks are born. He strives to change that for the underprivileged children with whom he works both in the Valley and in Florida.
"It has to be more than a check," Boldin said. "Don’t get me wrong, money goes a long way in helping people out. But I think when you spend the time and show people you care, that means more."
The three-person operation — Boldin, Thompson and director Alicia Burgmeier — officially got started a year ago September, right when Boldin was in the middle of rehabilitating his knee.
At the time, that and the recent birth of son Anquan Jr. may have been the most positive parts of his life.
Boldin grew frustrated with both the team’s losses last season and his inability to play at his best. He acknowledged he was never 100 percent healthy in 2004, and it showed, as did the Cardinals’ lack of creativity in using him. The contract talks lingered into the offseason.
But even if the contract had not been extended, Boldin insists he would have played hard this season. And he never once thought he wouldn’t be in Arizona.
"Not to sound arrogant, the way I play football, it’s kind of hard for me to think a team would get rid of me," Boldin said. "It’s probably just me being naive."
Not really. The Cardinals were never going to give up their Quan.
"Anquan was the guy who actually reflected what we wanted to be as a team," Cardinals vice president of football operations Rod Graves said. "Even after the injury, while we were concerned if he’d be able to come back with the same ability, we knew he’d come back with the same competitiveness.
"We committed to have him be the face of our team. He’s done everything to prove us correct."
THE OLD BOLDIN
LeRon McCoy was a seventh-round pick out of a small college, a long shot to make the team.
The receiver did, however, making impressive strides from when he first showed up. The coaches helped, McCoy said, but "the change in my game I owe to Anquan."
"The surprising thing is that he is young," said McCoy, who at 23 is less than two years younger than Boldin. "I expected to run into a guy who could help me out, but I didn’t expect him to be in his third year in the league."
Boldin doesn’t need his foundation in order to help people. He can do it on the field, dispensing advice and staying after practice during the week for any fellow wideout who needs it.
On Sundays, the Cardinals also smartened up about how they use Boldin.
When Rowen took over and saw how former offensive coordinator Jerry Sullivan used Boldin as a rookie, especially with routes in the middle of the field, Boldin "jumped off the film."
For Rowen, Boldin is a "hybrid," and the way Rowen uses him echoes that. Boldin often goes in motion. He finds himself all over the place, including the backfield — the starting point for all three of Boldin’s highlight-worthy, multiple-broken-tackle touchdown catches this season.
Boldin has regained his old form, with the production that earned him a Pro Bowl selection in 2003.
"I don’t think you can pay a player like Anquan enough money, the way he affects the game, the kind of pro he is in the locker room," said backup quarterback Josh McCown, one of Boldin’s closest friends on the team. "I guarantee you right now, Anquan is glad about what happened and the Cardinals are happy they got the situation ironed out."
The team even shrugs off the knee injury he had earlier this season, a bone bruise that at first put a scare into the organization, given Boldin’s past problems.
"He will always come back," coach Dennis Green said. "He’s a guy you can never keep down."
Boldin has too much to do to be down.
Thompson said Boldin has "only touched the tip of the iceberg with his growth," and while turning the Cardinals into winners is at the top of the to-do list, he’s considering other things, like eventually making the Q81 Foundation reach beyond the borders of Arizona and Florida.
"I know who I am and where I am right now," Boldin said. "It’s not just for me to be in the NFL or for me to be successful.
"Honestly, I think God put me in this position to touch other people’s lives and have a positive impact. I don’t take it for granted."