Marcel Shipp has always been quiet. So he said little over the years when he thought he had a chance to be the Cardinals’ starting running back, only to have it undercut by a parade of newcomers, from Emmitt Smith to J.J. Arrington to Edgerrin James.
Viewing the silence as acceptance, however, would be a mistake.
“Don’t get it confused,” Shipp said with a smile.
Sunday’s three-touchdown day in St. Louis brought Shipp out of virtual hibernation. His career has come full circle, from an undrafted rookie free agent who made the roster on special teams to a starting back — albeit briefly — to a special teamer again.
It isn’t the career path Shipp had planned on, but he is realistic about such things in the NFL.
“Everyone wants to be the man,” Shipp said, “but everyone can’t be the man.”
Shipp, in the final year of a four-year contract extension that paid him $1.43 million a season, will be a free agent in March. The Cardinals will not re-sign him before he hits the open market, and he will have a chance to find a team that will be more willing to give him work at running back.
Not that Shipp is complaining, emphasizing he understands his role in Arizona.
But while coach Dennis Green said Shipp has lived the “American dream” given Shipp’s meager beginning, Shipp’s dreams exceed what he has done of late for the Cards.
“I think on some level he knows things haven’t gone the way they probably should have gone,” said veteran fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, whose locker resides next to Shipp’s. “He’s probably earned more than he has received.
“But he is still here, he is still playing, and I think his desire to show his worth and true value is what fuels him.”
Shipp had just three carries this season prior to the Cards going to St. Louis. Then he suddenly became the featured back inside the 10-yard line instead of James.
He got seven carries, rushing for 21 yards and three touchdowns.
He had a chance at a fourth, but he was stuffed twice at the Rams’ 1-yard line early in the game.
The touchdowns, amazingly, were Shipp’s first since Dec. 15, 2002.
That game was also in St. Louis, at a point when Shipp had won the No. 1 running back role from Thomas Jones.
Then, in the offseason and shortly after Shipp got his contract extension, the Cards signed Smith, who was handed the starting job.
Shipp outplayed Smith that season, but Smith was given the starting job again in 2004. In 2005, with Smith gone, the team drafted Arrington. Then the Cards signed James before this season.
Shipp absorbed all the blows, understanding his chance to start for the Cards had long since departed.
The three-touchdown day, given his free-agent status at the end of the season, was likely his final hurrah as a Cardinal.
“It was good to show people I am still here and I can still play the game,” Shipp said. “It just felt good to feel like part of the offense again.”
His career was almost over in 2004.
He dislocated his ankle and broke his leg in a gruesome injury during the team’s intrasquad scrimmage the first week of training camp.
Shipp acknowledges he doubted himself for a long time that he could even come back.
But he doesn’t doubt himself or his abilities anymore.
He said he still thinks he can be a starting back in the NFL, even if he hasn’t been willing to say his time in Arizona has been a little unfair.
“I can’t say I haven’t thought that,” Shipp said.
“But you’ve just got to play the cards you are dealt.
“It’s a team sport. And there is a role I have to fulfill.”