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4 ARIZONA Cardinals
Paul Zimmerman
September 01, 1997
The last time a homegrown quarterback was drafted by and started for the Cardinals was early in 1992, when Timm Rosenbach got the call. Since then the position has been a revolving door—Chris Chandler, Steve Beuerlein, Dave Krieg, Boomer Esiason, a procession of recycled signal-callers. High hopes, followed by same old, same old.
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September 01, 1997

4 Arizona Cardinals

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1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1996 Record:7-9 (fourth in NFC East)

Rushing

Passing

Total

OFFENSE

93.9(25)

230.5(6)

324.4(13)

DEFENSE

116.4(21)

218.7(21)

335.1(21)

The last time a homegrown quarterback was drafted by and started for the Cardinals was early in 1992, when Timm Rosenbach got the call. Since then the position has been a revolving door—Chris Chandler, Steve Beuerlein, Dave Krieg, Boomer Esiason, a procession of recycled signal-callers. High hopes, followed by same old, same old.

Thus the state of Arizona was in a frenzy when the Cardinals made Jake (the Snake) Plummer of Arizona State their second-round choice last spring. A light at the end of the tunnel at last.

Not so fast. The kid will be brought along, but first there's the matter of winning games—right now. Free agency has made everyone impatient, and coach Vince Tobin, working on the second season of a five-year contract, says, "I'm not interested in building for the future. This is a win-now league. If you say the future, you'll always be in the future."

Which is why 28-year-old Kent Graham will start the season as the Cardinals' quarterback, with practically the whole state rooting for something bad to happen so that Jake the Snake gets a chance.

It's nothing new for Graham, who's been an underdog his whole college and professional career. One of the top quarterback prospects in the country when he came out of Wheaton (III.) North High, the big, strong kid had a cannon for an arm. But he was Tony Rice's backup at Notre Dame, and then he played behind Greg Frey at Ohio State until he beat Frey out as a senior. In 1994 he lost a preseason shoot-out to Dave Brown for the Giants' starting job, then was a backup to Scott Mitchell in Detroit and to Boomer Esiason last year in Arizona until he took over in the fourth game. Even then, he lost the job five games later when he hurt his knee. How much of this could he take?

"I never lost faith in myself," Graham says. "I figured if I kept working, kept improving, my shot would come." He is a pleasant guy, and huge (6'5", 246 pounds), with one of the lowest salaries of any NFL regular starting quarterback: $650,000.

He has had his supporters through the years. There were those around New York who felt that his tight spirals would be just the thing for cutting through the nasty winds at Giants Stadium, but the club had committed $4.6 million to Brown. No contest.

Graham has worked on his delivery, cutting down the velocity and adding touch when he's had to, and that's what Tobin says he likes about him. "He's got all the immeasurables, including touch," the coach says. "There's an awful lot of upside there. His problem is, he just hasn't played that much. What's he started, 22 games since high school? This is the first time since then that he went into training camp as the No. 1 quarterback."

And what is Tobin's evaluation of Plummer? Guarded but still leaving the door open. "He looked good in minicamp," he says. "There was an excellent presence about him, he threw the ball well. But nothing was live, and it's easy to go to the second and third receiver when the bullets aren't flying."

When the Cardinals were clicking last year, it was usually because they were putting up big numbers through the air. Esiason hit the Redskins for 522 yards, three touchdowns and a victory in overtime. When Graham produced three wins in a five-game stretch, he had days like his 366-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Rams. That's what Tobin remembers.

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