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"Well, it is a little too glittery," Bugel says of the Phoenix area, "but the advantage is that 99 percent of our players live there in the off-season, so we can do a lot of things together that other teams can't."
For example, almost 95% of the Cardinals defensive players participated in new coordinator Fritz Shurmur's intensive off-season training program, and the defense, which last year ranked 18th overall and 26th against the rush, has improved markedly. The Cards have allowed only three touchdown drives in eight quarters this year, one of which was a six-yarder by the Eagles following an interception.
So far, the Phoenix players say, Bugel has done a good job of creating team unity and fervor for playing in a division in which the Dallas Cowboys are the only other team not located on the Eastern Seaboard. "Even though we're far away," said special teams standout Ron Wolfley on Sunday, "he's talked about us and the division so much we can't help but play like a true NFC East team."
How's that? "There's a certain blue-collarness to the division, a wham-bam, crunching, dirty-uniform kind of football," said Wolfley. "Even though we're in a resort-type town, we don't forget the mystique of playing in the NFC East. Like today, riding here on the bus. What atmosphere: the shipyard, the oil tanks. It's a football town. And we won in it. I love it."
If this is all beginning to sound corny, check this out. Bugel pals around with Bidwill, putting his arm around him when Bidwill walks onto the practice field. "I'm a damn company man," Bugel says, "and I want my players to know it." And Shurmur, a 17-year veteran of NFL coaching who was fired as defensive coordinator of the L.A. Rams after last season, says, "I've never had as much fun in coaching as I'm having this year."
And it's young, eager guys like Harvey who are providing most of the fun. In a division that is traditionally chock-full of talented defensive players, Harvey fits right in. His play has a Lawrence Taylor look; he roams the field with abandon, smashing into offensive tackles or eluding them with equal skill to stop the run. Although he weighs only 230 pounds, Harvey was Cal's alltime champ in the bench press among linebackers. Last summer, he and his wife, Janice, lost their first child to sudden infant death syndrome. "I play every game for my wife and my sons," says Harvey, now the father of two-month-old Anthony Ray.
Shurmur moved Nunn from end to outside linebacker, his original pro position, to pair him with Harvey and give Phoenix a stereo pass rush. "When we're both standing up on opposite sides," Harvey says, "people don't know who's coming."
For a while the opposition didn't know who would be at quarterback, either. After promising third-year starter Timm Rosenbach went down with a season-ending knee injury in practice on Aug. 21, the Cards got calls from more than a dozen teams wanting to deal them a quarterback. But Bugel the company man stayed with Tupa, whom Phoenix had drafted out of Ohio State in 1988 as much for his punting skills as for his passing ability. Having thrown only 140 passes—he's punted six times—in his three previous NFL seasons, Tupa still must learn how to release the ball sooner and how to look off covered receivers quicker.
In his first NFL start, against the Rams two weeks ago, Tupa ran for one touchdown and passed for another as the Cardinals won 24-14. To the delight of Shurmur, the Phoenix defense took a lot of pressure off Tupa by gathering in seven L.A. turnovers. Even though he completed only six of 19 passes against Philadelphia, Tupa gave the Cards a lift by connecting on three passes of longer than 50 yards in the first half, when he piled up 202 of his 218 passing yards.
As much as the Phoenix picture remains bright despite the loss of Rosenbach, Philly's future looks dim without its regular quarterback. As the Eagles prepared for their first game after losing Randall Cunningham for the year to a knee injury, they appeared loose and confident. In the locker room after the workout, new backup quarterback Pat Ryan was in a hurry to leave and dressed without showering. Bad move, Pat. Some other Eagles started mooing and snorting and humming the theme from Rawhide, and White pulled out a whip and snapped it on the floor near Ryan.