It’s taken this long, more than a week now, and I still don’t understand the wild support and craziness that has sprouted around the new Cardinals quarterback, rookie Max Hall. Undrafted Max Hall. The one who signed on for $5,000.
You look what he did in his first start against the Saints on October 10 and most sane observers would conclude Hall did not have a very good game. Certainly nothing to build a dream on. And looking at his performance — two fumbles, a pass interception, sacked four times and a low QB rating — you would assume the Cardinals lost. Lost by two or three touchdowns. You would never have guessed the truth, that the Cardinals beat the defending Super Bowl champion Saints by 10 points, 30 to 20. Not that Hall had much to do with it.
And yet this isolated desert town went nuts over Max. Not nuts over the defense which bent and didn’t break. Not nuts over special teams that gave the Cardinals good field position all afternoon and pushed the Saints back and back and practically out of University of Phoenix Stadium.
Forgotten too by Cardinals fans was Hall’s inability to move the offense during the fourth quarter with the game on the line. The last three series were three downs and punt every time. The Cardinals needed to chew time off the clock and didn’t. And the Saints didn’t blitz the rookie that much, more interested in wrecking the running game which they did.
The Saints bet the works that Max Hall could not beat them. And of course he didn’t, even though NFL.com said he “led the Cardinals to victory.” Hall’s offense put up only nine of those 30 points. You can’t really count Hall’s fumble at the 2-yard line, the one recovered by tackle Levi Brown and taken into the end zone. Brown did not block or even touch anyone on the play, slow to react that Hall was going to scramble, just standing around and the ball literally fell into his mitts. And the whole sequence a gift of an ill-advised short pass into a crowd by Drew Brees, throwing from his end zone.
Yet on Monday morning, the headlines called the victory a “Maximum” effort playing of course on the first syllable. Max Hall was the lead in the game story, and columnist Dan Bickley, who had been maniacal in promoting Hall on his radio show as the starter over Derek Anderson for weeks, gave the new starter passing marks though less enthusiastic than before. And many fans went giddy on their azcentral online posts. So what did I miss?
Apparently I missed the nebulous stuff. The most prominent of this dream world enthusiasm was this. “The team seems to play better when he’s in there.” Hall’s uncle, Danny White, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, echoed that thought. Some players, he said, just have that ability “to make everyone around them play better.” Went unsaid was that perhaps some players live charmed lives and that good luck is not a bad thing to have on your side in lieu of eye-popping talent.
I also missed something else. I missed how much Cardinals fans hated Anderson. For many DA was actually DOA. The villification of Derek Anderson began when he was promoted ahead of Matt Leinart, the Glamorous One and assumed quarterback of the future. Leinart’s eventual release before regular season, infuriated many, and then when Anderson lived down to his reputation of low accuracy passing, others piled on. The rise of Max Hall, in essence, was due to an utter rejection of DA. Anything would look good after DA. That was the general mood.
I will withhold judgment on Hall for a while longer. Only a fool would say with any certainty that this 25-year-old rookie is not the next Drew Brees in a Hall-oween mask. That despite an average arm, small size and the snub of NFL scouts, Hall can not be another roll-out marvel, a whiz that will lead the Cardinals to the playoffs again.
The real trial begins this week in a noisy Seattle stadium. The Max Hall debut is now on film and opponents can begin dissecting his play and see if he’s for real. Or just a Cardinals bubble.