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4 ARIZONA CARDINALS

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 (Ill.)
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.

The running game is deceptive. LeShon Johnson, now a backup,
broke loose for 214 yards against New Orleans, but Arizona also
had five sub-60-yard rushing games. The defense isn't good
enough to keep the team out of shoot-outs, which is why Graham
figures so heavily. Big man, big arm, small paycheck.

"If I prove myself," he says, "the big money will come."

--P.Z.

COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON Rob Moore, who had 58 receptions and averaged 17.5 yards per catch last year, is the Cardinal who is most capable of stretching a defense.

BY THE NUMBERS

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)

Bad Run of Cards

The Cardinals have not won a playoff game since 1947--the year
the franchise, then in Chicago, last won the NFL championship.
In the four major North American professional team sports,
that's the longest current streak without a postseason victory.

Longest Current Streaks Without Winning a Postseason Game

League Team Date of last win Drought

NFL Arizona Cardinals Dec. 28, 1947 49 years
The Chicago Cardinals defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 28-21 in
the NFL title game.

MLB Montreal Expos Oct. 16, 1981 15 years
The Expos beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the National
League Championship Series.

NBA Washington Bullets May 4, 1988 9 years
The Bullets won Game 4 of an opening-round playoff series
against the Detroit Pistons.

NHL Carolina Hurricanes April 29, 1992 5 years
As the Hartford Whalers, the franchise won Game 6 of a
first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens.

SCHEDULE SKINNY

October and November will be the cruelest months for the
Cardinals, when five intradivision games are crowded into six
weeks. Two are at home, against the Giants and the Eagles, and
three are on the road, against the Giants and the Eagles again,
plus the Cowboys. Arizona is 6-24 against those three teams in
the past five seasons.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
NFL rank: 25 (tie)
Opponents' 1996 winning percentage: .473
Games against playoff teams: 6

The Lineup With 1996 Statistics

Coach: Vince Tobin

Offensive Backs

QB Kent Graham 274 att. 146 comp. 53.3% 1,624 yds.
12 TDs 7 int. 75.1 rtg.
RB Leeland McElroy 89 att. 305 yds. 3.4 avg. 5 rec. 41 yds.
8.2 avg. 2 TDs
FB Larry Centers 116 att. 425 yds. 3.7 avg. 99 rec. 766 yds.
7.7 avg. 9 TDs

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

WR Rob Moore 58 rec. 1,016 yds. 4 TDs
WR Frank Sanders 69 rec. 813 yds. 4 TDs
WR Anthony Edwards 29 rec. 311 yds. 1 TD
TE Pat Carter 26 rec. 329 yds. 1 TD
PK Kevin Butler 17/19 PATs 14/17 FGs 59 pts.
KR Kevin Williams[*] 21 ret. 22.4 avg. 0 TDs
PR Kevin Williams[*] 2 ret. 8.5 avg. 0 TDs
LT Lomas Brown 6'4" 275 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Rob Selby 6'3" 286 lbs. 13 games 5 starts
C Mike Devlin 6'2" 300 lbs. 11 games 11 starts
RG Anthony Redmon 6'4" 308 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT James Dexter 6'5" 300 lbs. 6 games 1 start

Defense

LE Michael Bankston 79 tackles 1/2 sack
LT Eric Swann 81 tackles 5 sacks
RT Bernard Wilson 56 tackles 1 sack
RE Simeon Rice 52 tackles 12 1/2 sacks
OLB Jamir Miller 92 tackles 1 sack
MLB Eric Hill 131 tackles 0 int.
OLB Ronald McKinnon 13 tackles 0 sacks
CB Aeneas Williams 77 tackles 6 int.
SS Matt Darby 88 tackles 0 int.
FS Brent Alexander 81 tackles 2 int.
CB Tom Knight (R)[*] 53 tackles 4 int.
P Jeff Feagles 76 punts 43.8

[*]New acquisition
Rookie statistics for final college year