The Fourth of July is upon us. This time of year fills me with an uneasiness that's hard to describe. I love this country and enjoy the festivities of the Fourth like all true Americans, but while fire fills the night skies over our country and gunpowder drifts across our land, my heart begins to palpitate, my chest gets heavy and the hair on the back of my neck tingles: Football is coming.
Our nation's birthday has always been the harbinger of football and future events for me and my family. There was a period of my life where I didn't look forward to the fireworks, picnics, parades, barbecues, concerts in the park and such other Fourth of July fare. And it had everything to do with playing in the National Football League. More specifically, it had everything to do with playing in the National Football League when I knew I shouldn't be playing in the National Football League.
July 4th heralded the beginning of woes for me; it meant I would be going to camp within days. I had to make the team every year I played and making the team meant playing in every practice at game tempo. Training camp was not a game; it was brutal, especially my rookie year.
On the Fourth of July in 1985 I remember going to watch fireworks with my family at the high school football field I had played so many games on. My mind was a million miles away from my family, Orchard Park, New York and our nation's Declaration of Independence. Every smile was forged, every eww and ahh sounded more like moans and every explosion was an omen of doom, a metaphor for what was about to happen to me, my family and my career.
I was leaving the next day for St. Louis, Missouri and training camp in Charleston, Illinois. I had been drafted by the Cardinals in the fourth round that April and had no idea how I was going to support my family if the NFL was not what King and Creator had planned for me.
I went home, picked up the phone and called my older brother Craig, seeking advice like I had so many times before. Craig had been in the league for five years, playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, starting as a rookie. I knew if there was anybody that would be able to pass along some words of wisdom on the eve of such an undertaking, it would be my hero.
Though the years have passed and technology mocks this sentence, I can still hear his solemn words through our telephone -- holding the receiver in my right-hand and wrapping the cord around my fingers with my left.
"Ronnie," he said, "shut your mouth, respect everyone…and pick a fight with the toughest guy on the team."
That may have been the best advice I ever received when it comes to playing football. I made the team that year and did indeed have a career. But because of that night and every other Fourth of July since, fireworks have always been synonymous with football.
Recently, 27 years after that fateful phone conversation with Craig, I had the honor of saying the same thing to the Arizona Cardinals rookies -- with one alteration. I told them to shut their mouths, respect everybody…and be a pro -- which means fighting anything or anybody that keeps you from doing your job to the best of your God-given ability. And I told them to be prepared to do it every day.
I altered what my brother Craig told me because if they tried that here in Arizona they were going to get their face kicked in. Adrian Wilson don't play…
But I wonder how many of these young men will heed those words? I wonder if they feel the same beating in their chest as I did back in 1985? I wonder how Flagstaff will go for them? I wonder how many of them will have careers in the NFL? I wonder if a future hall of fame player was sitting in that room?
And of course, I wonder what Michael Floyd, Jamell Fleming, Bobby Massie and company might have planned for the Fourth? The Cardinals need their rookies -- these three rookies in particular -- to contribute the way Patrick Peterson, Sam Acho and David Carter contributed last year.
After all, the fireworks are here, football is near and it's time for them to make their own declaration.