TEMPE, Ariz. – Each week during the season, every NFL team makes a player and the head coach available to the media in the opposing team’s market via conference call. The idea is to help fill stories and air time.
Wednesday was Kevin Kolb’s turn with the often combative, sometimes crass and always colorful Philadelphia media.
The conference call was long – Kolb called it “a doozy” – and that was to be expected since Kolb will be facing his former team for the first time on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium. But when he had finally hung up the phone, he noted to a Cardinals media relations representative in that casual Texas drawl: “I always got along with those guys.”
This isn’t just another week for Kolb. He’s playing the team that traded him in 2011 for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick. He’s playing a team that, regardless of circumstances, decided it didn’t need him.
“Obviously, there is a little bit of added incentive,” Kolb said.
But when Kolb takes the field on Sunday, no matter what reaction he gets from the fickle fan base, there will be a small but knowledgeable group quietly rooting for him to succeed.
Clearly, there are coaches and players in that group – strong safety Adrian Wilson, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and center Lyle Sendlein among them. But if they were ever allowed to admit it, that group would also include reporters – here and in Philadelphia – who talk to Kolb on a daily basis.
Kolb has been roundly criticized in this town – some of it warranted criticism – for his inability to justify that five-year, $63 million extension the team gave him last year. Despite that criticism, despite the constant scrutiny that comes with being a quarterback and despite the intense pressure that comes with playing in the NFL, Kolb has remained the same approachable, analytical and affable guy he was when he first walked through the training complex doors.
“He’s handled the highs and lows of this game with grace – like a professional should,” Sendlein said. “When things didn’t go his way, he wasn’t a distraction in the locker room, and that really showed us a lot about the guy he was.”
In some ways, Kolb is thankful to Philadelphia’s infamous fans for teaching him how to behave and how to react.
“The biggest thing I took was when it’s high there, when things are going good, you can’t buy into it because there is a lot of hype and there are a lot of people following you and everybody’s patting you on the back,” he said. “Then when it’s low, it’s, ‘Good gosh, is the sun going to come up tomorrow?’ “
Kolb has certainly experienced the lows in Arizona. In 2011, he played about half the season, missing the rest with head and foot injuries. When he did play, the lack of an off-season and his newness to the offense hindered any real progress.
This season offered no such excuses. Despite what most perceived as a lock on the starting job, Kolb played poorly in the preseason, throwing three interceptions and acting so jumpy in the pocket that Raiders lineman Tommy Kelly declared: “That boy’s scared” after the teams’ played.
John Skelton was named the starter for the season opener against Seattle, and the Kolb experiment looked like a bust. But Skelton suffered a low-ankle sprain in that game and was carted off the field. Kolb trotted onto the University of Phoenix Stadium field to a chorus of boos, then promptly led the Cardinals on the game-winning TD drive, completing six of eight passes for 68 yards.
If that weren’t redemption enough, Kolb also helped the Cardinals to perhaps the biggest road win since the club moved to Arizona when they defeated the Patriots last weekend, 20-18, handing New England its first loss in a home opener since 2001.
Even with two wins under his belt, Kolb hasn’t been able to escape criticism from some quarters –here, for example– but coach Ken Whisenhunt and others see genuine improvement.
“He’s done what we expected him to do, and that was to come in and play well,” Whisenhunt said.
Eagles coach Andy Reid said it’s important to remember that Kolb still doesn’t have a full season of starts under his belts.
“Listen, it’s hard to move – to move from one spot to another,” Reid said. “You are going to go through some ups and downs. I don’t care who you are. … It’s a new system so that takes a little bit of time.
“I think Kevin is a heck of a quarterback. I had him here, and I know what he’s capable of.”
Kolb said he understands the reasons for the criticism; he even listens when he feels it’s warranted.
“If it’s valid, then I try to work on it, because I probably already know it if it’s valid information,” he said. “But I think, for the most part, people just try to criticize everybody in the world nowadays, so I don’t even pay attention to it and move on with my life.”
Kolb’s performance will always determine his Q score and acceptance in this community. If he fails, he’ll be washed away in a wave of infamy. Pro sports will never work any other way.