Aeneas Williams is the most noteworthy player in the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals era. From 1991 to 2000, the cornerback from Southern University was one of the best at his position in the NFL.
After 10 seasons in Arizona (he only played on one winning team), Williams was traded to the St. Louis Rams, and he finally made it to the Super Bowl with a team located in a city the Cardinals once called home. Williams, a six-time Pro Bowl pick while in Arizona, is now a minister. He was inducted into the Cardinals' Ring of Honor this season.
Williams discussed his career with NFL.com senior writer Steve Wyche and also shared his thoughts about the franchise finally making it to the Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers:
The guys that are currently playing, having the opportunity to experience [the Super Bowl] is a blessing. The organization has done a remarkable job of putting together a cohesive unit in the front office as well as on the field and the coaching staff. Seeing it and being a part of it, seeing the Bidwill family embracing many of the guys that have played in the past and allowing us to be a part of this experience is truly awesome.
Playing the '90s and not winning as many games as we would have liked, I've always attempted to look at the big picture. We may have not won as many games as we wanted, but we still had an opportunity to compete in the best sports league there is. I can go in so many directions as to why we didn't win. I can't nail it down to one or a few things.
My first three years, I played under Joe Bugel. When I first got there, I started, and we won all of our preseason games and our first two regular-season games. We started 6-0, including our preseason games, when I was a rookie. We ended up 4-12. I can say, observing what's been done currently, coach [Ken] Whisenhunt has come from a winning tradition from Pittsburgh. Bugel came from a winning tradition with Washington, but it didn't work. Then Buddy Ryan came over. Then coach [Vince] Tobin came from the Indianapolis Colts. I guess the coaching staffs have been there.
I am glad I stayed and had the opportunity to be a part of the 1998 team that went to the playoffs and beat Dallas. We had good veteran leadership. On some of the other teams, we had good leadership, but this was a little different. When you're losing, when there is a history of losing, the tendency is when difficult times come -- and they do at some point of every season -- there was the tendency to relapse, to always think, "Here we go again." That mental shadow of losing probably plays an enormous part into being able to get over that hump. You may experience tough times during the season, but are you able to separate the current season from history?
That's where I would say, for this year's team, that it's a tremendous blessing to be able to get the team focused again after winning the division and having a loss of focus. I have to give coach Whisenhunt and his staff a tremendous amount of credit for being able to get those guys to believe and get back to work on the practice field and getting them refocused. He got them to believe that there's the possibility of reaching a greater goal. I'm quite sure he did that by communicating to those guys to change their practice habits, get more tenacious in practice. In some way, he told them winning the division is nice, but why stop there when there's a possibility to win the Super Bowl?
The other thing I've noticed in the postseason, and it's what coach Tobin did when we upset Dallas in 1998, he made some adjustments, especially with the offense. The offense did a tremendous job of being a lot more balanced. The other thing that showed me a tremendous sign of coach Whisenhunt's maturity was how he handled Edgerrin James. Edgerrin went public with his displeasure as far as playing time. Coach Whisenhunt didn't take it personal and started playing Edgerrin more. He actually listened to him. I believe that's a huge part of why they've had some success in the postseason.
It's special what the team has morphed into offensively. It's become balanced. I believe they've surprised a number of teams because they committed to running the ball. That will create one-on-one matchups on the outside. I attempt to observe how teams mature, particularly at the coach position, and I can identify key things. Coach Whisenhunt and his staff have handled potential backbreakers like Edgerrin James, schematic things. They really have their finger on the pulse of things.
I know Anquan Boldin may not have understood why the coaches didn't have him in the game on the winning drive (in the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles, leading to a sideline confrontation with offensive coordinator Todd Haley), but I think it might turn out to be a blessing. He didn't further aggravate that hamstring, and he should be 100 percent for the Super Bowl. Anquan probably will have his number called and called a lot, and he will have the ability to respond.
I have been able to see an organization, an entire organization, mature during this season.
More from Steve Wyche
As far as me not getting a chance at the Super Bowl until I played for the Rams, it's not that I toiled with Arizona. I view it as an opportunity that Arizona had given each of us. Having the opportunity to experience more victories with the Rams, the experience of joy and exhilaration of playing in the Super Bowl, has a lot to do with the individual person because, collectively, you can't always control the outcome of games.
I found out success has a lot to do with the individual being able to pull and extract his best potential. If a team is able to get enough guys doing that, then, collectively, you're able to have a successful season.
The Bidwill family has done a good job of reaching back to a number of former players. The Cardinals' organization, because there haven't been a lot of wins, there were a lot of players who didn't get a lot of recognition that they deserve.
The current players, they may not know a thing about the history. What the Cardinals have done is put big pictures all over the stadium, strategically and purposely presented. There are even old articles around the stadium suite area. They've made sure that the legacy lives on. These guys might not understand it now, but they'll be a part of history.
This is their time.