Jake Plummer, the Cowboys and a 50-Year Legacy
Note: This article was originally published in May after the NFL schedule release and AllCardinals has decided to rerun it as the Arizona Cardinals face the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football at 5:15 p.m. local time.
The Arizona Cardinals are making a return to Monday Night Football for the first time since 2017. The game carries more weight than what appears to be on the surface.
Not only will the Cardinals be reunited with the early week slot, but the franchise will also face the exact same team it lost to during its last Monday prime-time stint: The Dallas Cowboys. Slated as a Week 6 matchup, Arizona's second-year quarterback Kyler Murray returns to his Texas roots seeking an addition to his 43-0, undefeated Allen High legacy that also featured three consecutive state championships.
Those are not the only implications this game carries, though.
In 2017, the Cowboys cruised past the Cardinals 28-17. In fact, history has not been kind to Arizona when it plays on Monday night, as it boasts a 5-9 record since relocating to the desert. Yet, the trajectory is seemingly trending upward, as the team has come out victorious in three of their last four appearances dating back to 2014. Save for the Cowboys.
Dallas comfortably has the all-time series edge over Arizona at 56-32-1. Yet, since one fruitful playoff game in January of 1999, the Cardinals have kept pace. In the 15 head-to-head contests between the two sides since that NFC wild-card game, Arizona is 8-7.
And while it may have been just another playoff loss for the Cowboys, Arizona's 20-7 victory in 1999 was momentous for the lovingly-labeled "Cardiac Cards" — who had eight of their 16 regular-season games decided by three points or less; winning seven of them — and who were led by their $29 million quarterback Jake Plummer.
"Super Bowl championships are huge, but that win against Dallas in '98 was damn near like a Super Bowl for that organization," Plummer told SI.com's AllCardinals.
After all, it was a win that was 52 years in the making. The Cardinals had not even qualified for an NFC playoff berth since 1982. Their last postseason victory had not occurred since 1947 when the franchise won the league championship ... as the Chicago Cardinals. It was the longest active drought in professional sports history at the time.
On Jan. 2, 1999, the Cardiac Cards strayed away from their motto, storming out to a 20-0 lead over the overwhelming favorite Cowboys by the fourth quarter before finally conceding a touchdown late. At that point, it did not matter.
Dallas had defeated Arizona 38-10 and 35-28 in the regular season. Yet, on that fateful Saturday night, the Cardinals could do no wrong.
Plummer, who was in the midst of his most statistically successful season to that point after having recently inked a four-year, $29 million contract extension, completed 19 of 36 passes for 213 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. It was a win that still resonates with him 21 years later.
"I have to say that team in '98, me and all those guys, we put it down for that organization," Plummer said. "And (all) the seasons weren't great and the times were tough. We lost a lot of games, but we have something to be real proud of. We won the first playoff game in 50 years for that organization in the time when they needed it the most."
Although the winds of success were short-lived — the Cardinals lost to the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs — Plummer and the Cardinals had bestowed a feeling on the Arizona community (and its fans in Chicago and St. Louis before their respective relocations) that most had not experienced in a lifetime.
Knocking off the NFC East champion Cowboys in a wild-card game after a drought of that magnitude and simultaneously being given virtually no shot at doing so was a moment that the fan base would not soon forget.
It is a legacy that lives on to this day.
"Coming home after that game was super special," Plummer said. "The lead-up to the playoffs to get to that was just unbelievable. When we went to Dallas, no one really gave us a chance. We beat them and that dynasty was done after that. So, coming back on that plane, the celebration on that plane was awesome and when we pulled in to Sky Harbor (International Airport) and they said, 'Look out your window, check it out.' We all looked out the window and there were 8,000 fans on the tarmac. We got out of that plane and they were just going crazy.
"So, that was a really special moment. Some athletes, they never get to experience anything even close to that. They might be even on a team that does more than that, but not in the style that we did it. My mom says all the time, 'God, you guys just gave me so many gray hairs.' We were fun to watch. We were exciting, but we were unpredictable and that was pretty special in the Valley. It's still really talked about quite a bit. And I was just glad to have awesome teammates that believed in me and let me be their leader and really work their asses off to make something special happen."
Plummer tumultuously navigated the side-winding road of his NFL career following that season. A downturn in production in 1999 was followed up by his most statistically impressive year with the Cardinals in 2001 before he departed Arizona after a decade and signed with the Denver Broncos as a free agent in 2003.
The tests, trials and tribulations taught him a lot. And while it was difficult at times, he had a confidence and belief in himself, as well as the seal of approval from his teammates behind him.
"The struggles going 3-13, letting go of really foundational players after that '98 season that was so special, that was really hard because all of a sudden I'm making all this money, yet I've just lost 35-plus years of NFL experience because we didn't want to pay them more," Plummer said. "We didn't want to try to keep them on the squad. And that was tough ... These guys are like All-Pro, phenomenal football players. You can't tell me you're bringing in a rookie to replace somebody like those guys.
"It was definitely a challenge. But mentally, I just believed in myself, I kept trying to motivate my guys. I figured through hard work and through perseverance and believing in each other that hopefully someday that would change and the winds would start coming. It never happened much after '98 there for those next four years, but I still put my heart and soul into that organization."
Now, Murray has the chance to pave his own legacy in 2020. A much-anticipated return to Texas is coupled with Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury's own homecoming after heading the Texas Tech program in his previous stint.
Kingsbury believes his second-year gunslinger will rise to the challenge.
"Kyler will be fired up, that's for sure," Kingsbury said on Monday. "He's won some state championships there and I don't know if he's ever lost in that building. So, I know he'll be really excited. Whether it was a Texas state high school championship or a Big-12 championship, and so hopefully it'll bring some more of that mojo into that stadium. But anytime you get to play in that stadium, Dallas Cowboys, Monday night, it's going to be a lot of fun.”
The Cardinals will be looking to avenge their 2017 Monday prime-time woes and continue their relatively successful streak against the Cowboys. It is certainly doable. Arizona had a four-game winning streak against the Cowboys from 2008-2014 leading up to the last loss. With a retooled roster and growing confidence around the franchise, it might just shock some people this year.
Maybe Week 6 against Dallas becomes an homage. A throwback testament to 1999.
"I don't know how to win easy and the teams I'm on usually are scrapping to come from behind," Plummer said. "We had some amazing games that really left an indelible impression on that whole community."
Plummer is now the co-founder of Ready List Sports, a patent pending, highly interactive web-based playbook that leverages multiple learning styles and integrated testing. Learn more about it and what he is up to here.