How many hours have you spent on Madden and how has it affected your football choices over time? Well for Tom Donlan, who is a big Arizona Cardinals fan, it helped cement in his mind the NFL team that he was to follow.
“I hadn’t any particular affiliations to the Arizona Cardinals but they happened to draft the player I had in Madden 09 and that seemed as good a reason as any to follow them. It worked out well, I do love supporting the team and five years ago I set up the British Bird Gang (@BritishBirdgang) to find likeminded Cardinals fans in the UK.”
Madden wasn’t the first steps into American Football for Tom, who like so many others in the game really discovered it while at university. However, Tom will freely admit that one of the attractions of being able to get into it at that time was the ability to follow it late at night and not have to worry about getting up early the next day!
And his playing career started at university too when in the final two years of his degree course he became part of the Staffordshire Stallions and after graduating moved on to be a part of the Staffordshire Surge side until injury cut short his career in the game.
But back to the Cardinals and their first trip to play in the UK, a big moment for all fans and particularly Tom who has been bringing many fans of the team together through the British Birdgang over the last few years. How does he feel about the upcoming game?
“First and foremost I’m excited by the opportunity to actually being able to see the Arizona Cardinals playing live and not on a laptop/television screen – that’ll be something special for sure. Also being able to see the legend that is Larry Fitzgerald playing in person for what might be one of the last games of his career is an opportunity not to be passed up on.”
Tom is also looking forward to getting to meet a lot of the Arizona Cardinals fans in the UK that he has met through the BritishBirdgang twitter account as well as those who are making the trip over from the USA. There have been a few events in the past but with the Twickenham game on the horizon there will be a great amount of people in town for the game.
The great successes for the Cardinals are back in the days before the AFL and NFL merged so for long term fans it’s been more than quite a while since they’ve seen success. However, there were glimmers of light in 2014 and 2015 when the team made the playoffs, so what hope does Tom have for this season?
“Like any fan you’ve always got to have a little bit of optimism but I will admit I was burned last year when the hype was off the charts and many people picked them to be the Superbowl winners come the end of the season.
This year though, who knows, it might be their year if they are able to stay healthy and have fewer special teams mishaps. Both plagued last year, hopefully not the case again this year.”
There was a lot of hype indeed in 2016 but also a couple of the younger players for the Cardinals such as David Johnson and Markus Golden had real break through seasons. Does he see that they could be the key to a greater season this year?
“David had an incredible season and was putting up MVP-calibre numbers (but then got snubbed when it came to the end of season awards), breaking countless franchise records along the way and falling just short of a historic 100+ yards in every game of the season…thanks Rams for injuring him!
He is going to be one of the focal points of the offence this season – Bruce Arians is claiming he might be getting something like “30 touches a game” and that might be the case, but he showed last year that he can carry the load and that seems to be the plan again.
Markus was thought to have been drafted too early by the Cardinals as he was picked up in the 2nd round, then he had a tremendous 2016 season where he combined with Chandler Jones for an obscene amount of sacks between them. If Cardinals were ‘reaching’ to get him that early I’m glad they did! Let’s hope he can continue in that vein.”
The Cardinals opponents in London this year are the LA Rams who have experienced the London stage before (and lost to the Giants) but they have a pretty good record against the Cardinals. Does Tom feel that they may be able to beat them in a new country?
“The Rams have always been strong against us but with them no longer being Jeff Fisher’s Rams (former coach had his fifth and final season last year) I think it might stop them being as tough to beat as they had been previously.
They’ve got great players in Jared Goff and Todd Gurley from an offensive perspective and I can see them improving again this season but I don’t think that will be enough for them to stop the Arizona Cardinals both at Twickenham and at the University of Phoenix Stadium.”
Fighting talk from Tom but one he believes he can back up given the calibre of the players that the Cardinals have this season. Apart from Johnson and Golden who he expects to have continued success, who does he see as the potential standouts in London?
“I’d also say people should look out for Tyrann Mathieu on the defensive side. He is one of the most exciting players to watch in the whole league and his return to health will most definitely aid the Arizona Cardinals this season. But that is always the cloud hanging over him – his injury record and there’s probably not a Cardinals fan who doesn’t hold their breath when he hits the field willing it not to be a season ending injury.”
New players to the game may have identified that not all teams have always been in the same place or state and movement to different parts of America has not been uncommon with NFL franchises. The Cardinals is one such side who have been in Arizona since 1998, but in their 119 year history have seen a few changes including moves to and from different cities. Tom is keen to look back further into the Cardinals history at some stage as they are one of the two remaining NFL charter teams (alongside the Chicago Bears) but what does he think of the moves that NFL teams do make?
“It’s quite common in the NFL so it’s not as if only the Cardinals have done it. However for me, supporting the team from across the pond it doesn’t really affect me greatly, I can watch their games wherever they are. But if you’re a lifelong fan, you’ve grown up with a team on your doorstep and then they up sticks to another part of the country then that must be heart-breaking to a certain extent.”
As well as the history of the team Tom also points to a few legends of the game and the likes of current player Larry Fitzgerald who Tom believes is the true face of the Cardinals and one player that could even potentially be viewed as the greatest player in Cardinals history. Going further back he points towards people like Kurt Warner, who was just recently inducted into the Hall of Fame and Pat Tillman who both remain very fondly thought of within the Cardinals family across the world.
But the future is now and while Tom would love to see a Super Bowl carving it’s way into the near future of the team he also would love to see more British fans come along and support the Cardinals? Why? Well Tom could think of many reasons from the players to the simple fact they’re not one of the most popular teams.
“We’ve got some good young players on our roster with a lot of talent and a lot of good years ahead of them. Not just Johnson, Golden and Mathieu but guys like Deone Bucannon, Patrick Peterson and Haason Reddick too. Get behind them now and you could have a core of a team for many years to come.
We also have Bruce Arians as our head coach who is a very charismatic guy. He has such great press conferences filled with memorable quotes. He’s just like the cool uncle every one wishes they had.
No one calls you a glory hunter if you follow the Cardinals which isn’t what could be said for the Patriots for instance. We just don’t have the glory to hunt. We hope that will change soon, but worth coming on board just to make people think!
And lastly, and most importantly, you get to be part of the BritishBirdgang, who wouldn’t want to be part of that?”
We couldn’t agree more. Let’s hope the Birds put on a show and they’ll be more in the gang!