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Farewell To The Tree

Posted Jul 9, 2014

Now-departed interview spot was home to some memorable moments

In its waning days, the Tree stands guard overlooking a Cardinals' OTA this summer.

The sun was hot as the first organized team activity came to a close, although Bruce Arians stood in the shade of the “Interview Tree” a few feet outside the Cardinals’ locker room.

Time for the tree was short. Arians let that be known at the outset of the media session, and someone mentioned that there had been a lot of Cardinals’ coaches who had stood in the same spot over the years.

“Amen,” Arians replied.

The Tree is gone now, as the Cardinals go through a building expansion following the end of offseason work. It is the end of an era. Over the years, the Tree was where most post-practice press meetings were held at the team’s Tempe facility.

Oh sure, there are other places where players and coaches have met the media, but auditoriums and media rooms are what they are. Plenty of teams have press conferences outside – particularly post-practice – but the Tree gave what the Cardinals would do an added style.

I haven’t been at all the Tree sessions since I didn’t start covering the team until 1999, but since then I don’t need much more than my two hands to count the number of times I have missed. There was the time punter Scott Player, who would have been just fine never talking to the media, made the Pro Bowl and was marched out under the tree – telling us all he had tried substitute teaching before his NFL career had taken off and it was probably better he was playing football because he hadn’t really liked working with kids.

LaDanian Tomlinson once spoke under the Tree, the week the Chargers were forced to practice in Tempe in 2007 because of San Diego wildfires. It’s where Anquan Boldin talked after his first practice following a broken jaw just a couple weeks previous, before he amazingly went back out and played that Sunday. It’s where Darnell Dockett talked about his (first) contract extension, and where Michael Bidwill has presented Man of the Year awards to honorees like Mike Leach and Jay Feely. It’s where LaRod Stephens-Howling got his lone Tree appearance standing next to the guy who won a house just because Hyphen returned a kickoff for a touchdown.

It’s where John Skelton stood to tell the world that despite his Texas roots, he hated the Dallas Cowboys. It’s right next to where Matt Leinart stood talking to a few reporters (while Ken Whisenhunt was under the Tree talking to the rest of the media) proclaiming “I really want an explanation” why he was fighting for his starting job in late August, 2010.

That was the last time Leinart ever spoke anywhere near the Tree.

He was one of many, many quarterbacks to get a turn there, though. That’s always been the general rule for the Tree – it was meant for the coach’s daily updates and then the once-a-week gathering for whomever the starting quarterback was at the time.

Sometimes, that meant long stretches with a Jake Plummer or Kurt Warner. Sometimes, it meant a lot more uncertainty of who would be under the Tree in any given week – think 2010, or 2012.    

Once, during the rough year of 2003, the “highlighted” Tree player wasn’t a quarterback at all. That year, it was deemed that Emmitt Smith was the one worthy of once-a-week Tree status, and those of us asking questions were left to track down Jeff Blake in the locker room.

(Emmitt, who had some quality quotes in his two seasons, featured this one under the tree one day: “It's hot. There ain't a piece of wind out here.”)

But the coaches have been at the center, whether it was Buddy Ryan’s bluster or Vince Tobin’s clipboard or Dave McGinnis treating former radio reporter Gene Aguirre like the Cardinals’ version of Helen Thomas to open each session.

My all-time favorite Tree gem? It came from Denny Green when I asked him one day midway through Leinart’s rookie season, as the quarterback struggled, if it was difficult knowing Leinart might have been better off sitting as a rookie (as originally planned) rather than now playing.

“That is an awfully philosophical approach for a Wednesday,” Green answered, and I’m still not sure why philosophical questions needed to be asked, say, on a Thursday.

The last Tree session was with Arians, sporting a goatee and bucket hat, talking about how the offseason work was only the beginning. The Cardinals march toward the 2014 season. When they get back to it, the Tree won’t be in the picture.

“I love this tree,” quarterback Carson Palmer said as news of its impending demise got out, although his tongue might have been firmly implanted in cheek.

Regardless, the Tree is no more. The Cardinals’ words of wisdom will be spoken somewhere else.

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