Cardinals wide receiver went from near-superstardom to anonymity
At what point does money equal respect?
It’s a question every person has to answer for himself. For Tidwell, both were wrapped up in one big ball of Kwan. The dollars were never far from his thoughts, however. He was a fourth-round pick coming out of ASU, after a career in which he filled up the stat sheet but concerns about his size and speed lingered. Fourth-round picks don’t get big contracts.
He emerged in his third season, gaining 1,199 yards and scoring seven touchdowns on only 77 receptions. By then, he wanted a raise. He still wasn’t regarded as one of the top receivers in the league. Of this he was acutely aware. Many teammates remember his favorite phrase whenever Tidwell would make a catch. It wouldn’t matter if it was in a game. He even started spouting it if he managed to grab an errant toss from the quarterback against air in practice or warmups. “Show me the money!” Tidwell would bellow.
(Although 20 years can shade a memory. Some of Tidwell’s teammates remember Tidwell yelling, “They owe me the money!” SMI sources recall Maguire yelling one or the other before he was dismissed, although they couldn’t be certain which.)
Maguire told Tidwell to “bury the attitude a little bit.” That didn’t go over well with Tidwell, but when a quality extension offer never came, reality set in. Humbled, the wide receiver did the only thing he could do. He tried to forget about the contract, and bet on himself.
Fans began to fall in love with him, and Tidwell didn’t have a problem with that. In some ways, the fans were an extension of his family, and whenever he could block the money factor out of his thinking, Tidwell was always better off. Maguire tried to use such analysis to rein in Tidwell.
"Show Me The Money!"
“You play with your head and not your heart,” the agent told Tidwell after one game. “Personal life? Heart. But when you get on the field it’s all about what you didn’t get, who’s to blame, who underthrew the pass, who’s got the contract you don’t, who’s not giving you your love. That is not what inspires people.”
Such raw advice didn’t always immediately set well with Tidwell, but down deep, he preferred the honesty. He needed the honesty.
That’s how Tidwell found himself making the last of his nine receptions against Dallas on that chilly Monday night at Sun Devil Stadium, scoring a touchdown to beat the Cowboys and keeping the Cardinals’ playoff hopes alive. Tidwell went high for a pass and came down on his head, leaving him seemingly unconscious. It was actually pure theater for Tidwell, who later admitted to friends he feigned the injury in an effort to milk the moment.
Somehow he convinced the team’s athletic trainers to let him get up on his own. He bounced around the end zone and breathed in the admiration of 70,000 screaming Cardinals fans as “In Rod We Trust” flashed on the Jumbotron. ESPN played the highlight incessantly for a week.
The Cardinals offered him a hefty extension a couple of days later with an announcement on ESPN’s “Up Close” talk show, a mechanism which basketball star LeBron James used as a guide years later for his infamous ‘Decision.’ Tidwell jumped at the contract. At $11.2 million over four years and a $2 million signing bonus, the dollars were what he had dreamed.
The Cardinals did not make the playoffs, losing their finale, but there was optimism for the future. Tidwell made the Pro Bowl, riding his 89 receptions, 1,376 yards and 13 touchdowns to Hawaii. Reebok called, offering him that endorsement deal he had craved. Tidwell jerseys flew off the shelves in sporting goods stores.
Fans couldn’t get enough Tidwell. An autograph session at a local store caused enough traffic to shut down a nearby road. His shoe commercial got rave reviews. He did the talk show circuit, his personality a hit on Leno, Letterman and Conan. He was part of a group that opened a restaurant in nearby Scottsdale, named simply “Tidwell’s.” He even was in talks for a small part in a big-budget movie, although he ultimately turned it down so he wouldn’t lose precious offseason time away from Marcee and the kids. (Tidwell, always his own biggest believer, insisted he could have become an Oscar-winning actor had he chose that path). He had seemingly achieved his Kwan.
After his former locker was ripped from the wall during renovations and the chain with the “85” on it spilled to the floor, it wasn’t hard to remember where it had come from. Where the chain’s owner had gone, though, that was a different story.
Damien Anderson, the former Cardinals running back who now runs the team’s alumni program, had reached out to Tidwell multiple times with no response. Anthony Edwards, a fellow wide receiver on those mid-90s Cardinals and now the team’s senior director of player development, couldn’t remember the last time he spoke to Tidwell.
He hadn’t disappeared, or even left his beloved home state. He and Marcee simply moved north, building a house on the outskirts of Prescott. His new contract couldn’t guarantee him stardom, but the near $7 million he collected from that deal was plenty to live the life he wanted.
A visit to the nice but not lavish home finds no real sign that Tidwell was once a Cardinal, nor a bombastic celebrity. There is no hint a former professional athlete lives there – especially one who captured the state’s attention, if for only a brief time.
A knock at the door and a press of the doorbell brings no answer, even as a shadow moved behind the curtained window. If Tidwell is going to revisit his time as a Cardinal, he might need another 20 years. But it’s hard not to notice the small handpainted wooden sign hanging on the porch near the front door containing a simple message.