Happy to be at (new) home

Arizona coach Dennis Green talkes Cardinals and 49ers and covers a spectrum of issues regarding the two teams entering Sunday's season opener at Cardinals Stadium.

Q: Is it a different feel this year going into a home game in the team's own stadium?
Green:
Yes absolutely. I just finished with our media and the point that I made to them is that the Arizona Cardinals have never had their own opening game at home. They've never played four of their first six games at home and that should happen once every three years. Then, once every three years you should be three-and-three in the first six games. The Arizona Cardinals have always been two-and-four in their first six games. We're excited about that, and we feel that it's good to open at home to a sell-out crowd. Our inaugural game, that we opened the preseason with, we were fortunate for Dan Rooney, a future hall of fame owner, to bring the defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers in. That was our hand picked game for the opening of the stadium. Now we're in the stadium, it's sold out, and we're just happy to be playing at home.

Q: Were the 49ers handpicked to be the team you would play to start the season in the debut of your new stadium?
Green:
No, I heard some of that stuff that was floating around. I just told you about how fair the NFL scheduling had been to the Arizona Cardinals for years. I'm sure the NFL never takes into consideration who anyone wants to play. We handpicked our preseason opponent, because that's what you can do. We accepted whomever they sent us for the regular season opener, and we are happy to be one of 16 teams that open at home. I'm sure that next year we'll be one of the 16 that goes on the road.

Q: Are you happy to be playing the 49ers to start the season?
Green:
The first three games we play are in our division, and what we have to do is go in with the idea that they are very important. They are not only divisional games, but we also have Atlanta for a conference game. So our first four games are in the conference, and if you expect to do well, you have to be able to play well in your conference and division.

Q: What was your reaction when you walked into the new Cardinals Stadium for the first time?
Green:
It was exciting. When we came here a few years ago, we didn't have many people wearing red jerseys. We didn't have many people who felt like putting numbers 81 or 11 on their backs. That is something that is exciting, and it's a change. It hasn't changed because we've won a lot, because we haven't. It has changed because we've established that we are trying to win a lot. I think the fans have accepted the fact that we are trying to be a good team and that's something that they want to lay their money on and come to the new stadium. It's phenomenal because the stadium has the Cardinals name on it, but it belongs to the community and they deserve it. The community already has a hockey team that has a new stadium that's three years old. They have a new baseball stadium that's eight years old, and they've got a relatively new basketball arena. This is the fifth largest state in America, and they love sports. As a result they probably have four of the best stadium arenas in the nation. That makes us very proud.

Q: Do you expect that the new stadium will have tangible benefits for your team?
Green:
You don't want to play anybody in front of 25,000 people. No one wants to do that. When we recruit players out of college, we recruit them from schools like Miami, Florida State and Ohio State who are used to big crowds. They are used to having, and are looking for enthusiasm from their fans. Now I think they have that, and that's a good thing.

Q: Are the days of having half the fans supporting the visiting team over?
Green:
Those days are over because people bought tickets. They were excited, and they came and bought tickets. There was some E-bay action going on with the Pittsburgh Steelers game, but not enough to make a difference.

Q: Would you have taken this job if there wasn't a stadium deal in the works at the time?
Green:
I didn't come here to do anything except win. That's what I was accustomed to doing when I was with San Francisco, and Minnesota. I would have never taken this job if I thought we would not be able to win, and win well. That's what we are trying to do.

Q: Does the new stadium play into that?
Green:
Getting some unrestricted free agents play into that. If you can come in and the owner gives you money to get a guy like defensive end Bertrand Berry that's a win. If the owner gives you money to get a running back like Edgerrin James that's a win. If the owner has a new strategy to get a new stadium, that's a win. I think we've got one of the finest training facilities in the NFL, and that's a win. There are a lot of ways to win besides the score of the ball game. But, the score of the ball game is the bottom line.

Q: How do the Cardinals' rivalries stack up to those you encountered in the NFC North?
Green:
I think Mike Holmgren and I have established a rivalry because we used to share an office when we were in San Francisco together. I went to Minnesota, and he went to Green Bay at the same time, and we opened and closed the season against each other. He had good success and I had relative success while we were there. I think that because Arizona has had rivalries for years with the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys, and the N.Y. Giants. I think now we have to establish this new rivalry. It will begin with San Francisco, because this will be the 18th time Mike and I have coached against each other. I think St. Louis should be because the Arizona Cardinals used to be in St. Louis. I do all my San Francisco talk every time I can because everyone knows that Minnesota, San Francisco and Arizona are my three favorite football teams in the NFL. I have a great deal of respect for San Francisco and hopefully we'll be able to establish that kind of rivalry. The reason that it may exist in what is now known as the NFC North is because Green Bay and Minnesota are border states. Minnesota got there later in the 60's, and Detroit and Chicago have been in the League for a long time. Those are strong teams with long standing traditions in what they call "winter football", which is anything after November. I think they have that in common, and we have to establish that in the NFC West.

Q: What has receivers coach Mike Wilson, a former 49ers receiver, brought to your receiving corps?
Green:
I always brag about two things: One is that I coached Mike back when I was with the 49ers, and I'm able to use examples of a role player. A guy who plays a role and loves the role he plays. Number two, the fact that he is one of only three guys with four Super Bowl rings who are receivers. I think it's his good, ole fashioned work ethic. Mike worked the college game, played the pro game, and also coached as a pro assistant. That knowledge has been great for Larry Fitzgerald who turned 23 last week, and Anquan Boldin who is 25 years old. Those are young receivers, and Mike has had a great influence on helping them understand what the defense is trying to take away from him.

Q: Has Fitzgerald been affected by the way Anquan practices?
Green:
Larry has always worked hard. He gets a bad wrap, and it's hard because he was the third overall pick. People have to find something negative to say about you. Larry was receiver of the year, and I've known him since he was a kid. He always works hard, and Anquan works hard. They are just two separate types of guys. One was a second round pick who had to prove he was one of the best and the other came in at the top but he also had to prove that he was one of the best.

Q: Do you regard your receiver tandem as the best in the NFL?
Green:
No, they are one of the best. I think if you look at Cincinnati's phenomenal group of guys, who are very talented. You can look at San Francisco's group, who is very talented with a lot of speed and size. St. Louis's group has been around for a long time and Seattle has interchanged and they still play well. I think the NFL has got a lot of guys playing catch. Even my seven year old son Zach can catch a football. Catching a football is a part of the American way. In fact, it's un-American if you can't catch a football.

Q: How do you perceive the 49ers' secondary shaping up?
Green:
I think their entire team has improved. You have safety Tony Parrish sitting there trying to knock your head off. You know that he is going to try and intimidate the middle. Larry knows Shawntae from their days in college at Pittsburgh. He's got size, and we think they have a very good secondary. We're going to have to play well to be able to throw the ball.

Q: Is Anquan Boldin the leader of your team now?
Green:
No, Bertrand Berry is the leader of this team. Anquan Boldin is one of our leaders, and Kurt Warner is one of our leaders, but I would say that Bertrand leads this team for a couple of reasons. One, he's the one who chose to be here. He came here at a time when we believed that we were going to build a program and that he could change from AFC to NFC, and get the kind of recognition he deserved as a good sack man. It worked out for him, he went to the Pro Bowl his first year, and he's put the time in to help us become a winning team. We have a lot of leaders, Kurt is one of them, Anquan is definitely one of them, but B-Train is definitely the leader.

Q: Is your offensive line where it needs to be at this point?
Green:
We're working hard on it. Our expectations are very high. I was lucky enough to be a head coach where our offensive line had been together for four or five years and been to the Pro Bowl. We're a long way from that. We also had a group like that with the 49ers in the old days. I think the potential is there, the thing is you have to work hard at it. We'll be a lot better at it during week's 12-17 than we are during week's 1-4. We're working hard at it.

Q: What do you envision for Matt Leinart's rookie season?
Green:
We'd love for him to sit and watch the whole year. That means that we have to keep Kurt Warner healthy. Kurt had a real good training camp, and preseason games. Matt is a great competitor, if you look at his 39-2 college record, with a Heisman trophy, that's phenomenal. I think that at some point in the future, not this year, he'll be ready to step in and play. Right now we'd like for him to learn the game, the speed of the game, and stay on the ready.

Q: How well is Calvin Pace making the transition to linebacker?
Green:
Calvin used to play linebacker, then in college they made him a defensive end. When he came to the NFL they kept him as an end, but I think his natural position is linebacker. He's got good size, can run, and he's played some solid special teams for us. I think that what he's doing now is natural for him.

Q: How important it is for Bertrand Berry to play this week?
Green:
It's crucial. He's going to play he's not even on the injured list. He could have played before, but he got a little banged up in the preseason. We decided that, that was enough of that and we held him out. He missed a lot of games last year and it was something that really hurt us. He's ready to go, he's played well, and he always brings a high level of intensity to his play.


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