TEMPE, Ariz. -- At one end of the headset Sunday will be a man, 60 years old, weathered and battled, who sees the horizon approaching.
On the other side, hanging on every word, will be a man, 33, weathered in a different way and equally as tough, who won’t let himself get distracted by the inviting glow of the sunset.
Together they’ll set out to accomplish what so many coach-and-quarterback tandems have done. A Super Bowl win is the long-term goal, but to get there, they’ll have to change the fortunes of a franchise that tasted the champagne, but ever so briefly.
Regardless of how they get there, Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer will be remembered for doing it together.
"This is his last hurrah as it is mine,” Arians said. “So he wants to go out a winner and I do, too. We’ll be tied at the hip as a head coach and a quarterback, and I’ll make sure we do everything we can do to be successful.
“He’s doing more than he needs to do to make sure he’s successful, so it means a ton to him.”
Arians feels his day in football is almost over. He’s spent 38 years dedicated to coaching the game, first on Saturdays across campuses in the Deep South and the Elite East, then on Sundays. In all he’s done in football, in all the titles he’s owned -- Super Bowl winner and Coach of the Year, to name a couple -- he’s never been a full-time head coach.
That’ll change Sunday, when, 24 days before Arians turns 61, the Cardinals visit the St. Louis Rams. He’s given pregame speeches, he’s laced into a player at halftime and he’s handed out the game ball after a win. But that was for somebody else’s team.
Sunday will be the capstone of a career that already has two Super Bowl rings and a Coach of the Year trophy sitting in his office in Tempe from his work in Indianapolis. Arians has rebuilt the Cardinals in his mold, bringing in 26 new players, 14 of whom will start against the Rams. He even hand-picked Palmer to run an offense that, like Arians, goes straight after you. It’s a high-octane, high-yardage system. Arians said from his opening news conference that the Cardinals will enter every game with six “bullets” in the chamber, meaning downfield passes, and Arians doesn’t plan on leaving any behind.
“There’s no patience,” Arians said. “I have no patience. You can ask those guys, I have no patience. Those days of building for the future in the NFL, I see them as gone. Too much roster change on everybody’s team now. It’s about winning right now, or as a coach, you’re gone.
“As a coordinator you might not even make it to the fourth game. Too many of those have happened in the last three or four years. It’s win now.”
To execute his scheme, Arians picked the one quarterback whose recent history mirrors his.
Arians’ tenure in Pittsburgh ended in January 2012 when he retired and later said he was forced out of Pittsburgh. A few days after his acrimonious divorce from the Steelers, he was hired by Indianapolis.
Palmer’s exit from Cincinnati during the 2011 season was also notably tenuous. He requested a trade in February of that year, according to reports, only to have it granted in October.
He was welcomed in Arizona with open arms not just because an optimism not felt around the team since Kurt Warner started to permeate throughout the offense. Palmer’s addition and his immediate anointment as the starter were two more examples of how Arians was changing the culture. Last season, former coach Ken Whisenhunt left the quarterback competition open until the final weekend of the preseason, splitting snaps between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton until the last possible moment.
By naming Palmer the starter in April, Arians was loud and clear about who’s running this team.
“It does help knowing who the guy’s going to be,” wide receiver Andre Roberts said. “But you never know what’s going to happen during the season. [Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald) is our No. 1 guy and God forbid anything happens to him, the next man has to step up.
“It definitely helps and it’s a big step in making things work with timing and everything.”
Need, as much as anything, reunited two men who knew something about uneasy exits and beginning anew. Their legacies will be determine by how they help the other.
But Palmer doesn’t foresee this new start ending anytime in the near future.
“I don’t want to feel like it’s that,” he said. “I want to play this year and then hopefully a bunch more years. I’m also a realist and I understand that’s not possible but I don’t want to think anything is coming to an end.
“I’m excited that this is starting -- the season is starting, this new era for this organization is starting with Bruce and all the coaches and players they have brought in. I’m excited about a start, not about seeing an end.”