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Arizona game carries added incentive for Rams' Proehl
ST. LOUIS -- The Arizona Cardinals are a bigger opponent on the schedule for St. Louis fans than Rams players, with one notable exception.
Wide receiver Ricky Proehl was happy to have the Cardinals join the NFC West, having begun his career there in 1990 -- two years after they left St. Louis. He played his first five seasons with the Cardinals after they made him a third-round draft pick, so he's aware this is a special game for St. Louis.
Proehl, who played with several transplanted Cardinals such as Roy Green and J.T. Smith at the beginning of his career, compares the fans' attitude toward Sunday's game in Phoenix to that of a college rivalry such as Alabama vs. Auburn. Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill has been vilified in St. Louis, which was without an NFL team for seven seasons before the Rams arrived in 1995.
"There's definite distaste for the Cardinals," Proehl said. "When they put this one on the schedule, the fans look forward to it. So for us we feel like it's a must win just from the fan standpoint because it's such a big game for them emotionally."
Martz has been trying to impress upon players how much that beating the Cardinals means to the city, especially now that both teams are in the NFC West. The teams have met twice since the Rams' move to St. Louis, a pair of three-point victories for the Cardinals in 1996 and '98.
Another player with special incentive on Sunday is safety Adam Archuleta, who played at Sun Devil Stadium in college at Arizona State.
"I've talked to our guys a couple of times about it," Martz said. "This is probably the beginning of a long-running rivalry that will be on par probably with San Francisco."
Proehl had his biggest years with the Cardinals and set career bests with 65 receptions for 877 yards and seven touchdowns in 1993. He's been with three teams since then, but has fond memories of his years there -- among them the fact the Cardinals tried to sign him to a three-year contract in 1998 when he opted for the Rams instead.
"I have no bitter feelings toward the organization," Proehl said. "They were good to me, all the way from the top to the bottom. Buddy Ryan was the reason I left Arizona -- he traded me."
Proehl has a few interesting recollections from the Cardinals years. One, somewhat typically for the organization at that time, there was zero contact with the team before they took him in the draft.
"When my name came up, it totally shocked me," Proehl said.
He also doesn't recall building any semblance of a relationship with inscrutable owner Bill Bidwill.
"The five years I was there, I don't think I ever spoke to him," Proehl said.
Third, he criticized the organization for not paying top dollar to keep star players.
"They do a great job of bringing in talent and drafting, I just think they don't keep the guys around," Proehl said. "It's a constant revolving door."
A star with the Cardinals, Proehl has been a possession receiver with the Rams. The biggest catch of his career was a leaping, one-armed grab to beat the Buccaneers in the 1999 NFC championship game, but he specializes in first-down receptions.
Last year, 31 of his 40 catches were for first downs. This year he has 16 catches, six of them for first down on third or fourth down, with a 10.8-yard average and one touchdown.
"Yeah, I'm a third and fourth receiver, but I'm playing in the slot and that's my strength," Proehl said. "I feel like I'm good at it, I feel like I'm one of the best at it."
Martz said Proehl, 34, isn't slowing down with age.
"He's a very vital part of what we do," Martz said. "He has not, in my opinion, over the last two years diminished at all with his speed or his skills.
"A guy his age, you usually start to see a little bit of a slide and I haven't seen that."