Getting the chance to hear from some Arizona sports legends was one of the many highlights from FanDuel FanFest, which was held Saturday at WestWorld in Scottsdale.
One of the many athletes that took part was former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin. The Cardinals selected the Florida State standout in the second round of the 2003 NFL Draft. He didn’t waste any time making a splash in the NFL and was named the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Of course, Arizona differs greatly than it did when Boldin began his franchise-record-setting career, including the launch of legal online sports betting. In fact, he returned to the Grand Canyon state as an ambassador for FanDuel Sportsbook, and he spoke to PlayAZ about everything from regulated wagering to this year’s Cardinals to the franchise’s lone Super Bowl run in 2008.
‘Explosion’ of interest for Arizona sports betting
Boldin spent a portion of his visit checking out the FanDuel Arizona retail sportsbook inside the Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix. The in-person sports betting venue opened Sept. 9, the same day legal sports betting officially launched in the state.
Since then, the amount of Arizonans placing bets has sent the state’s sports betting market into overdrive. It’s something Boldin has taken notice of.
“You’ve seen the explosion out here in Arizona with FanDuel and sports betting,” said Boldin. “I’m downtown at FanDuel and I’m told this place is packed every day with people coming in and watching games.”
The sudden popularity of Arizona sports betting was not surprising to many. Boldin agreed that it’s something Arizonans have been waiting for given the success of several professional sports teams in the state and the familiarity with gaming due to the state’s tribal casinos.
“I think it’s been a long time coming. Especially with the casinos popping up across the valley. I think anytime you have sports franchises that are winning the way they are in Arizona, I think it brings even more of a liking to it.”
Looking back on the 2008 Super Bowl run by Arizona Cardinals
Remembering the 2008 Arizona Cardinals team brings on some bittersweet memories for fans of the Red Sea. The team won the NFC West and went on a fantastic playoff run to secure a berth in Super Bowl XLIII, securing along the way the franchise’s first (and still only) NFC championship.
However, the Cards fell short in the Super Bowl, losing an instant classic to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-23. What was a great game in the eyes of most NFL fans ended in heartbreak for the Cardinals as Ben Roethlisberger connected with Santonio Holmes for a miraculous touchdown pass in the game’s final seconds.
Boldin was a key figure on that Cardinals team. While no doubt a gut-wrenching moment in time for him and the Cards, thinking back on that season brings about fond memories for the former Arizona wideout.
“We definitely had a team that came together at the right time and was playing great football on both sides of the ball. I’m still in contact with a lot of those guys. You think about Kurt Warner, Fitz (Larry Fitzgerald), Adrian (Wilson), Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle, Bert Berry. Those are guys that I’ll always have a relationship with because of what we did here.”
Boldin wasn’t able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy that time around. However, he did get a second chance to win a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens in the 2012 season. In Super Bowl XLVII, Boldin registered six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown as the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31.
Looking ahead at the 2021 Arizona Cardinals
Boldin considered any similarities between his 2008 Cardinals and the current Arizona team that leads the NFC playoff chase. On the field, both teams have a quarterback playing at an MVP level, explosive skill positions players and an opportunistic defense.
But Boldin noted that it’s what happens off the field that helps turn good teams into great teams.
“Any time you have teams that are successful like that I think it goes beyond the football field,” Boldin said. “I think you see guys that really trust each other and that comes from the bonds that are built outside of football.
“Guys that trust each other and guys on the same page. That’s the thing that we had going for us. We weren’t just working buddies. We really enjoyed each other’s company even off the field.”
Cardinals fans can only hope that this team can capture a bit of the 2008 magic. Boldin was a significant contributor to that team and helped establish a winning culture during his seven seasons in Arizona. His excellent play earned him a substantial place in Cardinals franchise history.
All you have to do is check the record books. To date, Boldin ranks second in receptions (586), fourth in receiving yards (7,520) and fifth in receiving touchdowns (44).
Boldin: ‘Always great to be back in Arizona’
Boldin has been an ambassador for FanDuel Sportsbook for over a year now. Taking part in the FanDuel FanFest presented an excellent opportunity for him to return to the place where he cut his teeth in the NFL.
The wideout spent the first seven seasons of his professional career with the Cardinals. He quickly made a name for himself, setting a league record for for most receiving yards by a rookie in his first game (217).
“It’s always great to be back in Arizona,” Boldin said. “I’m always received warmly anytime I’m back in Arizona. Always have a good time, so it’s definitely always good to come back.”
During his time with the Cards, Boldin played with various great players, including Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Edgerrin James, who also took part in the FanFest event.
“It’s always good to catch up with those guys. I still talk to those guys on a regular basis,” said Boldin. “Me and EJ (Edgerrin James) were just at one of his son’s football games down in Florida a couple of weeks ago. Those are guys I stay in contact with.”