<
>

Like a fine wine, bond between Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton ages gracefully

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It had taken almost a complete season for Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton to get to that point.

The two Arizona Cardinals quarterbacks had regularly gone out to dinner throughout the 2013 season, their first as the team's starter and backup. But this dinner, toward the end of the year, was different. When it came time for Palmer and Stanton to choose their wine, Palmer made a suggestion.

"He's like, 'You just pick it out,'" Stanton said.

It might seem like a fleeting comment. Palmer might not have even looked up from his menu, but it was the moment that Stanton remembered Palmer trusting him for the first time.

Wine has become as much a part of their relationship as football or fatherhood. When Palmer and Stanton first met, wine quickly came up. For Stanton, it's a hobby. He has his favorite vineyards and vintages. When Palmer began talking about his preferences, Stanton realized Palmer had an expensive palate. One of the first wines Palmer mentioned was Opus One, a high-end red wine from Napa Valley whose 2013 vintage retails for $300. Stanton did the quick math in his head. He could get three bottles of one of his favorite wines, Cakebread, for the same price.

"I'm like, 'Jeez, this is really expensive wine,'" Stanton said.

Now the two talk about the latest vintages or mailing lists like they're the most recent release of a popular clothing line.

"It just opened up this dialogue for us and now we really enjoy sharing that and talking about it," Stanton said. "I can probably show you pictures on my phone of him sending a label of something, or I'm sending him something.

"It's a fun thing that we both, I think, really enjoy. I know I do from my standpoint."

Allowing Stanton to choose the wine was a milestone in their relationship. Palmer isn't one to trust easily -- a byproduct of professional football. Rosters turn over. Teammates change. For Palmer, trust comes with time, and the business of football doesn't typically allow for there to be enough of it. However, Palmer's situation in Arizona is different. He's going into his fifth season with Stanton as his understudy. They're tied with two other starter-backup tandems for the third-longest tenure together in the NFL. Only the Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton and Derek Anderson (seven years), and the Miami Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore (six), have been together longer.

"There's times you play with somebody and it's kind of in one ear and out the other because you don't quite have that history together," Palmer said.

Today they're like brothers, a well-oiled, finely-tuned duo. Palmer looks at Stanton almost as a psychologist. Stanton knows when to -- and, maybe more importantly, when not to -- say something to Palmer during a game or practice.

The two have been spending time together off the field for the last five years. Stanton, 33, considers Palmer, 37, a mentor and a father figure. When they hang out at Palmer's house, Stanton watches Palmer be a father and inevitably picks up a thing or two.

Fatherhood, Stanton said, is "far more important to him than playing football."

Nevertheless, football is what brought Palmer and Stanton together and it's ultimately what keeps them connected.

One of the most important relationships on a football team is between the starting quarterback and his backup. It's up there alongside the bond between a quarterback and his head coach, and the quarterback and his center. In the Cardinals' case, head coach Bruce Arians often uses Stanton as a detour to Palmer, yelling instructions or critiques at the backup that are really meant for the starter.

In terms of a team's success, Arians feels like the quarterbacks room must -- must -- be on the same page.

"That room has to be solid and everybody that speaks in the room has to speak the same language, understand the language, know their role," Arians said. "It only takes one guy to upset that room. But the quarterback, in my 20-something, 30 years working with them, depends on that guy more than the coach. Especially if he doesn't understand something, he'll ask that guy."

Palmer is no different. He leans on Stanton as much as anyone in the locker room for help with everything from fundamentals and technique to studying film. Each quarterback will do his own film study, but Stanton will condense his to five or so pages of notes on what an opposing defense runs and is trying to do into a concise paragraph for Palmer to review. Palmer said the way Stanton delivers information to him is comparable to that of a great teacher or coach. (The only team Stanton plans to coach in the near future is his son's T-ball squad.)

When they get on the field, Stanton understands his role, which ranges from actual backup to an advocate to a buffer. Especially on game days, Palmer is hearing things from all angles -- but usually not from Stanton.

"I know if he has something to say on the sideline, in the game, whatever it may be -- on a Wednesday as we're preparing -- there's a reason for it and it's something I need to really look at and think about," Palmer said.

"I'm at that point now where everything he says, he doesn't waste my time with something. That has developed over time and repetition and games and practices and offseasons and all those things."

It's not easy for Stanton to be the gatekeeper to Palmer's game-day psyche. It's just as hard for Stanton to decide which advice to tune out as it is to decide which advice to give Palmer. After four seasons together, Stanton knows what to say and not to say. He knows when to pull back. He also knows which buttons he can push.

Years of repetition led to Stanton's earning of Palmer's trust.

Stanton, who's entering his 11th season, has played nearly every role a quarterback can in the NFL. He's started, been a backup, been a third-stringer, been inactive and been injured. He's viewed Palmer's job from those angles. That has also given him experience to shape his approach to Palmer.

"I learned a long time ago that it's hard to play this position, especially in this league at this level, and to do that, you need as many people on your side and trying to be an advocate for [you]," Stanton said. "I know how hard that is and when I've been in that position, how vital it is to have somebody that you can lean on, that you can go to, that can be an extension of you."

That's who Stanton wants to be. He understands his value. He doesn't care if he doesn't get the credit he deserves. He wants to win.

Helping Palmer do that while making sure he's ready at a moment's notice is Stanton's job. Palmer trusts him.