- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2008

Without playing a game, Catholic University quarterback Keith Ricca’s perfect season got even better.

Ricca, whose Cardinals are 3-0, chatted up another Cardinals quarterback the other day. That would be Kurt Warner of the 2-1 Arizona Cardinals, who are practicing at Catholic this week for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets.

“It’s awesome,” said Ricca, a talented senior.

“How often does a college quarterback get to meet an NFL quarterback like that?” Ricca said, practically giddy from the experience. “You’re playing Division III football, and all of a sudden you come out here on a Wednesday afternoon and the Arizona Cardinals are playing on our field.”

Ricca, who comes from a football family, knows that Warner also played at a small college, Northern Iowa. He knows Warner’s Cinderella story.

“This is like a dream come true,” he said.

For the Cardinals, meanwhile, this is like something from “The Twilight Zone.” No matter what they do and where they go, they stay trapped in Redskins country.

The Cardinals had back-to-back games on the East Coast, about 2,300 miles and three time zones from home (Arizona does not observe daylight savings). Rather than fly back to Phoenix after their 24-17 defeat, the team is staying in Northern Virginia to prepare for the Jets’ game at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

“The whole thought was to get accustomed to this time [zone] and be on this side [of the country] without having to travel an additional 6,000 miles,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said, amplifying the distance a bit. “Or 10 hours on an airplane, which takes a toll on your body.”

The Cardinals are notoriously slow starters in the Eastern time zone. They led at halftime and beat Cincinnati last year but were outscored 44-12 in the first half in losses at Baltimore, Washington and Tampa Bay. In Sunday’s game, Arizona fell behind 10-0 before halftime.

Staying on the road is uncommon but not unprecedented. A few other teams have done it, and the New England Patriots will stay on the West Coast when they play San Francisco and San Diego - and then Oakland and Seattle later this season.

“We’re trying to do anything that will give us the best chance to win,” said Whisenhunt, a Redskins tight end in 1989 and 1990. “And we feel that saving just the travel and the time in the airplane will help, and being better adjusted to East Coast time will help. Hopefully, we’ll find that out on Sunday.”

The Cardinals, who will take the train to New Jersey on Saturday, have stayed all week at their Tysons Corner hotel, commuting to practice in Northeast.

“A little bit of a hike,” Whisenhunt said.

It helped that the three buses picked up a police escort once they crossed into the District, and the trip to Catholic took just 30 minutes. Tourists gawked at the motorcade, wondering what all the fuss was about.

“That was pretty cool,” said safety Matt Ware, who was captivated by the monuments and other sites along the route that took the team down Constitution Avenue. “I just wanted to see all of that. My iPod is full of pictures.”

Without an escort, the ride back to the hotel took 45 minutes Wednesday. On Thursday, the trip took an hour because of a tie-up on the Beltway.

Welcome to the District.

The Cardinals picked a hotel in Virginia because team officials believe it was best-suited to morph into temporary team headquarters. Catholic, which won out over several other possibilities, including the old Redskins Park site in Herndon, has a small stadium with cushy FieldTurf and a gym in case it rains, a possibility for Friday.

It also didn’t hurt that Michael Bidwill, the son of owner Bill Bidwill and the team president, graduated from Catholic’s law school (he lectured at a class Wednesday). His mother, Nancy, is a member emeritus of the university’s board of trustees.

Whisenhunt and the players said the field and facilities were fine. After practice, Ricca, a few of his teammates and Catholic coach Dave Dunn posed for pictures with Whisenhunt and some of the Cardinals. A fan also dropped by to say hello. It was Florida Marlins outfielder Luis Gonzalez, who brought along closer Kevin Gregg. The former Arizona Diamondbacks player (in town as the Marlins play the Nationals), a hero of the 2001 World Series, Gonzalez has a suite at the Cardinals’ University of Phoenix Stadium.

“We think this is a great thing for the school,” Catholic athletic director Mike Allen said.

Whether the players thought this was a great thing didn’t matter. All they had to do was deal with it.

“I’d like to be home tucking my kids in,” said quarterback Kurt Warner, who has seven children. “But at the same time, this could be a huge benefit for us, for us to be together and not have to make all the flying adjustments. The bottom line is we’ll see it on Sunday.”

Added cornerback Eric Green: “It definitely helps us. Having to get on that plane, fly back, come back again, it puts a wear and tear on your body. Staying here for a week, it can be a distraction on one side, but if you look at it the other way, it helps us out because we can relax instead of having to travel so much.”

It has been less relaxing for those responsible for handling 125 people and lots of equipment. “The logistics and the details involved are immense,” said Reggie Terry, the team’s director of player administration who has been clutching a two-inch-thick binder devoted to just this week.

So far, things seem to be going smoothly on and off the field. The team set up visits Tuesday to the National Spy Museum and the FBI Training Center in Quantico. Some of the players went out on their own. Warner and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald bolted for New York to see a Broadway show, and others like Ware just chilled out.

“I had an appointment with my bed,” he said.

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