TEMPE, Ariz. — Music was blaring, tickertape was falling, and loved ones were hugging, kissing and drying tears.
The moments after the Cardinals' NFC Championship Game victory Sunday were full of genuine joy.
But receiver Anquan Boldin was nowhere to be found. He wasn't high-fiving fans or donning a championship hat or just taking it all in. Boldin, a former Florida State standout, had already bolted for the team's locker room, and just as soon as he could shower and change clothes, he darted out the door.
Clearly, his disenchantment with his role in the game didn't end with his animated sideline argument with offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Monday, a day after one of the greatest days in franchise history, the Cardinals were caught up in damage control rather than continuing to celebrate the astonishing feat of advancing to Super Bowl XLIII.
"That's a normal thing that happens," coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday. "It happened in the first quarter with Todd and Kurt (Warner) on the sidelines. It happened with a couple of our defensive players and defensive coaches. It's an emotional game. (Sunday's) game was one of the most emotional you'll play in. It was the conference championship. Those things happen."
Maybe, but rarely to the degree they did in this case. Boldin was actually separated from Haley by nearby teammates, and the event threatened to disrupt the critical rhythm of the winning drive for which Haley called plays.
Boldin spoke briefly to a few reporters Sunday and wasn't available to reporters Monday.
But he did speak with ESPN later, saying, "I was not given any explanation why I was taken out. Like any competitor, I wanted to know why."
He added, "I'm committed to this team. One goal in mind: to win the Super Bowl."
The closest thing to clarification was offered by Haley, who said Boldin was upset because of a change to a personnel grouping that substituted receiver Steve Breaston for Boldin.
"It was just the emotions of the game," Haley said. "We're both emotional guys. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and that's the way we go about business. I have to deal with that on a full-time basis."
But the episode brings back questions about Boldin's future in Arizona. He has been outspoken about his discontentment over his contract, especially because fellow receiver Larry Fitzgerald inked a four-year, $40 million deal last year. Keep in mind, the Cardinals reportedly offered Boldin an extension in 2007, but he opted to wait until after the Fitzgerald negotiations to finalize a deal.
In August Boldin said, among other things, that he and Whisenhunt have "no relationship" and that the club lied to him about its intentions to restructure the four-year, $22.75 million extension he signed in 2005.
This time, Boldin picked a particularly inopportune time to create a scene. With the team preparing for the biggest spotlight it has ever enjoyed, questions about Boldin and his being a potential distraction are guaranteed.
Whisenhunt said the Cardinals are a team built to handle it all.
"What we have been able to do this year is move on and play," he said. "These guys are highly intense competitors. Our coaches are as well. I think that there is a fine line you walk, but we've obviously been able to still succeed. … Obviously it didn't affect us being successful on the drive."
One of the most sensitive decisions Whisenhunt will have to make is whether to address the matter with Boldin or to let him be. The coach indicated he'll choose the latter.
"From my understanding, it's over with," Whisenhunt said. "We're never going to always agree on things. But we've always been able to move past that and continue to be focused on our goal. I know for a fact that I've had knockdown, drag-out fights with other coaches sitting in the room putting together a plan. But those are the guys you go to battle with because you know they have your back and you know that you are able to go through those things together."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.