Fomer UM football stars form bond while helping Cardinals reach Super Bowl

TAMPA -- During the tough times, when it looked as if all they were doing in Arizona was wandering the desert, Edgerrin James, Antrel Rolle and Calais Campbell could find direction in their brotherhood.

The tie that binds them is the fact they all played at the University of Miami. And they argue that is every bit as important as one out of similar DNA.

''It really is a brotherhood,'' Rolle insisted Tuesday as the Cardinals continued preparations for Super Bowl XLIII against Pittsburgh. ``No matter what, it can never be broken. Nobody should even try.''

If you think there is nothing extraordinary about the bond between players at ''The U,'' examine the relationship the three Cardinals players share. They come from different Miami classes and teams that reached different levels of success.

But when they were united on the same Arizona roster, they connected. It was natural. It was expected.

''We have a special relationship,'' James said. ``It's a bond that has been going on for years with players from that school. It's something that no other team and no other school can duplicate.

``It's something that's super special. It's really hard to explain, but you talk to anybody from the University of Miami, they know what it's about.''
It's about men who wouldn't otherwise be friends becoming each other's support system.

When Campbell, 22 and still a rookie, was selected by Arizona in the second round of last April's NFL Draft, the first call he took was from the Cardinals. The second and third calls he took were from James, 30, and Rolle, 26.

''As soon as I got drafted by the team, they called me and welcomed me to the team,'' Campbell said. ``There's just that connection you have that comes from work ethic and knowing what you have to do to get where you want to be. We had that and learned that at UM and it carries over.

``So when I got to Arizona, these guys helped me with getting a house and showed me what people to talk to. They helped with simple decisions like places to eat. They took care of me like a little brother. They looked out for me.''

That apparently applies in times of trouble as well as triumph. And this trio has tasted both this season.

After being drafted as a cornerback in 2005 and enjoying only modest success his first two seasons, Rolle lost his starting job in 2007. James was the teammate who encouraged Rolle.

''Since I first stepped into this league, he's been that guy in my ear telling me the right things to do,'' Rolle said. ``He pulls you to the side and talks to you, he's not a spotlight person. He doesn't tell you what you want to hear, but he does tell you what you need to hear.''

Rolle handled the demotion by moving to safety, where he has become a ball-hawking, touchdown return waiting to happen.

Rolle has nine interceptions in his career and has returned four for touchdowns. He also had a fumble return for a touchdown during the playoffs.
James also has a playoff touchdown to go with his 203 yards on 52 carries. He is again a starter and a key to bringing balance to a pass-first Arizona offense.

But midway through the season, James was practically erased from the offense -- with 27 carries in 10 games between Oct. 5 and Dec. 21. He was benched in favor of rookie Tim Hightower.

It was a difficult time for the NFL's leading active rusher.

''You want to play,'' James said. ``This year I worked extremely hard in the offseason, and I had a chance to pass some of the greatest rushers of all time. You want to build on the previous year, and the previous year I had 1,200 yards, and that was a new system. In training camp we were doing certain things that looked like it was going to be promising, and then we were going in a different direction.''

It was a time in which James could lean on Rolle and Campbell.

''I was in the same situation as him last year,'' Rolle said. ``I got pulled from my starting job last year and every day there was a conversation with him. He'd say, `Antrel, keep balling, keep working, keep doing what you do. They're going to have to play you, they're going to have to put you on the field.'

'And so when the same thing happened to him, I told him, `Edge, you know who you are. I mean, the whole world knows who you are and it's going to come back. Trust me, it's going to come.' For whatever reason, the coaches thought he wasn't getting the job done. But he never let them keep him down.''

The professionalism James and Rolle showed this season didn't go unnoticed by Campbell.

He didn't start any games and had only 25 tackles on defense and 16 more on special teams, but Campbell learned by watching Rolle and James.

''The way Edgerrin carried himself and the way he came back was a great story,'' Campbell said. ``I learned all it takes is one opportunity to be at the top again. You can never get down on yourself. If something bad happens, you let it go into yesterday and think there's always tomorrow and try to better yourself.

``It was a good lesson to learn from a guy I think of as an older brother.''