GLENDALE — Scooby Wright was doing yoga Monday night when his phone started buzzing. After the class ended, he saw text messages and missed calls from his dad and agent.
One of the texts, from his father, consisted of one word: “Cardinals.”
For the second time in less than eight months, Wright’s career trajectory would change in a matter of moments, in a series of phone calls. The former Arizona Wildcats star was a Cleveland Brown when this past week began. He’s now an Arizona Cardinal, which is what he wanted to be all along.
Wright made his NFL debut Sunday afternoon at University of Phoenix Stadium. Wearing No. 58 and looking the part of a modern-day baller — eye black streaming down his cheeks, brown beard outlining his jaw, multicolored tattoos covering his arms — Wright played on special teams in the Cardinals’ 48-41 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Having just arrived Tuesday after the injury-riddled Cardinals signed him from the Browns’ practice squad, Wright wasn’t ready to play defense; the Cardinals listed him as the second-team inside linebacker behind Kevin Minter.
You have to start somewhere, though, and Wright was pumped to be playing in a game that counted for the first time in almost a year. His finale for the Wildcats, the New Mexico Bowl, took place on Dec. 19, 2015.
“It is what it is,” Wright said of his still-young pro career, which hasn’t gone exactly as he expected. “You’ve just got to scratch and crawl and wait for your opportunity. That’s what this league is about — opportunity. Right place, right time. Some of it’s luck; some of it’s not. Some guys get the opportunity sooner than others.”
Wright had to wait until the third-to-last game of his rookie season, and he had to travel across the country. Although they have yet to win a game, the Browns never activated Wright from their practice squad after waiving him and signing him to it in late September. Wright spent that time learning the subtleties of special teams, which he rarely played at the UA, and what it takes to be a pro.
It isn’t as fun or rewarding as playing in real games, of course, which leads to an obvious question: Did Wright ever have any second thoughts about leaving Tucson after his junior year?
“People ask me that question all the time,” he said. “You look at Arizona’s season — one guy wouldn’t have helped that too much. If I would have gone back and gotten injured, I would have been back to square one.
“I don’t want to say I rolled the dice but … I rolled the dice a little bit. Obviously the draft didn’t work out. Or the combine. It is what it is. I’m here. I’m happy now. That’s in the past.”
You probably know Wright’s career arc by now. After winning multiple defensive-player-of-the-year awards as a sophomore in 2014, Wright missed all but three games in ’15 because of foot and knee injuries. He plummeted to the seventh round in the ’16 draft because of concerns about his athleticism that were exacerbated by a 4.9-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine.
In an ironic development, Wright spent much of his NFL debut sprinting in a straight line down the field. He participated in 14 of 16 kickoffs in a game that featured little in the way of defense. Half of Wright’s 14 kickoff-team plays went for touchbacks.
Wright also was a member of the punt-return team. The Saints punted just once, in the third quarter. Wright, who had 163 tackles as a UA sophomore, finished Sunday’s game without recording one.
You probably wouldn’t have noticed Wright if you weren’t paying close attention. The man sitting in section 105, row 30, seat 18 monitored his every move.
Phil Wright, Scooby’s father, rooted on his son from the stands. Wearing a dark-gray Cardinals pullover and matching visor purchased from the team store Saturday, Phil Wright was part of the “Scooby Crew” that traveled to Phoenix for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The group also included Scooby’s mom, his grandpa, two sisters and two nephews. They planned to have dinner at a nearby Fleming’s after the game.
Phil Wright described Scooby’s signing with the Cardinals as “a dream.” He had committed to signing with them as a free agent as the third and final day of the draft drew to a close. But just as he was about to call back Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, Scooby received a call from the Browns. They took him with the 250th pick, fourth from the last.
From Arizona to Cleveland. Just like that.
Now Wright was back and trying to block the smaller, quicker Travaris Cadet during a third-quarter kickoff. Phil Wright watched nervously as Scooby tumbled to the turf — but got just enough of Cadet to help open a left-side lane for Brittan Golden’s 35-yard return.
“At least he forced him to the middle,” Phil Wright said of Scooby’s block on Cadet.
Scooby Wright wasn’t particularly pleased with his performance because the Cardinals lost.
“It was cool to be out there,” he said. “But I’d rather have walked out with a W. That’s the reason you play the game.”
He still appreciated the moment.
Just before he left the Cardinals locker room, Wright had a brief conversation with defensive tackle Calais Campbell, a nine-year veteran.
“First action?” Campbell asked him.
After Wright confirmed that it was indeed his first game, Campbell shot back: “First of many.”
The two then slapped hands. As Campbell got undressed, Wright walked toward the exit, excited for whatever might come next.