Father Time does not have Larry Fitzgerald’s address
Arizona Cardinal WR Larry Fitzgerald has remained a constant as one of the most productive receivers in the NFL for the past 13 seasons. In 8 of those seasons, Fitzgerald went over 1,000 yards. In 2006 he was 54 yards shy of the thousand mark. In 2013, just 46 yards shy. After two consecutive 1,000 yard years, it’s safe to say that Fitzgerald isn’t slowing down.
His production hasn’t suddenly declined. On Sundays, Larry is still lining up, catching balls, making plays, and scoring points. The fire and desire for the game is still there. Throughout his illustrious career, Fitzgerald has managed to record multiple 1,000 yard campaigns with multiple QBs at the helm. And he’s done so quietly.
That is what makes him one of the greats.
In his rookie year, he had QB Josh McCown throwing him the ball. QBs Shaun King and John Navarre also threw the ball a few times that season. King is memorable (mostly for his time with the Bucs). Not many can cite big games produced by Navarre. Fitzgerald finished the season with 780 yards/ 8 touchdowns.
The 2006 season had rookie QB Matt Leinart and QB Kurt Warner leading the Bird Gang. Leinart would start after Warner struggled. Fitzgerald would get close to a thousand this season – finishing with 946 yards/6 touchdowns.
Fitzgerald would go 5 consecutive seasons as a premiere player in the Cardinals offense. He had one trip to the Super Bowl. The NFL was put on notice that no matter who was throwing the football in Arizona, number 11 was going to do work.
In 2012, Larry put up 798 yards/4 touchdowns. QBs Brian Hoyer, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, and John Skelton in a rotation that did not benefit Fitzgerald. Arizona struggled to build on chemistry between QB-WR, and despite a 4-0 start, this season would be a disappointment.
The following season, the Cardinals were led by new Head Coach Bruce Arians. Fitzgerald’s numbers improved from a year prior. Veteran QB Carson Palmer provided stability to the position, and Larry was within striking distance of a thousand yards. He would total a 954 yard/10 touchdown year. A week 17 loss ended playoff hopes despite finishing the season 10-6.
The 2014 season Cardinals were one of the hottest teams in the league. Fitzgerald did not have monstrous numbers – but the team was winning, and it didn’t matter. Larry played his part and was unselfish – a classic attribute he’s displayed every season. He had 784 yards/2 touchdowns. The Cardinals were in the playoffs – and Fitzgerald was looking to help his team finish the NFL season hosting the Season Finale in the desert. Palmer went down in November. QBs Drew Stanton and Lindley wouldn’t be enough to keep the team functioning at a high level. They were eliminated in the first round. Fitzgerald’s drop in productivity had some wondering if they’d witnessed the last of Larry.
How did he respond? In classic Fitzgerald fashion. He remained professional. He was honest with the uncertainty of his NFL Career. Ultimately, he would decide he’s not going out like that and would make another run at a championship. He racked up back-to-back seasons of 1,000 over the next two years.
Fitzgerald was one of my favorite players during his college years in Pittsburgh. Tennessee had no chance in drafting him in 2004 as they didn’t have a 1st round pick. I would have traded every single pick they had that year to acquire Larry Fitzgerald – none of the picks they chose came close to matching the productivity of Larry the Legend.
I still followed Fitzgerald as a fan and on Sundays found myself pulling for the Cardinals a lot, only because of number 11. I felt the electricity when Fitzgerald took it to the house in the Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Every eye that watched that moment could feel just how bad Larry wanted that ring. He deserved it. He came so close. Santonio Holmes’ heartbreaking toe-tap at the end of the game was not only crushing to Cardinals’ fans – but to supporters of Fitzgerald.
A personal aspect to Larry Fitzgerald’s character is observed by all he does working with charities off the field. His work in raising cancer awareness has been amazing. Anyone who knows anything about Fitzgerald knows about the loss of his mother to cancer. When my grandfather passed in 2012, I reached out to Fitzgerald via Twitter. He response was genuine and helped lift my spirits. I wanted to screenshot the Tweet from October 2012 that helped me get through a rough time, but couldn’t go back that far. But I know it happened. And if Larry ever reads this, just know that you made a bigger difference than you know.
My son is 4 – and he’s rocking the number 11 in both soccer and t-ball. He’ll probably carry this number heading into football. This season, the Titans travel to Arizona in December. My family is planning on making the trip to Arizona to watch not only the Titans – but to watch Larry do his thing on the field. I’ll enjoy seeing him score – albeit against my team – just to say I witnessed a Fitzgerald touchdown live. If he scores, I’ll watch him – in classic Fitzgerald-fashion – toss the ball to the ref because he’s been there before.
The Legend Continues
Fitzgerald is going to catch footballs in 2017. It doesn’t matter who the other receivers are on the roster – if you throw it to number 11, he’s going to come down with the ball often. He’ll head into this season looking to three-peat a thousand yards, compete for the division crown, and hope to make a playoff run coming out of the winnable NFC West.
A playoff appearance won’t influence whether Fitzgerald comes back next season. He will. He will know if his body can withstand another season. He will know if he is still capable of producing on the field. Fitzgerald will know when he’s played his last down. It doesn’t appear to be anytime soon.
Fitzgerald’s 10 Pro Bowls (two in the past two season), 14,389 yards, 104 touchdowns, and the fact that he’s played in 202 out of 208 regular season games means he doesn’t need anyone’s approval.
And for that, I’m excited to see how many more seasons Fitz has left flying with the Bird Gang.
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Stats referenced at nfl.com and pro-football-reference.com