The Arizona Cardinals relocated to the Southwest from St. Louis, Missouri in 1988 and the majority of their first two decades in the desert were mired by them missing on most of their first-round draft picks which saw them only make the postseason once over that stretch. But one draft pick who the Cardinals hit on is wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald was the third overall pick of the 2004 National Football League Draft by the Cardinals, and he was the first of seven wide receivers taken that year in the first round. The Cardinals would go 6-10 in 2004, but Fitzgerald began to show his promise as a rookie when he recorded 58 receptions for 780 yards, and 8 receiving touchdowns. But this was only a harbinger of things to come for Fitzgerald and the Cards.
In 2005, the Cardinals picked up quarterback Kurt Warner who was the MVP of Super Bowl 34 as a member of the St. Louis Rams. Warner and Fitzgerald developed instant chemistry as he would lead the National Football League in receptions (103), while he also tallied 1,409 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. Fitzgerald’s stellar season would not go unnoticed as he was named to the Pro Bowl.
Fitzgerald would continue to put up Pro Bowl caliber numbers and during the 2008 National Football League season, he helped the Cardinals reach the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. During the Cards Super Bowl run, Fitzgerald was a one-man wrecking crew as in four games he had 30 receptions for 546 yards and 7 touchdowns which were all single-season postseason records.
In Super Bowl 43, Fitzgerald helped the Cardinals overcome a 10-point deficit as they would take their first lead of the game with 2:37 left in the game as he burned the Steelers defense for a 64-yard touchdown. However the Cardinals defense could not hold the lead as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would rally his team and lead them to the game-winning touchdown with just 35 seconds remaining as Pittsburgh would win 27-23. If Arizona would have been able to hang on, Fitzgerald would have more than likely been the Super Bowl MVP as he had 7 receptions for 127 yards, and a pair of touchdowns.
After the Cards trip to the Super Bowl, Fitzgerald has also gone on to put up fantastic numbers which has seen him tally at least 90 receptions in a season six times. Last season at the age of 32, Fitzgerald had 109 receptions, while he is currently leading the NFL in receptions this season with 88. This season has seen Fitzgerald surpass Hall of Fame wide receivers Tim Brown, Cris Carter, and Marvin Harrison on the National Football League’s all-time list for receptions as he is currently third with 1,106 which is behind only Tony Gonzalez and Jerry Rice. 2016 has also seen Fitzgerald surpass the likes of Hall of Fame wide receiver James Lofton on the NFL’s all-time list for receiving yards. Fitzgerald currently has 14,246 receiving yards which is good for 10th place on the NFL’s all-time list receiving yards, while this year saw him become just the tenth player in league history to record 100 career touchdown grabs.
What has kept Fitzgerald around this long is his work ethic and mental toughness. As a kid Fitzgerald was a ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings during training camp and in the process he was able to learn from two of the best to ever have done at his position in Carter and Randy Moss. Fitzgerald made a name for himself collegiately with the Pittsburgh Panthers where in two years he gained 2,677 receiving yards to go along with 34 receiving touchdowns. In 2003, Fitzgerald would win the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver, while he would also be named as the Big East Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.
And what has truly been so amazing about what Fitzgerald has been able to do is that he has had to deal with inconsistency at the quarterback position for the majority of his National Football League career.
Whereas Fitzgerald is one of the better wide receivers in the National Football League, he has caught passes from 13 different starting quarterbacks which sums up the inconsistency of the Cardinals. But in true Fitzgerald fashion he never complains and he simply goes about his business.
What sets Fitzgerald apart from most wide receivers in the National Football League are his hands as he has the ability to catch a house fly in the dark. Fitzgerald works relentless at perfecting his craft which includes his pass catching, route running, stamina, and mental preparation for the game. And that relentlessness is what has sent wide receivers such as Rice, Carter, Lofton, and Raymond Berry to Canton, Ohio and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as Fitzgerald will join them there someday.
At 33-years of age, Fitzgerald knows that his playing career is close to being done; not because he still cannot get it done at a high level, but merely due to the fact that it becomes more difficult to maintain at an elite level on you turn 30. Fitzgerald has recently hinted that he won’t be around to catch Gonzalez or Rice on the National Football League’s all-time list for receptions, but this doesn’t mean that his greatness shouldn’t be recognized. Fitzgerald has done this in an era which has been defined by diva wide receiver, but he has always let his play each Sunday do the talking. And that alone has set him apart from the rest of the pack.