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Larry Fitzgerald: Career retrospective | Yardbarker

NFL legend Larry Fitzgerald scorched cornerbacks on his way to becoming one of the best wide receivers in NFL history. In his 17 years, all with the Arizona Cardinals, he accomplished everything a star receiver can. While he never won a Super Bowl, he put on a show during Super Bowl XLIII. Here, we’re going to break down everything you need to know about the football player simply known as Larry Legend.

 

Becoming a ball-boy for the Minnesota Vikings

JUDY GRIESEDIECK/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Larry Fitzgerald grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His dad was a sportswriter for the “Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.” 

Fitzgerald had the opportunity of a lifetime as a teenager. He was the ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings. He got to watch his idols, wide receivers Cris Carter and Randy Moss, in the flesh. This was a great experience for the NFL hopeful.

 

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High School Career

High School Career

Fitzgerald during his time with the Cardinals (2007).
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Fitzgerald spent his high school career at the Academy of Holy Angels. Upon arrival, he excelled on the gridiron, becoming a two-time First-Team All-State wide receiver. A force on the field, Fitzgerald was struggling off it. He failed to meet the NCAA requirements to be a collegiate athlete because of his grades.

 

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Time at Valley Forge Military Academy

Time at Valley Forge Military Academy

Valley Forge Military Academy on Facebook

Determined to turn his dream of becoming a college athlete into a reality, the Minneapolis native packed his bags and headed for Valley Forge Military Academy (VFMA) in Wayne, Pennsylvania, which is just outside of Philadelphia. He hated the strict academy at first. Eventually, he grew to appreciate VFMA and the lessons of discipline, resiliency and camaraderie he learned there. It was at VFMA that Fitzgerald laid the foundation for a promising future in sports and beyond. Fitzgerald spent a year at the academy and played football there. When his time there was over, he matriculated into the University of Pittsburgh.

 

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Freshman phenom with the Pittsburgh Panthers

Freshman phenom with the Pittsburgh Panthers

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Fitzgerald burst onto the college scene as a true freshman and ran for daylight. He played lights out his freshman year, notching 69 catches for 1,005 yards and 12 touchdowns. These numbers were impressive, but Fitzgerald would make history the following year.

 

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Best receiver in the country

Best receiver in the country

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For his sophomore campaign in 2003, Fitzgerald hauled in a whopping 92 receptions for 1,672 yards and 22 touchdowns. Going up against double-teams and triple-teams each week, Fitzgerald still managed to deliver. His highlight reel during his time with the Pittsburgh Panthers is a thing of beauty.

 

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Winning the Biletnikoff Award

Winning the Biletnikoff Award

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After capping off one of the best seasons for a wide receiver in college football history, Fitzgerald won the Biletnikoff Award and the Walter Camp Player of the Year award. He became the first sophomore to win the prestigious Walter Camp award. He earned Unanimous All-American honors and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting, losing to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White in a tight race. 

His Panthers jersey number (1) was retired in 2013. He went down as one of the best Panthers in the program’s storied history.

 

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Drafted by the Arizona Cardinals

Drafted by the Arizona Cardinals

Fitzgerald making a spectacular catch (2005).
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Riding high after his historic sophomore season, Fitzgerald entered the 2004 NFL Draft. The generational prospect was regarded as the most complete wide receiver in the draft. With the third overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals selected Larry Fitzgerald. He was the first wide receiver taken off the board. 

Fun fact: Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green was the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings when Fitzgerald was the team’s ball boy. I guess everything really does come full circle!

 

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Rookie year with the Cards’

Rookie year with the Cards'

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Fitzgerald introduced himself to the NFL with 58 catches, 780 yards and eight touchdowns. His rookie numbers would’ve been solid if he was a five-year veteran in the league. During his rookie season, he formed a dynamic duo with fellow star receiver Anquan Boldin, who he played alongside until 2009.

 

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Leading the league in receptions

Leading the league in receptions

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Fitzgerald a pass-catching machine in 2005. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound receiver registered a league-leading 103 receptions, 1,409 yards and 10 touchdowns. The dynamic playmaker led the league in receptions twice (2005, 2016). A great possession receiver, it always seemed Fitzgerald was open.

 

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A magical postseason run

A magical postseason run

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The Cardinals fought their way to a 9-7 record in 2008, earning a trip to the playoffs. It was the Cards’ first playoff berth since 1998. Fitzgerald logged 96 catches for 1,431 yards and a league-leading 12 touchdowns in the regular season. But in the playoffs, he’d make NFL history.

In the early round of the NFC playoffs, Fitzgerald had a two-game run where he logged at least five catches, 100 yards and a touchdown. He torched the Philadelphia Eagles’ formidable defense for nine catches, 152 yards and three touchdowns! His stat lines looked straight out of “Madden.” In the middle of all those tremendous games, Fitzgerald put the team on his back and carried them to the Super Bowl!

 

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Losing Super Bowl XLIII in 2008

Losing Super Bowl XLIII in 2008

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl XLIII marked the Cardinals’ first Super Bowl berth. It was also their first championship game appearance since 1948. The Cardinals wanted to show up to the Big Game for the fans back home, who had been starved for a championship for so long. They were going head-to-head with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were the complete opposite of the Cardinals. With five Super Bowls under their belt, the Steelers were gearing up for their sixth. Super Bowl XLIII was a true underdog story of two teams with different histories trying to win it all. 

Fitzgerald cruises his way to seven catches, 127 yards and two touchdowns against the number-one defense in the league. When his team needed him, he scored a 64-yard touchdown to give the Cards the lead in the final moments of the game. The miraculous play was forgotten when the Steelers answered with a game-winning touchdown of their own. The Steelers pulled through and won a close one. 

In the 2008 playoffs, Larry Legend caught 30 receptions for 546 yards and seven touchdowns. He is the all-time leader for all three categories in a single postseason. It was the best postseason ever for a wideout in NFL history.

 

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Touchdown, Fitzgerald!

Touchdown, Fitzgerald!

Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Larry Legend elevated for 97 receptions, 1,092 yards and a league-leading 13 touchdowns. He led the league in receiving touchdowns in back-to-back seasons (2008, 2009). The kid from Minneapolis was always a threat to score from anywhere on the field.

 

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The Warner-Fitzgerald connection

The Warner-Fitzgerald connection

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

From 2005-09, Larry Legend’s quarterback was Kurt Warner. In 60 games, they connected for 378 catches, 5,129 yards and 43 touchdowns. The budding star receiver helped Warner play a high brand of football into the twilight of his Hall of Fame career. Their time together was short, but the Warner-Fitzgerald connection proved to be lethal, especially during the Cardinals’ best season in franchise history in 2008.

 

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Going to seven straight Pro Bowls

Going to seven straight Pro Bowls

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

No matter what defensive game plan you threw at him, Fitzgerald was unstoppable. By the late 2000s, he was the premier wide receiver in football. He was awarded as such when he made the Pro Bowl seven years in a row (2007-2013). All told, he made 11 Pro Bowls over his career. Honolulu, Hawaii, became a second home for Larry Legend.

 

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Good player on a bad team

Good player on a bad team

Fitzgerald in action at the 2011 Pro Bowl.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

While Larry Legend was piling on the awards and showering in praise, his team struggled on the field. During his 17 years with the Cardinals, they only made the playoffs five times. To put the Cardinals’ woes in perspective, they won five games or less six times in the Fitzgerald Era. Currently ranked as the 30th most valuable team in the NFL by Forbes, organizational mismanagement and shoddy quarterback play have haunted the Cardinals for much of their history. Regardless of all the losing, Fitzgerald still became the best wideout in the league. Maybe the Cardinals misfortunes are why Fitzgerald played his heart out every time they did manage to make the playoffs. Fitzgerald knew what the moment meant and never took it for granted.

 

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Thriving in a new system

Thriving in a new system

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals were making moves in 2013. After a 5-11 finish the previous year, they went out and hired offensive guru Bruce Arians as head coach, signed rocket-armed quarterback Carson Palmer and drafted LSU stud safety Tyrann Mathieu. Fitzgerald learned Arian’s player-friendly, pass-happy playbook in no time. At 30 years old, Larry Legend had a career renaissance. The Cardinals win total improved as well.

 

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One game away from another Super Bowl appearance

One game away from another Super Bowl appearance

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals soared to a 13-3 record in 2015, second-best in the NFC. Fitzgerald gave his A-game the entire season. His highlight of the year came during an overtime victory against the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. Fitzgerald caught the game-winning touchdown pass. The Cardinals lost to the 15-1 Carolina Panthers and MVP quarterback Cam Newton the following week. Larry Legend was one game away from another Super Bowl appearance.

 

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Walter Payton Man of the Year Award 2016

Walter Payton Man of the Year Award 2016

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The longtime Cardinals receiver won the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award in 2016. One of the most prestigious honors a player can receive in their career, the award honors a player who does good on and off the field. Winning the award was another reminder of all the philanthropy work Fitzgerald has done for Arizona natives. Most notably, the Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund and the Carol Fitzgerald Memorial Fund, which is named in honor of his late mother.

 

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A magnet for the ball

A magnet for the ball

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Larry Legend rarely dropped a pass. In fact, he had the best hands in NFL history. It was as if he had put stickum on his gloves. The sure-handed receiver had more tackles than drops over his 17-year career.

 

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Named All-Century Team

Named All-Century Team

Fitzgerald lining up before a play (2016).
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Larry Legend was named to the All-Century team in 2019. Other receivers selected for the prestigious All-Century team are Lance Alworth, Raymond Berry, Marvin Harrison, Elroy Hirsch, Don Hutson, Steve Largent, Randy Moss, Jerry Rice and Paul Warfield. 

Fitzgerald, Patriots legends Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, and kicker Adam Vinatieri were the only active players selected to the team. This honor solidified Fitzgerald’s place as one of the best receivers of his era.

 

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A man of many quarterbacks

A man of many quarterbacks

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Most great receivers have the same quarterback their entire career. Jerry Rice had Joe Montana. Michael Irvin had Troy Aikman. And Marvin Harrison had Peyton Manning. Fitzgerald didn’t have the same kind of quarterback continuity other greats did. Regardless, he thrived in the scorching hot Arizona desert. 

16 different quarterbacks threw a touchdown pass to Fitzgerald over his career. Some of the household names among them are Kyler Murray, Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer.

 

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The twilight of his career

The twilight of his career

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

By the time Bruce Arians retired as the coach of the Cardinals, Fitzgerald was entering the twilight of his career. Despite his age, he still hauled in spectacular catches like it was nothing. While his production dipped in the “last call” stage of his career, his stats were still on par with the league averages for wideouts.

 

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A Cardinal for Life

A Cardinal for Life

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Fitzgerald retired after the 2020 season, hauling in 54 catches for 409 yards and a touchdown in his farewell tour. He played all 17 years of his legendary career in Arizona. Now that’s loyalty.

Fitzgerald holds basically every Cardinals receiving record. When it comes to the NFL record books, he’s second all-time in career receptions (1,432), receiving yards (17,492) and sixth all-time in receiving touchdowns (121).

 

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Life outside of football

Life outside of football

Fitzgerald at the Masters (2022).
Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals legend was featured on the cover of “Madden 10” alongside Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. In the world of politics, he became good friends with longtime Arizona politician and war hero John McCain. Fitzgerald even spoke at his memorial service when he tragically passed in August 2018. In the sphere of business, Fitzgerald is a minority owner of the Phoenix Suns of the NBA. Expect Fitzgerald to continue to find ways to thrive off the field as he gets accustomed to the retired life.

 

Larry Legend

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

A surefire Hall of Famer, Larry Legend went down as one of the best receivers in NFL history. He often flew under the radar thanks to his team’s performances and the small market of Arizona. The bodyguards for the Halls of Canton will make sure he’s first in line when his time comes.

David J. Hunt is a freelance writer based out of Philadelphia. He ran cross country at Penn State, became a volunteer firefighter during COVID-19, and is a self taught journalist. He’s a diehard Philly sports fan. When he isn’t watching sports, he enjoys working out, fishing, and traveling. You can find more of his writing at The Chestnut Hill Local and The Temple News. You can follow him on Twitter at @dave_hunt44.




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