For those who know me, it’s no surprise that I can be found every Sunday afternoon in the fall with earbuds in listening to my beloved Arizona Cardinals. These same people also know that I have little problem with making well-researched pronouncements about what will happen in the future.
Well, I’ll be the first to admit that I am going to go out on a bit of a limb. Perhaps by the time you read this, this prediction will have come true, or maybe not. Or maybe it is still yet to be determined. Well, anyway that it goes, I am staking my claim that Larry Fitzgerald has played his last home game for the Arizona Cardinals.
Of course, I hope I am wrong. But mired in a 3-11 season and having the bust maker on speed-dial in Canton, Larry has pretty much accomplished everything you hope to accomplish in a storied 15-year career in the National Football League.
Larry took the field of the first time on Sept. 12, 2004, in St. Louis against the Rams. He caught four passes from Josh McCown for 70 yards. Even back then, the tall, lanky receiver with his signature dreadlocks was destined for greatness. He was the favorite of head coach Dennis Green and the team scooped him up with the third pick of the NFL Draft.
And more than just an athlete that broke records, he became the face of the franchise. For those who are unfamiliar with the team’s history, the Cardinals have been playing professional football longer than any other team. They started in 1898 and are a charter member of the league.
While the Cardinals were always a team that struggled, they had some flashes of success. In 1947, they won the NFL Championship with their “Million Dollar Backfield” with Elmer Angsman, Paul Christman, Pat Harder and future Hall of Famers, Marshall Goldberg and Charley Trippi. But after futile years in Chicago and then in St. Louis, the Cardinals arrived in Arizona in 1988 and were the league’s most futile franchise.
And that’s when I started to follow the team. I felt sorry for the Cardinals after move to the desert. With my fifth grade sensibilities, I felt that they were the new kid in school that just moved in. No one knew who they were and they were looking for new people to help them on their fresh start. At the time, I didn’t have a team to follow and they had sharp uniforms. I was sold.
Their first 16 years in Phoenix were not good. They probably rivaled the Bengals as the worst team in the league. They had an older, out-of-touch owner, coaches that were in over their head and players that had little, if any, talent. Fans would get used to long losing streaks and hot fall afternoons at Sun Devil Stadium.
But things changed when Larry Fitzgerald came on the scene. His first season, the Cardinals only went 6-10. But in five short years, he would take the team to a place even the most diehard fans wouldn’t think possible. In 2008, the Cardinals actually played in the Super Bowl.
And through all the ups and all the downs, one constant has been there for the Cardinals and it’s been Larry, his long dreadlocks and his signature smile leading the way. And more than just an amazing athlete, he is an amazing man.
He’s a known commodity in the Phoenix community as one of the true good guys who gives back to the community. His philanthropic efforts to the community’s children are well-known and he is well-respected by his teammates and even his competitors.
While there is a chance he comes back next year, it’s doubtful. And I kind of hope he doesn’t. I hope after the last game of year, he gets behind the podium and says he’s had a great career, but it’s time to move on. Never one to make a big deal of himself, that’s the way he would want it. He realizes that his job is to catch balls, throw blocks and do his job.
Larry, I hope to see you in Canton here in about five years.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.