Who needs to leave the house on Saturday nights as long as the NFL postseason is dishing out drama? After the stunning climax to Steelers and Bengals on Wild Card Weekend, the Divisional Round upped the ante with an overtime thriller in the desert. From a tipped touchdown pass to a pair of Aaron Rodgers “Hail Mary” gems in the closing seconds of regulation to a coin that didn’t flip, the Packers and Cardinals saved the best for last. And it’s only fitting that the final images from an unforgettable clash were provided by the face of the Arizona franchise–one of the most productive and popular players in Cardinals’ history and a guy who leaves an indelible impression everywhere he goes.
You never hear a negative word uttered about Larry Fitzgerald. Everyone speaks highly of him. That’s not easy to accomplish in this day and age of total access. Ask other players and members of the NFL fraternity what they think about the Cardinals’ receiver, and they almost always describe him as “classy.” They also tell you he’s a good guy who’s highly respected for his leadership, work ethic, and positive attitude. Of course, he’s also a future Hall of Famer for what he’s accomplished on the field. Now he can add the waning seconds from Saturday’s victory to his extensive highlight reel.
With Carson Palmer under siege on a broken play, he spun out of a sack and floated a pass to Fitzgerald standing all alone across the field. Not only did Larry have room to run after the catch, but he eluded nearly half the Green Bay defense to rumble 75 yards into the red zone. With the crowd erupting, his number was called again for a shovel pass from Palmer that worked like a charm. Fitzgerald’s 10th career postseason touchdown brought the house down and propelled Arizona into the NFC Championship for the first time in seven years.
Only Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin own more 100-yard receiving games in the playoffs. Saturday was the fifth for Fitzgerald in just eight opportunities. He finished with 176 yards, nearly all of which came in the second half and overtime. In fact, his 170 receiving yards after halftime are the most ever in the postseason. He played alongside Kurt Warner in the Cardinals’ 2008 Super Bowl run when he hauled in seven touchdowns in four contests. He continues to rise to the occasion under the white hot spotlight and pressure of the playoff stage; the win over the Packers is the latest example.
Fitzgerald heard the talk about him slowing down at age 32. After six years of never missing a game, he sat out twice last season and spent most of the year battling injuries. His shaky health and his move to slot receiver with the hiring of Bruce Arians were reflected in his numbers. He caught a career-low two touchdown passes and restructured his contract in the offseason to give the Cardinals more cap flexibility. Then he returned with a vengeance. With Carson Palmer part of the MVP conversation, Fitzgerald set the new franchise record for most receptions in a season (109), racked up 1215 yards, and found the end zone nine times. He was named to his ninth Pro Bowl which is the most in team history and second only to Jerry Rice all-time.
A rare breed in sports these days, Fitzgerald is content to build his legacy in one place. He loves the Phoenix area, and the fans adore him for his loyalty and commitment to staying in Arizona. Even in the bleak years after he was drafted in 2004 and after Warner retired in ’09, Larry has been a constant on and off the field. He’s well-known for his philanthropy across multiple platforms for a variety of causes. He’s established a pair of foundations: the Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund and the Carol Fitzgerald Memorial Fund to honor his late mother who died with breast cancer while he was playing college football at Pittsburgh. He’s passionate about helping kids and families in crisis and supporting health-related organizations that work with families. He’s also traveled to Africa to hand out hearing aids and dig wells, and he’s visited US soldiers serving overseas.
Fans love to share stories about how they met him and how kind and genuine he is–how he takes time to shake hands, smile for pictures, and linger for a conversation. He’s active on social media and frequently responds to people who send him messages on twitter. After his epic catches sealed the win Saturday night, fellow NFL stars and celebrities from other sports (like Lebron James) sent him tweets and texts. And he earned even more respect for acknowledging longtime NFL reporter Chris Mortensen’s battle with cancer in a postgame interview on the field.
Larry Fitzgerald is one of the good guys. As the NFL heads into Championship Weekend, it’s a popular refrain from people in and out of football: “I’m rooting for Larry to win a ring.” In a league full of superstars and household names where loyalties are so fiercely divided, that speak volumes about the athlete and the man.
A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @.