On Jan. 3, 2015, the Arizona Cardinals lost to the Carolina Panthers, 27-16, in the NFC Wild Card game. In a game in which third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley threw for 82 yards, Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald had three catches for 31 yards in what, at the time, could have been his last game with Arizona.
“I remember we were in the locker room after the game in Charlotte and he was being asked questions about is this your last game as a Cardinal? What are your feelings?” Phoenix-based CBS TV anchor Mark McClune said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “He spoke very quietly and I don’t think knew. So when a two-year, $20 million deal came across the table in the offseason, I’m sure that was a very peasant surprise.”
The Cardinals have to be elated that they retained the 32-year-old Fitzgerald, who had one of the best receiver seasons in the NFL this year. Fitzgerald caught 109 balls for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns. Even better? He almost single-handedly put Arizona in the NFC Championship, finishing with eight catches for 176 yards and a touchdown – which, by the way, was the game-winner in overtime – to beat Green Bay 26-20 last week.
“You’re looking at Hall of Fame numbers,” McClune said. “You’re looking at maybe the greatest postseason receiver in history. Now granted, Jerry Rice played a ton more games, but Fitzgerald is ahead of him in touchdowns, he passed Steve Smith for yards – he’s a guy that steps up on a huge stage. Whether it was against the Steelers in the Super Bowl back in ’09 when he took it to the house and we thought here in Arizona that the Cardinals were going to win the Super Bowl, or last Sunday night against the Packers when he put the team on his back and basically won the game – those are two Hall-of-Fame moments.”
Fitzgerald was arguably the best receiver in the NFL from 2005 to 2011, recording four seasons of 1,400+ yards and four with double-digit touchdowns. In 2012 and 2014, however, Fitzgerald was held under 800 yards both times and combined for just six touchdowns.
“It’s just been very interesting to see him hang in there because I think there were a lot of moments where he maybe wanted to go back home to Minnesota, maybe wanted to go play with a better quarterback,” McClune said. “But he’s going to spend his entire career hopefully here as an Arizona Cardinal. He’s iconic. He is an icon right now in the Valley of the Sun.”