Fitzgerald is the Anti-Antonio Brown – Always Has Been
Even without a Heisman Trophy or a Super Bowl ring, Steelers fans should appreciate all the Cardinals wide receiver has done and stood for since arriving at Pitt.
In 2003, he almost won the Heisman Trophy but ended up finishing second to some joker from Oklahoma (Jason White, a quarterback who has long since been forgotten, and justifiably so).
In 2008, he almost won a Super Bowl but as it turned out left a little too much time on the clock after he scored what otherwise could have easily stood as the game-winning touchdown.
And in his 16 NFL seasons, he’s caught more passes (1,364) for more receiving yards (19,928) than anyone whose ever played the game except for one player, but that one player is Jerry Rice (1,549/22,895).
That might make Larry Fitzgerald the greatest bridesmaid in history.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t worth recognizing and appreciating at least one more time.
Done properly, that’ll take a while.
Fitzgerald’s two seasons at Pitt included a monster 2003 season in which he caught 92 passes for 1,672 yards and 22 touchdowns and won the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award (he was the first sophomore to be so honored).
The Heisman should have followed.
Fitzgerald’s flirtation with football immortality continued in the NFL, specifically against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.
His Cardinals trailed, 20-7, entering the fourth quarter. Fitzgerald responded with six catches for 115 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the second of which turned a second-and-10 from the Arizona 36-yard line with 2:27 left in regulation into a spectacular, 64-yard, catch-and-run touchdown that gave the Cardinals a 23-20 lead.
Everyone remembers what Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes did next.
But not to be forgotten regarding the frenetic finish was LaMarr Woodley’s sack of Kurt Warner and Brett Keisel’s fumble recovery on first-and-10 from the Steelers’ 44 with 15 seconds remaining.
Had Warner gotten that last pass off, is there any doubt Fitzgerald would have somehow found a way to come down with the ball in the end zone?
His run in the 2008 playoffs – 30 receptions for 546 yards and seven TDs in four games – remains one of the greatest in NFL history.
But Fitzgerald hasn’t been back to the Super Bowl since.
With the Cardinals at 3-8-1 in advance of Sunday’s hosting of the Steelers, he won’t be going back this season, either.
And there might not be a next season.
In the event there isn’t, Fitzgerald, 36, will have to settle for being remembered, not as a Heisman winner or a Super Bowl champion, but as one of the greatest the game has ever witnessed on and off the field.
His humanitarian efforts are legendary (Fitzgerald won the 2016 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which the NFL bestows annually on a player recognized for on-the-field excellence and volunteer/charitable efforts).
And you could travel from Atlanta to Seattle, or from New England to Los Angeles, and not find someone even remotely connected to the NFL who would associate a discouraging word with Fitzgerald.
He’s the anti-Antonio Brown, always has been.
So there’s that.
And now there’s Sunday, a day on which the Steelers will play another critical game and a day on which Steelers fans should still remember to reflect, perhaps for one final time in his playing days, about an athlete who touched Pittsburgh briefly and then did nothing but do Pitt, Pittsburgh and the NFL proud for 16 remarkable seasons.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has already done that.
“I’d be remise if I didn’t mention Larry Fitzgerald,” Tomlin said unsolicited during his press conference this week. “I’ve just got a lot of respect for Larry, not only in terms of what he’s capable of, but what he’s done, what he means for this game, the way he stands for the game of football, the example that he is for all of us in this business, and just us in general.
“He’s just a quality human being and a big-time competitor, a guy that’s got a gold jacket-like (Hall-of-Fame) career. Man, I just always got a high level of respect, and I’m never surprised when I turn the tape on and watching him being a significant contributor to his team’s efforts, and it’s on this tape in 2019.”
A quality human being …
You can’t be better than that, even with a Heisman or a Super Bowl ring.