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Dan Bickley

Possibility of instant success should convince Fitzgerald to return in 2019

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) greets fans prior to an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Larry Fitzgerald loves money and numbers. But there’s one statistic he’d like to give back.

The go-ahead touchdown he scored against the Steelers in the Super Bowl. The most breathtaking moment in Valley sports history.

The regret is stunning.

Fitzgerald might play his last game in Arizona this Sunday at State Farm Stadium. Fans are advised to prepare for the worst and give him your best. Bestow him the victory lap he will not script.

Of course, Fitzgerald might not retire at all. I’m betting he won’t. Why walk away from a life already perfect? From a league that reveres him and a team that needs his presence?

Forecast the immediate future. Steve Wilks will be fired after the season, and in some ways, it feels like he’s already gone. Patrick Peterson will be appeased and reattached. Steve Keim will get one final chance at redemption. Josh Rosen will hit the reset button, with many painful lessons accrued. The Cardinals will likely possess the No. 1 pick in the draft, and they have surplus salary cap space to sign new players.

Fitzgerald can’t leave under those circumstances. Not while he’s still productive, with a durability built on supreme intelligence and awareness. He knows how to stay healthy. He could write his own practice terms entering the 2019 season. He could find a much better sunset one year down the road.

And yet.

Fitzgerald is showing signs of deeper appreciation. He’s acting like every play is his last, a stark contrast to the effort shown by many of his teammates. He led a comeback win against the 49ers and spiked a football for the first time in his life. He passed Jerry Rice for most receptions with one team, and swiftly threw the ball to the sidelines for safekeeping. He was one of the few players who never eased up during a coffin-nail loss to the Falcons.

They paint the picture of a man enjoying every last breath on a football field. A man about to say goodbye, and one of the few Cardinals who haven’t disappointed in 2018.

He didn’t sit out like David Johnson. He didn’t demand a trade like Peterson. He never quit on the game during the worst of circumstances, and maybe that’s the perfect way to retire.

Either way, Fitzgerald’s legacy is secure. He’s done more for one team than any other wide receiver in history, and has a record to prove it.

But he doesn’t have a Super Bowl trophy. The void is bigger than we think.

Would he really have taken a knee against the Steelers?

“You think of every aspect of things like that and what you could have done different,” Fitzgerald said via text.

More than any other, that play heightened our very existence. It was more visceral and more blissful than the blooper that won the World Series. When Fitzgerald crossed the goal line, the Cardinals were winning the Super Bowl. It was like breathing the air at the top of a mountain.

There’s no telling if Arizona would’ve scored had Fitzgerald taken a knee at the one-inch line. There could’ve been penalties, malfeasance or another dramatic goal-line stand from Pittsburgh. The game could’ve ended the way the first half ended, with a Cardinals’ collapse deep in the red zone.

In the end, Fitzgerald doesn’t really regret the touchdown he scored. He regrets losing the Super Bowl he thought he’d won. With a swift turnaround, the Cardinals could make another run in two years. Fitzgerald could probably play that long, maybe long enough to get Rice’s attention.

Either way, all eyes will be on Fitzgerald this Sunday. Will he show his hand against the Rams? Will his postgame demeanor skew to the sappy side, revealing his true intentions? Will he acknowledge the crowd on his way off the field?

No. He will leave us guessing. And I’m guessing he’s going nowhere.

Not until Keim shows his hand, and what ownership will do to fix a losing program.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier