TEMPE, Ariz. — Larry Fitzgerald was back at practice for the Arizona Cardinals Thursday, albeit in a limited capacity.
“Everything was up in up, I passed all my tests,” he said Thursday afternoon. “I was cleared to go.”
Fitzgerald suffered a concussion Sunday when the Tennessee Titans’ Jackie Battle hit him with his helmet. He passed his baseline tests after the game, but following concussion protocol, the receiver had to pass a few more before he could return to the field for practice. As for Sunday’s game, Fitzgerald will have to be checked out by a neurologist who is independent from the team Friday before he will be good to go.
Head injuries are a dicey subject in the NFL these days, and the receiver, while important to the team, was not going to be allowed to play unless he was absolutely ready to.
Wednesday, head coach Bruce Arians said the health of a player comes before anything else in terms of importance, saying he would never force someone to play in a big game.
“It’s not that important,” he said. “It’s a game, and your long-term health is the most important thing.”
Fitzgerald, 30, is very much aware of that, and was not going to get back on the field unless he was able to do so safely. He knows there is risk involved and is aware of what head injuries can lead to down the road, but enjoys the sport too much to let that prevent him from getting back on the field.
“It’s uncharted territory for me; it’s a serious issue, but I want to be out there and play and I’m going to do everything I can to protect myself and my brain,” he said. “But this is football. It’s a tough sport played by tough men.
“It’s my job.”
Fitzgerald said it was his decision to be a football player, and that means accepting the risk that comes with it.
“It’s my choice and this is what I love to do.”
It’s worth noting that the concussion, which Fitzgerald said was his first, happened as a member of the hands team, not as a receiver. On offense, he knows where defenders are and is able to brace himself for big hits that might come his way. When trying to recover an onside kick, that’s hardly the case.
“In that situation I have no idea where that guy’s coming from, so I can’t brace myself, I’m in a vulnerable position,” he said. “He just caught me. Muhammad Ali got knocked out a couple of times, it just happens. He caught me flush.”
The receiver said he does not remember the hit that led to his injury, and while he wishes he could, he did watch it on film for the first time Thursday.
“He just caught me; I didn’t see it coming, I was watching the football the whole time,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s just a little bit of a lapse there. But I got everything back once I got on my feet. I remember [trainer Tom Reed] talking to me, getting me to the sideline. Things started coming back pretty quickly for me.”
Fitzgerald never made it back into the game, but he was happy his teammates were able to close the game out and get the win, the team’s ninth of the year.
Fitzgerald, who has not missed a game since 2007, has caught 73 passes for 823 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. It’s been a bit of a renaissance for the Pro Bowler, both in personal and team success.
So with his team still in the playoff hunt, it’s no wonder that he is anxious to get back out on the field. Fitzgerald said he’s never missed a division game in his life, and he has no plans on doing so this week.
And, if the situation arises where he’ll be called upon to be a member of the hands team for an onside kick, Fitzgerald will be ready to go.
“It’s a privilege to be on the hands team,” he said. “It’s an honor to go out there and close the game out. When you’re out there, it’s like Mariano Rivera coming out on the mound; you’re out there to close it out. And that’s what our job is.”