Larry Fitzgerald’s return brightens Arizona’s dark sports year

Feb 15, 2018, 2:39 PM
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LISTEN: Steve Wilks, Cardinals Head Coach

It’s been a rough year for Arizona sports.

The Cardinals missed the playoffs for a second straight season, and then quarterback Carson Palmer and coach Bruce Arians retired.

The Diamondbacks’ surprising season ended in a resounding sweep to the hated Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series.

Arizona State football stumbled to a third straight mediocre season, leading to the firing of coach Todd Graham.

Related: Fitzgerald chasing history, by the numbers

The Arizona basketball and football programs have been rocked by scandal.

The Suns’ postseason drought will hit a franchise-record eight seasons this spring.

The Coyotes forced Valley icon Shane Doan into retirement, and the team is in danger of posting the worst record in its Arizona history.

We didn’t need another hit, so thanks, Larry Fitzgerald. Thanks for being Mr. Reliable. Thanks for giving us something to feel good about. Thanks for coming back.

Cardinals coach Steve Wilks told Doug & Wolf Thursday morning on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station that Fitzgerald would return for a 15th NFL season, ending weeks of speculation and concern.

“You’re talking about a future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer,” Wilks said. “I couldn’t be more excited to have Larry coming back next year. He is totally committed — those are his words — so we’re excited and ecstatic to have him part of the Arizona Cardinals.”

Fitzgerald signed a one-year extension in November so the general feeling was that he would return, but the uncertainty of the quarterback situation — uncertainty that still exists — left some room for doubt.

His return means he’ll have the opportunity to climb to No. 2 in the NFL record books in receptions and receiving yards this season. Fitzgerald, who has averaged 108 catches the past three seasons, needs 92 catches to pass tight end Tony Gonzalez’s 1,325 for second place. He needs 390 yards to pass Terrell Owens’ 15,934 for second in that category.

Fitzgerald has noted many times that he is nowhere near catching Rice (1,549 catches, 22,895 yards) and does not expect to, but make no mistake, finishing No. 2 means a lot to Fitzgerald. So does the money he still has on the table.

When Fitzgerald took a pay cut in February of 2015, he joked that he “got a hair cut,” hiding his displeasure. He’s fully aware of what others make and what he feels he’s worth in the market.

But this isn’t just about the stats and the money. Fitzgerald proved last season that he can still play the game at a high level. He tied his own franchise record with 109 receptions, becoming the oldest player (34) in NFL history to make 100 catches in a season. He also had 1,156 yards and six touchdowns.

It’s clear that Fitzgerald still loves being in the locker room. It’s clear that he still loves playing the game. It’s clear that he can still play the game better than most, and it’s clear that Cardinals fans, far and wide, wanted him back.

If the state ever carves a Mount Rushmore of Arizona sports, Fitzgerald’s face will join Jerry Colangelo, Doan and a player-to-be-argued-about on it.

That’s a thought for another day, though.

Fitz is back. That’s good news for everyone.

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