DAN BICKLEY

Larry Fitzgerald’s return brings Cardinals undeniable value

Jan 23, 2019, 5:14 PM
FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2018, file photo, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald speaks a...

FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2018, file photo, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald speaks after an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

Larry Fitzgerald is No. 2 in history, the second-best wide receiver in NFL annals. He’s No. 1 in our hearts, comfortably atop the list of beloved Arizona athletes.

We thank him once again for delaying the inevitable.

Fitzgerald is a special kind of civic treasure. He’s elite, a one-percenter committed to living his best life. He’s drawn to others who possess great wealth.

He carded a hole-in-one while golfing at a private club with Barack Obama, watching in disbelief as a former President retrieved his ball from the hole. He called in a radio show to defend Suns owner Robert Sarver, sounding like someone who sits courtside for NBA games.

He’s also one of us. Friendly and approachable. Respectful of everyone. A sports fan. Upbeat and intellectually curious. The son of a sportswriter who never lost his footing or relatability.

Fitzgerald’s return automatically brightens the offseason. His presence is a powerful tool for Kliff Kingsbury, who can flaunt Fitzgerald’s return as implicit approval of the new head coach. It’s a shot in the arm for the Bidwill family business and the precious sellout streak at State Farm Stadium.

It’s a reprieve for the rest of us, at a time when Valley fans have little else to cheer.

Fitzgerald’s retirement will one day be an epic event in Arizona. He threw a touchdown pass in the team’s last home game of 2018 and the celebration almost felt ominous, as if the end had truly arrived. Mercifully, that is not the case.

Fitzgerald has never won a Super Bowl ring but his professional career is Masterpiece Theater. It should be taught in colleges, required curriculum for all young athletes. He has cultivated a wonderful image; maximized every contract; caught almost every pass thrown in his direction; dressed for every occasion; and rarely said a bad word about anyone.

He has also been cursed in chasing a ghost, statistical records that Jerry Rice placed out of reach during a legendary career with the 49ers and Raiders. But Fitzgerald will own at least three hallmark achievements before he’s done playing: most touchdown passes caught with one team, highlighting Fitzgerald’s enduring loyalty to Arizona; second in all-time receiving yards behind Rice; and second in receptions, as he’ll surely pass Tony Gonzalez in the upcoming season.

And here’s where Fitzgerald must take solace for whatever records he can’t break:

The insurmountable distance Rice put in his rearview mirror is exactly what Fitzgerald is doing to his competition in Arizona – past, present and future.

He’s as beloved as Shane Doan and Luis Gonzalez, but a far better player; Hall of Fame worthy like Kurt Warner but here for far longer; not as dominant as Randy Johnson, but close, especially in big games, and far more popular; armed with a great national reputation, just like Steve Nash, only better.

There were plenty of fans who didn’t dig Nash’s politics. But everybody loves Fitz.

Incidentally, there were no reports of Fitzgerald’s wage for the 2019 season, or whether he gave the team a discount so it could spend even more money on the accumulation of talent. That’s because Fitzgerald’s return is all that matters, and the value he brings to Arizona far exceeds any wage they could pay him.

It also opens a door for the acquisition of star receiver Antonio Brown, who has morphed into something of a diva and reportedly on the trading block in Pittsburgh. Fitzgerald’s status and locker-room presence would surely calm the petulant Brown, guaranteeing his compliance in the workplace.

He’s that well-respected in the NFL, the one athlete who will make you feel good about the Cardinals for as long as he wears the uniform.

That’s the power of Larry Fitzgerald. And why his return will always be a momentous event, even if it’s not a surprise.

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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