Why this is the perfect weekend for Larry Fitzgerald’s retirement

Apr 23, 2021, 5:14 PM
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) breaks away from Pittsburgh Steelers cornerba...
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) breaks away from Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor (24) and linebacker James Harrison (92) to complete a 64 yard touch down during the fourth quarter of the NFL Super Bowl XLIII football game, Sunday, Feb. 1, 2009, in Tampa, Fla.(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Someday, Larry Fitzgerald will actually retire. That’s a guarantee.

Will it happen on Saturday?

Don’t be surprised.

Fitzgerald was drafted on April 24, 2004. He orchestrated a near-perfect career in Arizona. The only thing missing is a Super Bowl ring. He’ll get over that.

Saturday is significant because it marks the 17th anniversary of the day he entered the NFL, when he was selected with the third overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. Retiring on the same day would be the perfect bookend, the kind of symbolism that would comfort a player with Fitzgerald’s ambition and inevitable separation anxiety.

A Saturday announcement would come before the 2021 NFL Draft, so no one could ever accuse Fitzgerald of keeping the Cardinals in a state of limbo. Wait until after the draft, and Fitzgerald might inspire unnecessary critics.

Chances are, the Cardinals have known Fitzgerald’s intentions for a long time. But if you didn’t want people to make a fuss, a Saturday announcement also represents the perfect opportunity to declare one’s retirement, maybe even get out of town on a family vacation before the tributes become uncomfortable.

There is other evidence:

Cardinals’ assistant coach Brentson Buckner practically tweeted out Fitzgerald’s retirement after a Week 17 loss to the Rams, sharing a photo of the two men with a caption that read, “Last ride with my brother. Great player, GREATER person! Thanks for the memories! @LarryFitzgerald SALUTE KING!! Canton start your clock.”

Not much margin for error in those words. Ever since that day, no one on the Cardinals has dared offer an ounce of conjecture. And on Friday, Larry Fitzgerald Sr. announced he was back in Arizona after a historic week in Minneapolis. He posted a picture with his grandchildren.

So, I’m going to get ahead of myself:

Thank you, Larry. For always putting Arizona first. For always treating the media with respect. For living your life with an open heart. For actually listening to people who came to scribble down your thoughts. For realizing the value of staying in one place. For not chasing a ring with Tom Brady in Tampa, if that is truly what you’ve chosen.

Early on, there was a time when I preferred the smoldering fire of Anquan Boldin, one of the most hardcore competitors I’ve ever known. But Fitzgerald’s ability, his intellectual curiosity and his relentless dependability won me over.

He is one of the greatest big-game players I’ve ever seen, and I covered Michael Jordan. Too bad he didn’t get more of those opportunities.

Fitzgerald has spent a career spreading sunshine and goodwill. He makes friends fast. He is almost always in a good mood. He is the rare megawatt star who has never lost sight of his good fortune.

He once showed me a text from Tiger Woods after the two had played a round of golf. He was like a fan cherishing a chance encounter with an icon, even though he was also a transcendent athlete. He also carded his first hole-in-one during a round of golf with former President Barack Obama.

Fitzgerald also produced the most improbable moment in Arizona sports history, racing through the Steelers secondary to give the once-wretched Cardinals a fourth quarter lead in the Super Bowl. I’ll never forget how my heart raced. It was the only thing that could’ve beaten Fitzgerald to the end zone.

My favorite memory?

After a steamy, stifling practice in the Arizona heat, Fitzgerald took off his jersey and his pads as he walked off the field. He noticed me waiting with the rest of the media by the entrance to the facility. He pretended like he was happy to see me and gave me a joyous bear hug.

His motives were much funnier. He simply wanted to soak me and my bargain-rack dress shirt in his dripping lather of post-practice sweat.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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