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Dan Bickley

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

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)

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.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.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