Originally Published: December 28, 2017 11 p.m.
TEMPE — Larry Fitzgerald might well be the most popular athlete in the history of the state of Arizona.
The wide receiver’s resume is packed with Hall of Fame-caliber statistics accumulated over 14 seasons with the Cardinals team that drafted him third overall in 2004. Add to that his easy-going personality combined with a remarkable durability — he’s missed six games of his 224 since joining the league — and off-the-field contributions.
A year ago, Fitzgerald and the Giants’ Eli Manning shared the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.
And impressively, at age 34, he’s still playing at a high level, all while staying mum on whether he will return for another season.
Last week, he said he would take some time off when the season ends to figure it out.
His uncertainty matches big questions with other Cardinals, including whether coach Bruce Arians will stick around for a sixth season, and whether quarterback Carson Palmer will be back with a mended broken arm at age 38.
Fitzgerald found it pointless to speculate.
“What happens after Sunday moving forward, none of us can control that on Thursday,” he said. “We just need to focus on the things that we can control.”
He resisted talking about what might happen to the organization once the season ends.
“I personally have no control over 98 percent of the stuff,” Fitzgerald said. “All I have control over is what I decide to do and that’s not really that big of a deal. There’s a lot of other decisions that are going to be made and choices, and none of that has anything to do with me, to be honest with you.
“So I just try to stay in the moment. I said it on Sunday, just trying to stay in the moment all the time and get yourself ready to play.”
Fans would argue that Fitzgerald’s impending decision is a very big deal.
No. 11 jerseys far outnumber any other when Arizona’s “Red Sea” of fans gathers at University of Phoenix Stadium. When he caught a TD pass to cap a big day last Sunday against the Giants, the crowd chanted “Lar-ry, Lar-ry, Lar-ry!”
Fitzgerald has shattered nearly every franchise receiving record and has caught a pass in 210 consecutive games, third longest in NFL history. He ranks third all-time (behind Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens) in yards receiving and third (behind Rice and Tony Gonzalez) in receptions.
He has had 17 quarterbacks complete a pass to him for a franchise that has often lacked stability let alone excellence at the position, except for his time with new Hall of Famer Kurt Warner and Palmer.
Fitzgerald enters Saturday’s season finale tied with Antonio Brown (now injured) with 101 receptions, two fewer than league leader Jarvis Landry. Fitzgerald has 1,101 yards receiving — the ninth, and third straight, time he has topped 1,000 yards in a season.
He’s been selected to the Pro Bowl for the 11th time.
He led the league last year with 107 receptions and had a career-best 109 in 2015 — all after he was switched from wideout to slot receiver when coach Arians arrived.
“Pretty much the norm,” Arians said. “He comes in great shape, he catches a hundred passes and gains a thousand yards.”
Fitzgerald credited a switch in emphasis to a short, intermediate passing game.
“I just think I’m reaping the benefit of that change,” he said.
And it’s no coincidence the big numbers coincided with the decision to move Fitzgerald to the slot. That’s a rough job, including blocking, but it opened the way for more one-on-one coverage and other opportunities.
Fitzgerald accepted it, worked hard at it and eventually excelled.
“Yeah, it was a decision for him to leave playing what he had played and was very comfortable doing,” Arians said, “and just trusting that, ‘Hey, it’s going to work out, and you’re going to catch a whole lot more balls this way.’”
What’s not known is how seriously Fitzgerald is considering hanging it up after 15 seasons. He has a one-year contract, which means if he does play it will be for Arizona. But he has not said whether he will step away from the game instead. So there’s a chance this could be his last one.
It’s on to Seattle for what Fitzgerald said is “hands down” his favorite road game.
“I’ve been looking back through all the years. I’ve never played (in) Seattle before Thanksgiving before,” he said. “It’s always late season, cold, dreary, rainy, loud, miserable game. So I wouldn’t expect it any other way.”