The danger with the superlative – at least, when attached to an athlete – is it creates an expectation that is so difficult to achieve consistently.
Then again, there are times when the superlatives aren’t enough. Not on their own.
After eight years, that’s how it feels with Larry Fitzgerald. What is left to say about the Pro Bowl wide receiver that hasn’t already been said? Ken Whisenhunt had to ponder that himself.
“Every day, every single day, he comes to work and works his tail off to try and get better,” Whisenhunt said. “You are talking about one of the best players in the league. How much better do you think you can get by doing that every day? Well, obviously, Larry thinks he can.”
There’s something to that. Fitzgerald, especially in group settings, falls back into cliché talk, especially about himself. He will talk about needing to get better every time the subject of him comes up. He did it again Sunday, after his seven catches for a season-high 149 yards and a touchdown. “I can improve in all facets of my game and I continue to work on that,” were Fitzgerald’s exact words.
Cliché. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t genuine.
Everyone got a chuckle out of Fitzgerald’s thundering decleater of a block on 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown that helped spring Early Doucet for his touchdown. Even Whisenhunt smiled when recounting it, but spoke the truth: “Larry has gotten a lot better about his blocking the last couple of years (and) I have to give him credit there, because that wasn’t his forte.”
His blocking – as well as the blocking of fellow wideout Andre Roberts – was widely praised in
It’s so much more than that, though. Whisenhunt pointed out how Fitzgerald made sure to make a key tackle after a San Francisco interception Sunday. On the practice field, spectacular catches are a daily occurrence, not just reserved for games, and Fitzgerald will get into the ear of a teammate – like he did with a young defender earlier this season – if he thinks the focus isn’t there.
Fitz was the one to make sure third-string QB Rich Bartel got the ball back – with a hug – after Bartel threw his first NFL touchdown pass. Who rushed over to Doucet after his game-winning score in Philadelphia, or to Roberts after his touchdown Sunday, or picked Beanie up for a hug after Wells broke the rushing record in St. Louis?
“Those are the kinds of things about Larry that you don’t see, or a lot of people don’t see, that make him so special, other than the tangible things you see on the field,” Whisenhunt said.
Fitzgerald has gone from the “one-trick pony” – the jab put to him by former offensive coordinator Todd Haley as a motivational ploy – to one-stop shopping for everything a team would want in a player.
Earlier this season Fitzgerald recounted when everything changed for him. Haley dug into him that first season Whisenhunt was in town in 2007, but it was the end of that year that affected Fitzgerald the most. The Cards fought to win their final two games to reach .500, and Fitzgerald saw how that wasn’t enough for the coaches or the team anymore – even though it was by far the best record a Cardinals’ team had achieved since he had arrived.
Everything else, beyond just his own numbers, grew in importance. His presence on the team and in the locker room blossomed into something so much more than “just” a wide receiver, which is why the team gave him another mega-contract and didn’t blink.
Fitzgerald’s raw receiving numbers are going to be different this season. Barring something unforeseen the last three games, his reception numbers are going to be down from where he’d like. Seven catches Sunday only gave him 62 for the season, and Fitzgerald is used to having at least 90.
Fitzgerald already has 1,092 yards and seven touchdowns, so at least those totals will level out to close to where Fitz needs them. The website Profootballfocus.com opined earlier this year that Fitzgerald is better now than in his gigantic 2008 season, a nod to quarterback changes and Fitz’s own development.
But he’s still a wide receiver, first and foremost. That’s why – even with all Fitzgerald has embraced as team leader – a spectacular statistical day like Sunday is good for everyone involved.
Even if such a performance means the coach has to search for new adjectives to describe it.
“You know it burns in Larry to get the ball,” Whisenhunt said. “He wants the ball. I can’t tell you how many times over the course of a game he will come and tell me that he was open, he’s got this or he’s working on this. During our time together there have been quite a few times when we have gotten in the red zone and he says, ‘Coach, I know this play will work. Call it,’ and by and large, he makes them work, whether he’s open or not.
“That is why Larry works so hard. It’s not easy as a receiver when you aren’t getting the ball all the time, because that is what you thrive on, that is what you live for, but it is always great when you see Larry have one of those kinds of days like he did (Sunday), because generally when he does, we do pretty well as a team too.”