Anquan Boldin (81), now with the Ravens, lines up next to Larry Fitzgerald during a game in San Francisco back in 2008.
The first time Larry Fitzgerald saw Anquan Boldin in person, he was shocked.
Fitzgerald, while in college at the University of Pittsburgh, had watched Boldin in his rookie year with the Cardinals in 2003 running defenders over and stiff-arming would-be tacklers. In his mind, Fitzgerald pictured Boldin as 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds – not the 6-1, 220-pounder that he was.
When Fitzgerald was drafted by the Cardinals the following spring and was able to practice with Boldin, Fitzgerald remembers thinking, "Man, he's a lot smaller than he plays."
Fitzgerald got used to Boldin quickly. The two paired for some historic personal seasons with the Cardinals – such as 2005, when both surpassed 100 receptions – and with the team – such as 2008 and the team's Super Bowl season.
Sunday, however, will be the first time the two will have been on opposite teams in a game (unless you count Kurt Warner's annual flag football tournament) when the Cardinals visit the Ravens. Boldin was traded to Baltimore following the 2009 season after contract issues created a contentious final couple of seasons in Arizona.
So now, Boldin and Fitzgerald – who remain in contact -- will be reunited, at least for a few hours.
"That's my guy," Fitzgerald said. "We grew up together. We had all those great times together."
"We were together for six of my seven years, so there was definitely a comfort zone there, having each other on opposite sides," Boldin said. "We both know this is a business, and unfortunately, things like that happen."
The irony is that it was Fitzgerald's first big contract extension in the spring of 2008 that began to turn Boldin sour on the idea of remaining a Cardinal. He had been looking for a second contract extension after signing one before the 2005 season – it ran through 2010 -- and felt the organization had indicated they would.
The first day of training camp in 2008, Boldin went public with his complaint, saying he would never sign another deal in Arizona. He went on to have two more good seasons with the Cards, getting over 1,000 yards each year, with 11 touchdowns in only 12 games during the 2008 Super Bowl run. But in March of 2010 he was dealt to the Ravens for a third- and fourth-round pick. The deal, with another trade factored in, brought in safety Kerry Rhodes, receiver Andre Roberts and linebacker O'Brien Schofield.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said it was "hard" to talk about evaluating the trade because the Cardinals aren't playing well. But "the whole reason behind the trade was that it was a good thing for both parties," Whisenhunt said. "Anquan wanted a change."
Boldin insisted a chance to play the Cardinals again does not mean anything special to him, that "it's just get back on the field and get a win."
The trade "worked out great for me," Boldin said. "I definitely owe them a thank you.
"My only request was, for me to get traded, I wanted to go somewhere where I'm able to compete for a championship every year. This is one of those places."
Cardinals tight end Todd Heap, who was teammates with Boldin last season, called Boldin the type of player who teammates know will always step up on game days. "You like having him on your side," Heap added. "Hopefully it doesn't happen this week."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Boldin has blended in as a leader, and that Baltimore's biggest issue with him right now is an inconsistency in getting Boldin the ball. He has just 27 catches for 396 yards and two touchdowns in six games – coincidentally, practically the same numbers of the man once drafted to replace him, Early Doucet (26-339-2).
His statistics were never going to remain as lofty as they were in Arizona, where the pass came first with quarterback Kurt Warner. Boldin had 64 receptions for 837 yards and seven touchdowns last year, his first in Baltimore.
Fitzgerald, meanwhile, signed his second contract extension with the Cardinals during training camp. With 31 catches for 505 yards and two touchdowns, Fitzgerald is also looking for ways he can be a more consistent target in the offense, especially against the Ravens.
After all, Fitzgerald knows what the other team's top receiver will bring against the Cards.
"The things that (Anquan) did well, I didn't do well, and the things that I did well, he didn't have to do," Fitzgerald said. "I think we really complemented each other well. When we are on the same side of the field, we presented defenses with a lot of different challenges. It gave defenses more to have to think about, more to prepare for.
"It was a lot of fun playing with him."