When the Seahawks host the Arizona Cardinals Sunday in their penultimate regular-season game, one of the big tasks for the defense this week, just like in every Cardinals game since 2004, will be contending with Larry Fitzgerald.
What the Seahawks—or anyone else not named Larry Fitzgerald, for that matter—don't know is if after facing Fitzgerald Sunday, whether they'll see one of the NFL's all-time great receivers again. Fitzgerald, who is in his 16th season, has been mum on his future and has long made it clear he has no desire for a farewell tour, so nobody seems to know for sure if he will play beyond the current one-year contract he signed after last season.
With 67 catches for 711 yards, Fitzgerald is Arizona's leading receiver at the age of 36, showing he can still get the job done, so the Seahawks suspect they could see him again next year even if he hasn't said anything about his future.
"I'll believe it when I see it," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of a Fitzgerald retirement. "He looks great. He's an incredible player. He's just an amazing player. He demonstrates a character by his play that I think all guys should aspire to. His mentality, his consistency, his work ethic, his work habits, his consistency with effort in the games, his willingness to be on the spot when the games on the line, all of that mentality—Hall of Fame. World class. As good as you could hope for. And he can produce. He can make the plays. He's been a great guy to compete against. If he wants to retire, that'd be great. I don't know why he would. He's still going strong."
Said linebacker Bobby Wagner, "I don't think it is (his last year). He still looks amazing; he's playing at a high level. I want him to do whatever is best for him and his family but, he looks like he's playing some really good ball at a high level, very smart. I would be surprised if he doesn't keep going. But if he does, it's always been a lot of respect on this end, a lot of love on this end. I hope we can keep hitting him for a couple more years."
As Carroll outlined, Fitzgerald's greatness goes far beyond his production, though the numbers alone would make him a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His 1,370 career receptions and 16,990 receiving yards both rank second all-time to Jerry Rice, while his 119 receiving touchdowns rank sixth. But more than the numbers, it's the person that makes Fitzgerald an all-timer if you ask just about anyone in any NFL locker room. If every NFL locker room were surveyed, it would be tough to find anyone with anything bad to say about him.
"Nobody's like Larry," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "He's in our division, so we see him twice a year, but nobody's like him as far as what he does on and off the field. He does tons of stuff in the community, always having events. He has a great relationship with the owner, the fans, so he's a guy who everybody should try to mimic."
So well respected is Fitzgerald that his NFC West rivals still praise him for a hit he had against the Seahawks in 2013.
"He's just a great guy," Wagner said. "The play that stands out to me was—I think it was like 2013 or 2014—they ran a sweep play and he had a clean shot on (Richard Sherman) like right on the side of his helmet and didn't take it. He knew that Sherm wasn't going to make the play whether he blocked him or not. Some players would've took that shot and possibly could've hurt him. He's mindful of not trying to do something like that to try to hurt a player. When I saw him do that, I gained a lot of respect for him, and then obviously when you get to know him as a person; what he represents, how he treats his teammates, family, people in the organization, you just grow to have a lot of respect for him."
On the play in question, which came in a 2013 Seahawks victory, Fitzgerald did get a decent hit on Sherman, but it was a clean one that was much less violent than it could have been. Carroll was so impressed, in fact, that he said in a press conference the following week that he sent the play into the league as an example of how the game can be played physically without being unnecessarily violent.
Carroll said that the time that that block, as well as another one on Walter Thurmond were "perfectly illustrating the new mentality and the right mentality. With an iconic guy like that, I just thought it was really powerful."
All of this respect, of course, doesn't change the Seahawks' primary goal this weekend, which is to beat the Cardinals while trying to limit Fitzgerald and the Cardinals offense, but if this actually his is final game in Seattle, Fitzgerald will be remembered by his NFC rivals as one of the greats who did everything the right way.
"Larry has been an absolute pro," Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said. "I think he's been the definition of who you want to be and what you want to admire, the type of players that you want to say, 'that's my role model.' That's Larry Fitzgerald. He's defined it in so many different ways, but he can never be defined because there's so much more that he does, so much more that he represents. He's been a true superstar at the game, one of the best receivers to ever play the game. It's been an honor to share the field with him and exchange jerseys with him. The attitude that he brings, the tenacity that he brings, the experience that he brings, the leadership that he brings."