Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Larry Fitzgerald: The Arizona Treat?

I'm about to do something I never thought I would do. As a San Francisco 49er fan during the franchise's heydays of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the idea that another National Football League wide receiver could even get a peak at Jerry Rice's place on the pedestal is unthinkable. It's a suggestion that wouldn't be worth rebutting since merely acknowledging such heresy would be giving it too much validity.

But, like the song says, never say never.

Because, as is the case with all transcendent athletes, new ones come along. It's the nature of the beast.

Michael Jordan replaced somebody and somebody will replace His Airness (cough, LeBron James). I'm of the opinion Barry Lamar Bonds replaced Willie Mays—chemicals and all—and that someone will replace him. Perhaps Alex Rodriguez will if he can ever resist the instinct to wrap his own hands around his neck and squeeze whenever the calendar flips to autumn—he certainly has the talent.

And the blond highlights.

In the NFL, you've really got to separate the finest athletes at each position since they each do such unique and discrete things. At the Big Three, you've got Barry Sanders, Joe Montana, and Jerry Rice. Obviously those are my opinions and open to debate.

Still, this is my party and I'll use them if I want to.

Nobody looks particularly close to Sanders' myth and, due to the increasingly punishing style of the NFL, I'm not so sure any back ever will.

On the other hand, Tom Brady's already sniffin' Montana's belt and...give me a seems we have a challenger building momentum for a run at Jerry's, too.

Hey, football gods, kiss my rosy red derriere.

Isn't it enough that our Niners have been atrocious for almost a decade and are only now starting to show a pulse? Do you really have to start picking off our heroes?

The developing heir to Jerry's thrown is, of course, Terrell Owens.

Ha, ha, just kidding. Larry Fitzgerald, it's Larry Fitzgerald.

Leapin' Larry's on-field exploits have been heralded time and again. By me and others, especially now that we're only three days away from Super Bowl Sunday. That means a full 10 days have elapsed since the last snap in an NFL game.

More than enough time to identify, dissect, reconstruct, re-dissect, re-reconstruct, and beat to death every last iota of relevant information about the game's main protagonists. Fitzgerald is quite obviously one of these so the "identification" period didn't really exist for him.

I won't bore you with another recitation.

Suffice it to say that, numerically, Fitzgerald's still quite a bit behind the San Francisco Treat and probably always will be. Rice's regular season and cumulative postseason statistics are insane, maybe untouchable. However, I'm fond of saying that numbers don't necessarily tell the whole story or even the important part of it in sports. Especially in the NFL.

And Leapin' Larry has begun to rival Jerry's best single postseason. That right there is saying something.

More importantly for my comparison of the two, though, is everything else. I'm talking their maximization of talent, their attention to detail, their importance to their respective teams, their recognition of that importance, and their respect for it as well as the team concept.

Jerry was as integral (though probably not more so) than either Joe Cool or Steve Young. He knew it, relished it, but didn't hold the rest of the offense or franchise hostage with that fact. It was enough for Rice that it was true. Additionally, he knew that he needed the cooperation and determination of all those around him to become a legend.

If you doubt Larry Fitzgerald understands this exact same concept, you probably haven't heard this.

I'm not gonna draw a deviating parallel between Anquan Boldin and Fitzgerald's offer to "tweak" his contract to keep the apparently disgruntled Boldin in an Arizona Cardinal uniform. I'm not gonna do it (except that I may have just done it) because I've already killed him for his antics after the National Football Conference Championship game and—with even a tiny bit of distance—I think it's probably a forgivable offense.

Especially since the dude did come back from that grisly hit pretty damn quickly (notice Number 11 is the first guy to Anquan). Can't really accuse the guy of not doing what is important for the team to win based on that one incident.

But what I have no problem pointing out (possibly redundantly) is the obvious parallel between Rice and Fitzgerald.

Larry Fitzgerald has proven the ability to rise to the biggest occasions and deliver monster performances when his team has needed it most, like Rice. He isn't the most physically-gifted guy on the field, like Rice. But he has pillow-vises for hands, like Rice. And, like Rice, Fitzgerald does have at least one exceptional physical ability—to go up for the ball in a crowd and come down with it (Rice could get enough separation on just about any play with any coverage).

Perhaps the numbers will come. That's really irrelevant in my mind.

Because Larry Fitzgerald has already proven that he has the same foundation Jerry Rice had.

Now all he needs is to stay healthy in body and mind in a League bent on the destruction of both.

Good luck, Leapin' Larry. I love Jerry Rice, but I'll still be rootin' for ya.

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