SANTA CLARA -- Richard Sherman once again will play against a role model Thursday night.
For the 15th time in their respective careers, the 49ers cornerback and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald's teams will square off with one another on Thursday night at State Farm Stadium in Glendale. Sherman has seen no other individual opponent more than Fitzgerald, who moved to No. 2 all-time in receptions earlier this season, and Sherman said Wednesday that Fitzgerald's influence on his career can't be understated.
"Oh, he's had a tremendous impact on my career," Sherman said at the 49ers facility. "Both on the field and off. I consider me and Larry pretty good friends. The way he carries himself, the way he runs [the Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund], the way he does things off the field had a tremendous impact on my career and what I've done with [the Richard Sherman Family Foundation], what I've done with different things on and off the field. How I carry myself in certain respects."
Fitzgerald has long been a thorn in the 49ers' side, catching 173 passes for 2,030 yards and 18 touchdowns in 30 matchups against San Francisco. The rivalry has ebbed and flowed during that time, with both the 49ers and Cardinals winning at least four straight against one another -- twice -- during Fitzgerald's first 15 NFL seasons, including Arizona's active eight-game winning streak dating back to 2015.
The Cardinals have tried to prepare for an eventual life without Fitzgerald, boasting four receivers within their first two NFL seasons on the roster. Yet, the future Hall of Famer endures as the team's top receiving option. Fitzgerald leads the Cardinals in targets (59), receptions (38) and receiving yards (447). He arguably has become a more sure-handed pass-catcher in the twilight of his career, as the four highest catch percentages of his career -- including 2019 -- have come within the last five seasons.
Sherman said Fitzgerald "forced me to raise my level as a rookie" with the Seattle Seahawks in 2011, when Fitzgerald hauled in 14 catches for 213 yards and a touchdown in two matchups against Seattle. The subtleties of Fitzgerald's route-running made him successful then as they are now, according to Sherman.
"He always makes you be on it," Sherman said. "You've gotta study every tendency, every split, every hitch or every knee-jerk. He even runs his corner routes a certain way, and you just have to be aware of where he is on the field at all times as long as he's playing because he can make an impact."
Sherman joked that Fitzgerald already was a decade into the NFL when he debuted. The veteran cornerback was off by two years, but Fitzgerald was a fixture of consistency before Sherman came to the league and has been one since.
How much longer will that be the case? Fitzgerald once again is playing on a one-year contract, and he has said he'll "know when it's time" to retire. The 49ers will play the Cardinals once more this season after Thursday. Week 11 at Levi's Stadium conceivably could be the last time Fitzgerald and Sherman play against one another, but Sherman will cherish the matchup whether or not the clock is winding down on Fitzgerald's career.
"I appreciate going against him the most," Sherman said. "He always gives great challenges. It's a great battle."