Many of you likely remember the play I’m about to recall.
The Seattle Seahawks were ahead of the Arizona Cardinals, 34-16, midway through the fourth quarter of a “Thursday Night Football” matchup on Oct. 17, 2013. Carson Palmer completed a short pass over the middle to wide receiver Michael Floyd, who then took the ball and tried to turn it up the right sideline.
Richard Sherman had Floyd squared up and was ready to make the tackle. He didn’t see Larry Fitzgerald waiting to his left. As Floyd continued his sprint toward the sideline, Sherman turned into Fitzgerald and ran into a brick wall.
The collision was big as is. But it could have been bigger. Much bigger.
“He went easy,” Sherman told NBC Sports Northwest.
Fitzgerald essentially just stood his ground, kind of like a basketball player setting a screen. Other players would have taken the opportunity to deliver a devasting blow to Seattle’s corner.
“He had a clean shot on Sherm, 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,” Bobby Wagner said on Wednesday as he prepares for another bout against Fitzgerald and the Cardinals. “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.”
That was just Wagner’s second season in the NFL. It was Sherman’s third. Both players were obviously well-acquainted with Fitzgerald as an All-Pro receiver, but that was the play that illustrated who the future Hall of Famer was as a competitor.
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," Wagner said.
(Another one of Wagner’s favorite stories is when he gave Fitz his jersey after a game in 2018. As a sign of his appreciation, Fitzgerald sent a signed jersey to Wagner’s house this past offseason.
Added Sherman: “He’s just a great guy and a great sportsman. He plays as hard as he can and plays the game the right way.”
The play impacted Pete Carroll so much that Seattle’s head coach sent it into the league office to use as teach tape for how to properly hit while respecting your opponent.
"It's still a big hit," Carroll said. "But it could have been a colossal collision had he taken full advantage of the opportunity, and he didn't. His poise and his character demonstrated that he understands. That's really cool stuff.”
Fitzgerald remembers the play vividly as well. He noted that the NFL started to outlaw crack back blocks that season. He didn’t want to cost his team 15 yards, nor did he want to get fined in the process. Fitzgerald also acknowledged that the play is a fair illustration for his approach to football.
“I just believe that you’ve got to respect the game,” Fitzgerald told NBC Sport Northwest on Thursday. “You play the game hard to the whistle but not put anybody's livelihood in jeopardy. I know Sherm. I've known him for a very long time. I have a lot of love and respect for him, his wife, his children, his mom, his dad, his sister. I know all of them.
I play him hard. I play him one of the hardest of anybody in the league. I want to beat him more than anybody, but I'm never going to do anything to jeopardize his career or his livelihood.
Now Fitzgerald is making his way back to CenturyLink Field as the Seahawks host the Cardinals in Week 16. It may be the final time he plays Seattle as nobody knows whether or not he’s going to call it quits after this season, his 16th in the NFL.
Both Wagner and Carroll were skeptical about Fitz potentially calling it a career. He remains productive with 67 receptions for 711 yards and three touchdowns in 2019. Surely Canton, Ohio can hold off for a few more years.
“He still looks amazing,” Wagner said. “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. 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.”
Fitzgerald has 175 career receptions in 30 games against the Seahawks for 2,069 yards and 12 touchdowns. Again, Carroll isn’t banking on Game No. 31 being Fitz’ final trip to the Pacific Northwest.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Carroll said half-jokingly. “If he wants to retire, that’d be great. I don’t know why he would. He’s still going strong.”