Larry Fitzgerald is the Peyton Manning of receivers. At least, that is the case in the mind of New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. No player in the NFL has been with their respective franchise longer than the Arizona Cardinals wide receiver — and Belichick is the longest-tenured head coach.
While the Cardinals and Patriots have played just four times since Fitzgerald's rookie year in 2004, the two have developed a relationship in other ways.
"It's been great, I've had a wonderful relationship with Belichick for a long time," Fitzgerald said Wednesday. "My uncle went to high school with him. I got introduced to him probably like 12 or 13 years ago and stayed in pretty good contact with him. I have a lot of respect for Coach as a man and obviously as a Hall of Fame football coach. The greatest mind to ever coach the game."
Sunday, Fitzgerald takes the field against Belichick for the fifth time. It is "an honor," as Fitzgerald put it. They both were added to the NFL 100 All-Time team and Belichick spoke Wednesday about his impressions of how Fitzgerald got there.
"Larry’s a very dedicated football player," Belichick said. "He’s very knowledgeable in all phases of the game, but particularly the passing game and techniques, training, fundamentals. He is, I would say, to receivers, what Peyton Manning was to quarterbacks in terms of that type of total obsession of knowing everything about the position and how to do things and how to convey those to his teammates.
"His longevity has been remarkable. Again, I think that’s a testament to his physical training, but he has great awareness and instincts as well as all the other things that go with being a receiver. He has tremendous hands, concentration, ability to make clutch plays and really match up against most every type of defender."
Fitzgerald is third among active players in the NFL in games played behind New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Belichick's former gunslinger and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers signal-caller Tom Brady.
Given Fitzgerald and Belichick's sustained success in the NFL, the Cardinals veteran elaborated on what the relationship means to him.
"I think everybody that comes in the league has aspirations to play a long career," Fitzgerald said. "I'm very thankful to be able to be with the same organization for that long and, obviously, I haven't had the same success as Coach Belichick has in New England. But you still appreciate every single day you have the ability to do something that you truly enjoy and love. And I think we both share that same sentiment."