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15 years of amazing catches and class as told by Larry Fitzgerald's 18 QBs

ESPN Illustration

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Over Larry Fitzgerald's 15-year career with the Arizona Cardinals, there have been a few constants.

He has made the Pro Bowl 11 times. He has caught 100 passes five times. He has had 1,000 yards nine times. But among all the achievements that build his Hall of Fame career, there hasn't been a constant like change.

When Fitzgerald caught a 3-yard pass from Sam Bradford in the second quarter Sunday against Washington, Bradford became the 18th quarterback from whom Fitzgerald has caught a pass during his illustrious career. There have been more from some, such as Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer, and barely some from others, such as Brian St. Pierre (just one). Each, in his own way, has contributed to Fitzgerald's greatness. Yet Fitzgerald doesn't see 18 as a burden on his career or an impediment on his road to a Super Bowl. He feels fortunate to have caught a pass from all of them.

"It's a privilege," Fitzgerald said. "Most guys don't get a chance to play long enough to be able to catch the ball from that many quarterbacks. So I look at it as a blessing, a testament to my longevity."

Here's a look at how all 18 feel about throwing to Fitzgerald:

1. Josh McCown (2004-05)

"For me it was fun because I got him first. It was my third year in the league ... but first year starting, and for us to pick him as high as we did, he had all the expectations, but he just came in with such ... it was like he'd been in the league before. So he came in with so much class and poise for such a young guy that I remember thinking that was one of the most impressive things early on. Then he proceeded to just live up to it. He wanted the ball. He's been that way since day one. He's confident in his ability, but he's all for the team. That's what made playing with him early on a lot of fun. A lot of guys want the ball and can be insulted. Larry was never that. He was always very helpful and very humble and certainly helped myself as a young quarterback.

"He had four seats at the [Phoenix] Suns. He knows how much I love basketball. So we took in a few Suns games, that was for sure, and I don't think it registered at the time for me, being young and naïve and to not take anything away from Larry, but looking back, maybe that's what that was about. It was certainly cool of him. He was letting me know he wanted the ball. Obviously, Larry can be fiery and emotional, and he always understood that he wanted to influence the game. That was probably one of the subtle -- or not so subtle -- ways, taking me to basketball games. The obvious was, 'Josh, give me the ball. Just put it up. I'm open. I promise you I'll come down with it.' Those types of things, I promise you, I heard 1,000 times over the course of the week."

2. Shaun King (2004)

"I had him when he was a rookie, so I think the thing that kind of jumped out to you was just how developed he was, how mature he was, and he had a really good understanding of how to play the position and how offensive football is supposed to work in the passing game. You don't always get that from rookies. A lot of times they're talented, but they haven't really been trained in some of the nuances of being really good, and he had all those things. He caught the ball really, really well. Extremely, extremely elite ball skills.

"It was really rare because most rookies don't care about the nuances. They just want to score touchdowns. I guess it just goes back to who he's always been. He was an extremely mature guy in every step of the way. He came in and contributed as a rookie. The on-field success you see happen for young players, but the off-field maturity I felt separated him -- just being able to handle the attention, the accolades, understanding how important relationships were in the building, in that city, in that community. He had a really good grasp of all that stuff even at an early age."

3. John Navarre (2004-05)

"A lot of people that have played the game say that you usually see better plays in practice than you do on Sundays. That is true. The one most amazing play I saw with him was he was running an over route across the field, so it was away from the quarterback toward the opposite sideline on a 20-to-30-yard pass play. The ball was thrown behind him, and instead of flipping his hips and catching the ball with both hands, he reached behind his head with his up-field hand, behind his helmet and caught the ball with one hand behind his helmet and wrapped it, tucked it up-field and ran. He just stuck it behind his head like you were scratching your back, and the ball just stuck to his hand. Never put the other hand on the ball. Those plays just amaze you because, obviously, I was an NFL athlete, but I'm a big, slow, white guy that is amazed by the talent I was surrounded by. Those never got old.

"When you threw the ball behind him or low, sometimes receivers will take their whole body with them when they go to catch that, and the play's dead. Where he was able to adjust, still make the catch and turn up-field and make more positive yards.

"I can remember Kurt Warner telling him, 'This is what it takes to be great.' I think that helped him take the next step as well -- studying film, not as much as on-the-field stuff. Larry had that down. He had the dedication to go out there and work physically to make his body and his play better. The thing he got from mentoring from Kurt Warner was studying film and analyzing the game and seeing the game from a quarterback's view to give him an advantage."

4. Kurt Warner (2005-09)

"He's one of those guys that makes your job easy. The thing that was so special about Larry was his ability to get his hands on different footballs. Early on, when I first came here, Josh McCown was the quarterback, and Josh would throw some balls to him, and I'd be like, 'Why are you throwing those balls? He's covered.' He'd say, 'No, no, no. You just got to learn: Covered for Larry is different and the way you have to throw it because he does an unbelievable job of moving his body and holding off defenders.' So eventually when I started to learn this, I felt like we were a match made in heaven because my greatest strength was my accuracy, and his greatest strength was his ability to move and adjust to the football and catch it at different angles. There were very few times where I could say he's covered because I could put the ball here, and I know he can get it, and he's the only one that can get it. That's what made it so much fun.

"Every day he would make what we thought was a routine catch, but for anybody else it would've been miraculous. We would see it every day in practice, and it would be like, 'Oh yeah, that's why I threw it there.' But that's what became so incredible. I think anybody that does something incredible that becomes normal, it just speaks to how great they are, and that's who Larry was. I think we got numb to how great he was, so I think there were times that our expectation moved above where it should've been simply because we saw it a lot."

5. Matt Leinart (2006-09)

"His presence alone can change what a defense is going to do. He's just a game-breaker. He can go up and get the ball. He's made a ton of big plays in his career so far, and I haven't really had a chance to play with him," Leinart said in 2006, according to The Associated Press.

"Larry is probably the best in the air on those jump balls in the National Football League," Leinart said in 2006, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

"You've got a guy like Larry who can go up and get the ball, probably against anyone, because he's so big, and he's got great ball instincts," Leinart said in 2007, according to The Associated Press.

6. Tim Rattay (2007)

"If he's not the best, he's one of the best teammates, guys, especially being as high-profile and as good as he is. It's very rare to combine that with work ethic ... just in the locker room, all of that kind of stuff.

"I didn't know much about him. Being with the 49ers, we played him twice a year, and I watched how good he was. I heard some real good things about him, but until you get in that locker room and you're around him every day, you're just not sure. Just for as good a player as he was and a Hall of Fame-type player, the way he was coachable, the way he practiced was impressive, and the way he mentored and talked with younger receivers, the way he communicated with the quarterbacks, 'Hey, what are you seeing on this? This is what I'm seeing.' All that kind of stuff. I got there in Week 4 and signed on Wednesday and played on Sunday. Just the way he helped me out.

"I played one year with Jerry Rice. He reminded me of that. When the offense would go their 12 plays [in practice], and then the defense would go, the majority of the offensive starters would just hang out. It was their time to hang out. Jerry, any time the defense was up, would have me throw routes to him, and that's what Larry was. He was always working. He was always doing something each day in practice. He always had something he wanted to work on, and he'd work on it. It could be little things. He always took those two hours in practice to get better. That's what was impressive to see. That's why it was fun to be around him."

7. Brian St. Pierre (2009)

"I think what you learn pretty early on, at least in my experience, you kind of felt like you were in the presence of somebody who was pretty damn good at what he does, one of those special, once-in-a-generation types of players. He's uniquely skilled. To be as big as he was and his ability to catch a football is unparalleled to anything I've ever seen. I don't think in the two years I was with him, I don't remember him ever dropping a ball in practice, in warm-ups, in a game, anytime. I don't ever remember seeing it. He was a unique guy.

"He never wanted to come out in practice. He wanted every rep. I was like that, too, but I was a guy trying to fight for my life every year in the league to scratch out a career, and here he is going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, he didn't want to come out in practice. He wanted every rep. He just viewed it as that rep he's not taking is one less rep for him to get better. I think there's a competitive part of you, too -- you don't want to be taken out because you don't know when the time will come that somebody replaces you. He was driven by, 'I want to be the best, and I don't want anyone ever taking my job.' And I think it's just the competitive nature, and it's just his work ethic and what he believed he needed to be prepared to play, which is as many reps as possible and to be on the same page as every quarterback he played with."

8. Derek Anderson (2010)

"He sticks to a routine. He knows what his body's going to do, and he just takes care of himself. Over the course of time, that makes him one of the best ever. His production speaks for itself. He doesn't drop the ball. He's a reliable guy. He's learned to morph into a different guy. He's not the same guy, and he knows he's not the same guy. He does all the stuff: He blocks those guys now. Five, six years ago he wasn't doing that. It's just kind of the evolution of his career. He's taking on different roles, and I think a lot of guys respect that. Some guys just shut it down, 'Eh, I'm not doing that.' It just speaks volumes for the type of person he is.

"He just understands that's his niche. He's not going to run by a lot of guys. It is what it is. That's kind of the way guys play. It's the way guys sustain long careers. It's not always about stats, even though his stats have been great. It's about staying around and being productive, and that's the way he builds his production in that system."

9. Max Hall (2010)

"Everybody loved him. You find me one guy that says he doesn't like Larry Fitzgerald ... I just don't think you'd find him. He took me under his wing right away, and he seemed to do that with a lot of the rookies. He'd kind of go put his arm around you and help you out. If you need anything, he'd invite you over to the house, and he was just a good guy. I remember one time, before a preseason game, he grabbed me after the team meeting, and said, 'Hey, c'mon. We're going.' He threw me the keys to his car and said, 'Jump in. You're driving.' And I'm like, 'Where are we going?' and he's like, 'Just drive.' We go, and we pull up to his house, and he's like, 'Let's go.' And I have no idea of what's going on. I'm like, 'What are we doing?' We basically just hung out at his house for an hour and a half, watched some of the other games that were on, and we shot hoops, played horse in the backyard, hung out and then went back to the hotel. He was just reaching out and being a friend.

"I stepped into it as a rookie who was an undrafted free agent, who was No. 4 on the depth chart. I didn't even know if I was going to make the team. When the season started, they had released Matt Leinert and said, 'Max, you're our No. 2.' Four games later, I go in against San Diego. By the fifth game, I start. And you know how many reps the fourth guy gets, so I got kind of thrown in right away with a not very good offensive line. Early Doucet was hurt. Steve Breaston was hurt. My tight end at the time was hurt. So I had Larry and three rookie receivers on the field with me and a rookie running back -- and a rookie quarterback. They were calling plays for me in the game that I hadn't even repped before. I had seen them on paper. There were sometimes I was like, '[Forget] this, I'm going to throw it to Larry.' He'd be double-teamed, and he would make a great move on the first guy. I'd throw the ball on time to him, and we'd make the play and move the chains. No matter what defenses did, it would just seem that he would find a way to make it happen."

10. John Skelton (2010-12)

"One of the first things people started saying when I got drafted and kind of before the confetti settled and everyone let it sink in was, 'You get to throw passes to one of the best receivers of all time, and how great is that?'

"I overthrew him in practice one time and really didn't think anything of it. I put it on myself. I overthrew him. We're watching film later that day after practice, and Mike Miller, who's our offensive coordinator, who really has a dry sense of humor and deadpans a lot, says, 'Hey, Skelton, come here.' He calls me over. He goes, 'We got one rule: You never overthrow Larry, and that's for two reasons. One, he's a great athlete. He's a great competitor. He'll go up and catch that ball for you. Just put it in his vicinity. And No. 2, he's really sensitive about his speed, so when you overthrow him, he thinks it's his fault for not being fast enough.' And he was dead serious with that quote. I never forgot that. I don't think I ever overthrew him again.

"He makes your life easier as a quarterback. You just throw it in his vicinity. He may not always come down with it, but he won't let the other guy pick it. He'll fight until that ball hits the ground or he catches it. There were times my head was spinning when I was a young quarterback and a rookie, and we'd go, 'Hey, let's just throw an easy one to Larry.' I'm 1-for-12 passing in the game, and then my second completion is a 5-yard out to Larry. He turns up the sideline, and we ended up getting a first down and start getting the momentum going. There's a lot of times where the remedy to a bad offense was just get Larry the ball and see what happens."

11. Rich Bartel (2010-11)

"He doesn't have bad days. I remember this vividly. If, and it was few and far between, but if he ever dropped a ball in practice or in a game, Larry didn't watch it on tape. He'll put his head down for that rep, and he won't watch himself fail. He won't do it. And I would say for anybody else, it's important to learn from your mistakes, but for Larry, it's the whole mentality. Obviously, he knows what he did wrong. He's a professional. It doesn't happen often, and he just doesn't allow that to enter his mind, so he refused to look at it.

"[Larry procrastinated] anytime he wanted to go somewhere, it didn't matter what it was for. If we were going to leave, I didn't know it. What we were going to do, I didn't know that either. Like everything. We met the presidents of the United States, Bill Clinton and George Bush. He took me with him to meet them. He texted me that at 11 p.m. and asked if I would go with him the next day and was vague about it. He just said, 'Hey, dinner tomorrow night with the presidents. You in?' I turned to my wife at 11 p.m., and I'm like, 'What could dinner with presidents mean? I don't even know what that means. That's so out of context.' She's like, 'Eh, just go.' We kind of always had that rule: If Larry reached out and he wanted to roll, I kind of got a free pass all the time because you can't turn Larry down because you never know what you're in for. It's like, 'what's behind door No. 3?' all the time with Larry. She kind of gave me that hall pass, which was awesome. So, of course, I roll, and the next day I get all the way to the Phoenician [resort] in Scottsdale [Arizona], and I have no idea when I show up what we're doing until we walk back through the Secret Service, and I meet George Bush and Bill Clinton. And it's like, 'What in the world?' And had he told me, I wouldn't have worn freakin' blue jeans. Larry's reality is way different than ours, and he just doesn't understand that, but that doesn't inhibit him from including you either."

12. Kevin Kolb (2011-12)

"Everybody knows Larry's capabilities and playmaking ability. It's my job and our job to find ways to get him the ball, and you can see what happens whenever we do," Kolb said in 2012, according to The Associated Press.

13. Ryan Lindley (2012-14)

"He's a guy that's worked at his craft. And the most impressive thing for me is, I think when I got there in 2012, he was kind of hitting a transition in his career, and he's kind of turned himself into a slot receiver. [Bruce Arians] kind of put him in a different mold than he was at the beginning of his career. He's been super fluid with that. He's been able to transition. And he'd even tell you he's probably lost a step or two, but he's still an amazing receiver. I've yet to see anyone with better hands than Larry has. He doesn't drop balls, and he's as reliable as it gets.

"For me, at the end of the day, when I look back on football and on life, he's a Hall of Famer for me because of the kind of guy he is. Still, to this day -- we haven't played together for three or four years -- but he's the kind of guy that will still check in on you every once in a while. To say that for as big-time of a guy as he is, it means a lot. Both my wife and I hold Larry in very high esteem, and I'm always going to be cheering for him."

14. Brian Hoyer (2012)

"I had literally been in Arizona for seven days or eight days, and I came in after halftime of a game, and I didn't really know the plays. I just kept thinking in my head, 'Just throw it to Larry, good things probably happen.' I think it ended up being his first 100-yard game in nine games or something like that. He was obviously a great receiver but a great target to throw to. A wide catch radius. You could just throw it in his direction, and he would probably come down with it.

"His strength always stood out to me. He was such a strong receiver. Defensive backs would just bounce off of him.

"I remember he made a catch in practice my first week there. It was one of those signature over-the-shoulder-toe-tap-unbelievable catches, and you're like, 'OK, it's like he's doing it every day in practice' and is building those skills. I mean literally one of the most amazing catches that you've ever seen that he made in practice like my second day there.

"He was one of the first guys to come introduce himself, say hello. One of the most genuine nice guys, which is always great when a guy is a great player but is also a better person. And for as great of a player as he is, he's a better person, in my opinion."

15. Carson Palmer (2013-17)

"He caught a bench route in an OTA with one hand. He back-handed it, and I still don't know how he did it. [It was a] 40-yard throw, so there was a lot of velocity on the ball, and he was just like Spiderman, just stuck his hand out, and the ball just stuck. It was amazing. I've never seen that before.

"For a big guy, he can catch it as well low as he does high, which is unique. You can throw balls away from defenders near his knees, and he'll go down and get it. Everybody has seen him catch the ball above his head for so long, but a lot of big guys don't catch the ball low behind him very well, and Larry catches everything. It's funny because it's not as impressive because it's so expected. If it was another guy, guys would be like, 'Holy smokes.' He does things, and it's like, [Palmer shrugs]. He's the entire package. He blocks. He runs good routes. He catches the ball. He's not a diva. He doesn't care about anything but winning. You just never have to worry about him like you have to worry about some guys. You just expect it from him, though. You don't marvel at it. You just say, 'Oh, that's Larry.' You just expect it. That's probably one of the best compliments you can give him. You just expect that he's nice and not a superstar to a random fan or great to the backup receivers or great to the starting offensive line.

"You have a great deal of respect and you expect him to do the abnormal, I guess."

16. Drew Stanton (2013-17)

"One thing about him that makes him so special is just the way that he exudes confidence when he steps out on the football field. He looks at the guy across from him, and he has, without a shadow of a doubt, the belief that he's going to beat him on every single play. That's one thing that I've learned from him that is so special about him is that he truly believes that, with every fiber of his body, that he's going to go out there and dominate -- not only win but dominate. And that carries over to the team.

"Sometimes I'll go up to him and say, 'We need one of those 'roar'-type moments when he makes that catch [Stanton mimics Fitzgerald's famous tearing-of-the-shirt while he yells after a big play]. That's infectious. That is one of his leadership qualities that carries over and gets the crowd involved. Sometimes I joke that he's got as much power as anybody in the city of Phoenix, but with what he can do and what he can bring to the table for us and since he's done it for a such a long period of time, it's infectious, and having those things outside of what he does special as a football player that he's been doing will make him a Hall of Famer."

17. Blaine Gabbert (2017)

"He's great. But just to see him still be able to beat man coverage on a consistent basis, he's one of those guys, when the ball's in the air, he's going to come down with it. So just that comfort level, being able to throw him one-on-one matchups. [He's] really just a nice, trustworthy guy to have in the middle of the field.

"Nothing really surprises me about what he has been able to accomplish in his career, just seeing the way that he prepares day-in and day-out. His daily preparation, both physically getting his body ready to roll, but mentally in the film room, in the meetings, just asking questions. So he's a great role model for a lot of guys on this football team."

18. Sam Bradford (2018)

"Obviously, Larry is one of the best to ever do it. To be able to be on the same team, the same field with him, is an honor. Just understanding his ability, his range, his route tree, what he likes, how he sets guys up, it's been a lot of fun just getting to know him and to work with him.

"I think I had a pretty good idea of how good he was before I got here. I think every day of the week being on the field, it's kind of proving right that he was that good."