Larry Fitzgerald used to play in the cold and snow at Pitt during his time as a Panther in the early 2000s, and if he forgot about the frigid Pittsburgh winters, he was reminded at practice this week.
Fitzgerald, who spent just two seasons at Pitt in 2002-03 before being selected with the third pick in the 2004 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals, returned to Pittsburgh this week to check out practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Tuesday.
It’s fair to say it was an eye-opening return for all involved, as Fitzgerald himself was able to catch up with a long-time Pitt man in Bob Junko and the Pitt wide receivers were able to meet with one of the best wide receivers in NFL history.
"It's a joy to watch you represent Pitt."
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) November 15, 2022
It wasn’t an extensive stay for Fitzgerald at Pitt’s practice, but it was exactly what Fitzgerald himself hoped to do during his return.
“We talked,” Pat Narduzzi said Thursday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “He talked to the receivers. I didn’t break practice to pull him up because he came in the middle, and he was hustling out as well — he was there for about 40 minutes.
“I want Larry to continue to come back. If I put a bunch of pressure, say, ‘Hey, I need you to talk over here, I need you to go over here,’ I don’t want to wear Larry out.”
Before Kenny Pickett’s Heisman Trophy finalist season last year, Pitt hadn’t boasted a Heisman finalist since Fitzgerald was arguably robbed by Oklahoma’s Jason White in the 2003 Heisman ceremony — finishing second.
In just two seasons at Pitt, Fitzgerald racked up 2,677 yards and 34 touchdowns on 161 receptions. He was awarded both the Biletnikoff Award and Walter Camp Award in 2003.
And when it came to Fitzgerald’s return this week, Narduzzi said that Fitzgerlad just wanted to come watch. He wanted to relax and see Pitt football for himself firsthand. And that’s what Narduzzi wanted him to experience.
But that also doesn’t mean that Fitzgerald didn’t interact with Pitt’s current wide receivers either.
“I think Tiquan Underwood and him have a relationship, so coach Underwood brought the receivers over, which if I was the receivers coach, I probably would too,” Narduzzi said.
Fitzgerald did say a few words to Pitt’s wide receivers, interacting with players like Jared Wayne, but Narduzzi said he didn’t stick around to hear what was said. He was more focused on the field goal unit, watching Ben Sauls hit his field goal attempts.
Fitzgerald, upon being drafted by the Cardinals in 2004, spent 17 seasons in Arizona. He recorded 1,432 receptions for 17,492 yards (12.2 yards per reception) and 121 touchdowns. He garnered three All-Pro nods, 11 Pro Bowls, led the NFL in receptions and receiving touchdowns twice and was named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2016.
Fitzgerald is second all-time in the NFL in receptions and receiving yards and sixth in receiving touchdowns. And his career began as a younger receiver in Pittsburgh.