EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –Sunday's Vikings-Cardinals faceoff will mark Larry Fitzgerald, Jr.'s first time playing at U.S. Bank Stadium, but he's no stranger to Minnesota – or the Vikings.
A Minneapolis native, Fitzgerald was first exposed to the NFL as a ball boy for the Vikings. Now in his 13th season in the league, he'll be playing against the purple and gold for his seventh time.
Fitzgerald is 2-5 against the Vikings and has recorded 44 catches for 610 yards and one touchdown. He posted his single-game career high in yards (172) in Minnesota on Nov. 26, 2006.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer told Twin Cities media members Wednesday that he had been asked about Fitzgerald just that morning.
"Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. is a really good player," Zimmer said. "If I had to pick a Hall of Fame guy, I'd pick him every single time."
Added Zimmer: "The way he runs routes, catches, does all the dirty stuff, blocking, getting up after hits and then just taps them on the butt and goes back to the huddle."
Fitzgerald shares an equal level of admiration for the head coach he'll be facing on Sunday.
The receiver said Minnesota's defense is a real threat with a deep pool of talent, but he believes it all starts with Zimmer.
"Without the excellent personnel that he has on the Vikings defense, he's one of the best defensive play callers in the game," Fitzgerald said. "He just has a wealth of knowledge. He does a great job of breaking down his opponents and trying to neutralize the things that they do well."
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Cardinals.
Fitzgerald named a handful of defensive players – Chad Greenway, Xavier Rhodes and Everson Griffen – whom he feels have especially stood out to him on film but said across the board, the Vikings defense is a dynamic one.
"[With] the top-3 defense in the National Football League and the crowd noise and everything they do defensively? I mean, we're going to have our hands full," Fitzgerald said. "They have a lot of talent, and we have to be ready."
The Vikings defense will also be preparing for Fitzgerald, including a number of players who looked up to Fitzgerald as they pursued their NFL dreams.
"I was in high school watching that guy," said Vikings rookie cornerback Mackensie Alexander. "He's a phenomenal player, doesn't drop many balls, runs his precise routes. He's a big factor in the passing game.
"We're going to have to play well against him and take away what he's good at and understand where he's at and how they're trying to get him the ball," Alexander added.
Fitzgerald was a football standout early on at Academy of Holy Angels before leaving behind his Midwest roots to play at the University of Pittsburgh. He was selected third overall in the 2004 NFL Draft and hasn't seemed to slow down over his 13-year career.
Fitzgerald holds the highest reception total (1,086) among active players and is sixth all-time. He can move into the top five, past Hall of Famer Tim Brown, with nine more receptions and is 17 shy of passing Hall of Famers Cris Carter (1,101) and Marvin Harrison (1,102) for third.
In 195 career games, he has posted 100 or more receiving yards 42 times, including seven games with more than 150 receiving yards. Against the 49ers last week, Fitzgerald caught 12 passes for 133 yards, bringing his season total to 68 receptions for 687 yards. In receiving yards, Fitzgerald ranks 11th all-time with 14,053. The total places him second among active players behind Steve Smith (14,349).
Despite his extremely successful career, Fitzgerald said he isn't yet satisfied.
"I'm [near] the end of my career, it's my 13th season, I'm well aware of that," Fitzgerald said. "But I never say, 'Man, look what I've accomplished. This is great.' Because I'm still in it, I'm still working to get better.
"I'm still chasing that elusive championship," added Fitzgerald, who has made four postseason appearances and fell short in Super Bowl XLIII following the 2008 season. "So there's a lot of stuff still for me to work on and do better. I left a lot of plays on the field last week and the week before that, so whenever I watch myself, there's still so much that I can improve on."
Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians said it's been helpful to work with a player as adaptable as Fitzgerald.
"He really has bought into what we've tried to accomplish here, playing a different position as far as slot receiver," Arians said. "Larry's become one of the best blocking receivers in the league, if not the best blocking receiver in the league. It's helped him get, you know, make a hundred catches."
Arians is grateful to be coaching Fitzgerald, whom he said brings so much "heart and passion" to the team. Arians said that, even after more than a decade in the league, Fitzgerald still loves the game of football.
"He plays it the way it's supposed to be played," Arians said.