Thirteen years ago I was sitting in my brother’s room playing NCAA Football 2004 on our GameCube. You know, the N-C-Double-A Series of legend—may it rest in peace. On the cover of the game was Southern Cal hot shot Carson Palmer, fresh off a Heisman win and cementing the beginning of the century’s first great dynasty. One year later, there I was again. Same room, same brother, same GameCube, same game. Except this time, it was NCAA Football 2005, and Pittsburgh’s Larry Fitzgerald, himself a Heisman runner-up, graced the cover. While spending hours completing all the College Classics and guiding Division 1-AA teams to countless National Championships through years of the Dynasty mode, the athletic poses of Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald were there to greet us.
Years passed and new games and new cover athletes greeted us, soon on the Xbox 360. But Reggie Bush and Darren McFadden failed to capture the magic of those nights spent with Palmer and Fitz. Meanwhile, our cover stars moved on to the NFL. Just as the NCAA series was good but lacked that magic, Palmer and Fitzgerald were good but lacked significant team success. Palmer and the Bengals failed to advance past the Wild Card round, and for four seasons Fitzgerald and the Cardinals failed to reach the playoffs.
Then 2008 came, and Fitzgerald had a breakout season in the eyes of fans as he and Kurt Warner led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl with spectacular catch after catch. Fitz became a star again, and even earned a Madden cover. But Kurt Warner retired, leaving the burning question of who would throw our cover star the ball. His NCAA cover star predecessor Carson Palmer was the natural fit. A decade after they starred on consecutive NCAA games and established themselves as childhood heroes, Palmer and and Fitz teamed up.
Together the quarterback and receiver have made the playoffs two years in a row, including Saturday night’s Divisional Round overtime win over the Packers. In their three years as teammates Palmer has thrown for 10,571 yards and 70 touchdowns (despite playing just six games last season due to injury) while Fitzgerald has racked up 2,953 yards and 21 touchdowns receiving (both categories significantly lower without Palmer on the field). In Saturday’s win, Fitz caught everything and set a Cardinal’s franchise record with 176 yards receiving.
Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald made a great pair in my brother’s room, and 12 years later they’re making a great pair on the field.