The announcement came just as festivities began on Pittsburgh's North Shore--a celebration for Pitt fans commemorating the school's first day in the ACC.
"Larry Fitzgerald is the greatest receiver in Pitt history and is well on his way to future Hall of Fame enshrinement in Canton," Athletic Director Steve Pederson said. "We are proud to appropriately honor Larry by adding his Pitt jersey to a legendary list that includes Ditka, Dorsett, Fralic, Goldberg, Green, Marino, May and Schmidt."
Fitzgerald, sporting his No. 1 jersey, was truly humbled by being honored.
"I was definitely shocked," Fitzgerald said. "It's a special day for our university going to the ACC. Coming back here, it's really special, bringing back some fond memories."
Fitzgerald played just two seasons at Pitt, before making himself eligible for the 2004 NFL Draft, where he was selected third overall by the Arizona Cardinals. In those two years, he caught 161 passes for 2,677 yards (16.6 avg) and a Pitt record 34 touchdowns. He caught a touchdown pass in 18 consecutive games--one of four NCAA records he set or tied, in his two years. He also set eight Big East records and holds 11 school records.
"I am so honored, so thankful and grateful for the relationships I've built here," Fitzgerald added. "I was a 17 year-old boy when I came here, and left here a 20 year-old man. It holds a special place to me."
Fitzgerald also talked about how he got the number 1, when he came to Pitt.
"Coach (Walt) Harris told me when I got here, since I wore it in high school, I could wear it in college," Fitzgerald said. "He gave it to me. I felt like I had a certain responsibility to wear it. It's never about the name on the back of the jersey. It's about the name on the front of the jersey. I just wanted to make sure I wore it proud."
Pitt Assistant Athletic Director Chris LaSala was also on hand, to watch Fitzgerald accept his retired jersey. Talk about coming full circle. LaSala has served in his capacity since 1997. Over the course of his tenure, he has seen several athletes go through the same process Fitzgerald did.
The honor was special for him, simply to see Fitzgerald come to Pitt as a camper, get a Pitt offer, have a big career at Pitt, and now ultimately have his number retired.
"I don't think you can ever predict that," LaSala said, referring to predicting Fitzgerald would do what he did at Pitt. "You always knew, from the first time that I met him, that he was a special person. Special parents, great family support, and he's always been a first-class person. Football talent always comes secondary with Larry."
LaSala said he first met Fitzgerald at a Pitt prospect camp in 2000 when he came to Pitt with a group of high school athletes called Holy Angels from Minnesota. He said from the moment Fitzgerald set foot on campus, there was an instant mutual attraction. Never could he have predicted, he'd be sitting here today watching Fitzgerald have his jersey retired, though he's not surprised.
"It was a 6:30 in the morning workout, up at Trees Field, that was the first time I met him," LaSala said. "Him and Coach Harris, just hit it off. He knew what he wanted as a football player, and as a system that could help him become a great football player."
Entering his 10th season with the Cardinals, Fitzgerald is the youngest NFL player to reach 700 career receptions. He joins Randy Moss as the only other player in NFL history to amass 10,000 receiving yards before the age of 30. He's reached seven Pro Bowls in nine seasons, and led the Cardinals to their lone Super Bowl appearance in 2009.