Long gone are the days of Larry Centers with lead blocking and corner routes. Nowadays he strives for corner pockets.
The former Cardinals defenseman is an avid billiards player in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and plays in a competitive league. He is a new grandfather and says he is in good health after 14 seasons in the NFL from 1990-2003.
He spent nine of those seasons with the Phoenix and Arizona Cardinals, and in his senior year, 2003, he won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots.
“It really was the culmination of a lot of hard times, hard work, determination, just sticking with it. After playing for so long and only making the playoffs a handful of times in my career, I was finally able to hit the ground running on a good team and I was able to contribute a little bit,” Centers said. “And being able to finish my career in the Super Bowl was like a dream come true. Looking back, I couldn’t have written the story any better.”
This NFL season concluding with Super Bowl 57 in Glendale, The Republic revisits some of the names and faces from the Cardinals’ 35 seasons in Arizona. This week it’s Centers, a former fifth-round draft pick and three-time Pro Bowler, who was instrumental in changing the way fullbacks were viewed in the NFL, from basic blockers to those, plus the Ability to catch and run the ball on offense.
Center’s 535 career catches as a Cardinal is the third-most all-time in franchise history, behind Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.
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Q: What did it take to become such a good receiver? You were one of the early running backs who posed a threat as a receiver from the backfield. Do you feel like you changed the game in any way?
A: “Before I started doing what I was doing, full-backs were rarely used. I think there might have been one or two others. The John L. Williams guy in Seattle, Tom Rathman for San Francisco. But you know, I could do it. When good pass protection was needed at the running back spot, I just worked on mastering pass protection. And as a result, I got the opportunity to get on the field. And when I was allowed onto the field… I would just run out and I became a safety valve, and after getting the ball a couple of times I had some success picking up the first downs on that and started being a go-to -to become a guy. I’ve worked my way up I think.
Q: Do you wish the full-back position could be used today the way it was used back then? What do you think has become of the position in the game these days?
A: “The game itself is evolving as any person on the field who is an eligible recipient can be deployed with complex systems running them, RPOs and things like that. Every player must be prepared to be able to make a game. I think the most successful teams, if you look at San Francisco for example, I think have a really good formula where the players are somewhat interchangeable, with a decent receiver or the running backs.”
Q: Where do you stand in relation to why you might not be in the Cardinals Ring of Honor or the Pro Football Hall of Fame yet?
A: “The way I see it there is a natural progression as the team usually recognizes the player and puts the players in the ring of honor. And after that, the Pro Football Hall of Fame can follow as the next falling domino… And you know, I can’t really say why I’m not in the Cardinals Ring of Honor. I definitely think my efforts when I was a cardinal were worth it. But you know, it is what it is. That would be a question you would have to ask Michael Bidwill yourself.”
Q: What do you remember about the 1998 Cardinals playoff team? How did you do that?
A: “We really suffered as a team, you know, we had a belief system where we played for each other, we went out and we weren’t individuals playing the game, we were teammates, we just wanted success for each other. And I think that increased our skills and made us play harder, increased our accountability. And we got it rolling, we literally thought we had an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl. And obviously it didn’t work. We made it derailed in Minnesota. What was so great was seeing the fans really standing behind us, gathering behind us and cheering for us. It was just a beautiful thing to see.
Q: How much was it a shock to the system after the Cardinals released you after all the time you put in (Centers said he wanted to finish what he started in Arizona)?
A: “It was definitely a shock but you know, like I said, the league can be something, it can be very unpredictable with injuries and transactions or trades and people get cut. So you can never really speak on your laurels. You have to be able to adapt to changes. And you know it was a blow to the system. I was very disappointed that I couldn’t continue playing there. But you know, I had a career to try to move on and I had to try to believe in myself as a singles player. And just do my best to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.”