Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr. says he’s living his dream

October 12, 2018

Larry Fitzgerald Jr. defies labels as well as defensive coverages.

The best Minnesota-born football player to never wear a Gophers or Vikings uniform, Fitzgerald says he wouldnt be a future Hall of Fame receiver without Minneapolis. He returns on Sunday when the Vikings play host to the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium, which could become the 27th NFL stadium in which he has caught a touchdown pass.

Two decades after he roamed the Metrodome sidelines as a Vikings ball boy, Fitzgerald without hesitation recalled some of the franchises longest-tenured employees who mentored him during his first job equipment manager Dennis Ryan and his assistant Aaron Neumann, facilities director Chad Lundeen and youth football development manager Jeff Robinson.

I pull for those guys every week, except when Im going against them, Fitzgerald said on a conference call Thursday. I still got a little purple running through my veins.

Fifteen years into an all-time great career, Fitzgerald pins his lifes successes including 1,251 receptions, 15,721 yards and 110 touchdowns to lessons learned from his parents, Larry Sr. and Carol, as well as the Vikings employees who watched a young Larry Jr. grow up at the turn of the millennium.

There was the leather jacket given to him as a gift by the late Korey Stringer, the Vikings Pro Bowl tackle who died of heat stroke during 2001 training camp. It was an early gesture that resonated with Fitzgerald, now a 35-year-old philanthropist who has donated millions, according to his father.

If [Stringer] saw there was a need or something to help somebody out, hed always do it, Fitzgerald Jr. recalled.

There was the blowout loss at Minnehaha Academy, when Fitzgerald Sr. said he and Carol decided their freshman son needed to transfer to somewhere like Holy Angels Academy. Then his football career soared into national recognition.

He kept rising after that, Fitzgerald Sr. said.

His son is now making as many headlines for the man hes become.

On the field, his reputation is that of a player who quietly destroys other teams defenses. His celebrations are as understated as his strides, running routes so consistently that defenders dont know what is coming next.

Hes a wizard when it comes to running routes, Vikings safety George Iloka said.

Off the field, hes lauded by teammates and opponents alike as the consummate professional. Fitzgerald was named the NFLs Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2016 for his charitable efforts including his First Down Fund, which was established in 2005 and focused on K-12 education and efforts to prevent and cure breast cancer, for which his mother was being treated when she died in 2003.

So many times, people come to me and talk about what he is as a person, what he did for their kid, what hes done, how nice he was, Larry Fitzgerald Sr. said. They say nothing about football. Its always about who he is as a person.

Those messages continued to light up Fitzgerald Sr.s phone after Larry Jr. delivered a moving tribute at Arizona Sen. John McCains funeral in late August.

Fitzgerald was one of a distinguished handful chosen to speak at McCains service.

Theres no similarities there, Fitzgerald said Thursday. But [McCain] took a liking to me and I learned so much from him. I think thats an example of what the world is capable of. Its not about the color of your skin or religion or political affiliations or role in society, its about judging people based off character and I think thats what made our relationship so special.

In his speech, Fitzgerald said he was inspired by McCains experiences as a former prisoner of war, so he traveled to Vietnam one of the 100 countries hes visited on his growing list adding, I walked the steps. I sat in the cell. And the ordeal that my friend survived became all the more real.

Experiences drive Fitzgerald to broaden his horizons.

But hes often got time for a round of golf, picking his Vikings opponents wisely. He said he doesnt go near receiver Adam Thielen, known as the Vikings best golfer on the team. But he whooped up on quarterback Kirk Cousins a few times this offseason. Despite the loss, Cousins said he wants to keep in touch with the mayor of Phoenix.

Hes really done everything right when you look at production on the field, good teammate, community involvement, Cousins said. Hes pretty much the mayor of Phoenix.

Currently in his 15th NFL season, Fitzgerald said he will put off retirement thoughts until the end of the year like he has the last three or four years. He came close to retiring last offseason, according to his father, after coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer walked away.

Whatever his football future holds, Fitzgerald Jr. expects even greater things off the field.

Id like to believe the Lord put me on the Earth for something much more important than catching a pigskin ball, he said. The game has given me a wonderful platform and helped me do some things off the field that Im really proud of.

I hope post career, Im able to do that on a larger scale and give people the opportunity to live their dream like I was afforded.