SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Larry Fitzgerald has had quite a busy week, and it has nothing to do with football.
On Wednesday, the Arizona Cardinals’ star receiver took part in the team’s charity golf game, on Thursday and Friday he is hosting his own golf classic, and on Saturday his celebrity softball game will be played.
Just the tip of the iceberg of his philanthropic work, all three events will benefit different entities, with Fitzgerald’s helping his First Down Fund, and they all help to illustrate something very special about the receiver: his bond to the state in which he now calls home.
“You just try to make a positive impact in the community,” he said Thursday at Dominick’s Steakhouse in the Scottsdale Quarter. “This place has given me so much, given me a home – I raised my family here.
“There’s not a lot you can do to give back, besides catching touchdowns and trying to win ball games, but just trying to give them something that they can come out and enjoy and see some of my teammates, myself, just doing something that’s positive.”
Fitzgerald, who is entering his 13th NFL season, has caught 98 touchdowns – 108 if you include the playoffs. Since being chosen by the Cardinals with the third overall selection in the 2004 NFL Draft out of Pittsburgh, he has become one of the franchise’s all-time greatest players, a national face for a team that rarely had one.
Longevity helps, and Fitzgerald is by far the longest-tenured player currently on the team. In fact, this season he will surpass Adrian Wilson for most seasons played for the Cardinals since they moved to Arizona.
“Being in Minnesota and seeing some of the guys who were able to stay there and have long, long careers there, I’ve always kind of dreamed of being able to stay in one place and finish it,” he said. “But it’s a two-way street. It’s one thing to want to be there and another thing to be wanted to stay there. (Cardinals president) Michael Bidwill has gone out of his way every single time to make sure that I feel welcomed and letting me know that (he wanted me) to be here, and I told him I wanted to be here as well.
Fitzgerald added the relationship he has with Bidwill is one he values greatly, though no doubt the feeling is mutual. Few players in Arizona Cardinals history have benefited the team as much on the field or off it than Fitzgerald.
That’s not to say it has always been a smooth ride. Fitzgerald has been well paid throughout his career, and there were times where it seemed his contract might be too much for the team to handle. A little more than one year ago, before he signed his new contract, people thought he may have played his final down with the Cardinals.
“There’s always times where, in a marriage, where things are not always great,” Fitzgerald acknowledged. “There’s some rocky times, some bleak times. But I really believe that Michael had this organization in the forefront of his thoughts and his best interests. I knew he was going to do everything he could to make sure we were going to be a team that could compete at the highest level, and I think that’s exactly what he’s put his mind to and we’re going to continue to get better.”
That they did, as the Cardinals won 13 games and the NFC West last season before reaching the NFC Championship Game. Going forward, they are once again expected to compete for the Super Bowl.
Now 32 years of age, about the only question Fitzgerald is how much more football he has left in him. The veteran has one year remaining on a two-year contract he signed prior to the 2015 season, and earlier this week said he’s honestly not sure if he will continue playing past 2016.
If he does, odds are good it will be with the Cardinals. So far, Bidwill and the organization have given no inclination they’re willing to stomach the thought of Fitzgerald wearing another uniform than theirs, and likewise, Fitzgerald can’t see a world where he is not playing in red and white.
At this point, it would be a shame if he had to.
Anything could happen, but as of now Fitzgerald is poised to finish as one of the few great players who were able to play their entire careers with one team in one city.
Don’t think for a second he does not appreciate how that has come to be.
“I think it’s truly a blessing,” he said. “It’s saying one thing when a franchise really believes in you; they build it around you, and then also saying the athlete is dedicated enough to one organization, to one city, to want to remain there, as well.
“I’m very happy here. They’ve treated me like family, Michael has. I just want to repay them for everything they’ve given me.”
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