TEMPE, Ariz. – Larry Fitzgerald wants to clear the air. Yes, last season’s 5-11 record and 1-11 finish were miserable experiences, but no, he did not carry that misery with him wherever he went.
“I was always in a good place personally, even last year,” Fitzgerald said Thursday. “Professionally, no it wasn’t good. (But) last year is last year. I put that to bed. When you look in the rearview mirror, it’s hard to see what’s going on in front of you.”
Its probably best not to look back anyway. Fitzgerald had a forgettable season by his standards.
His 71 receptions and 798 receiving yards were the second-lowest marks of his career, ahead of only his rookie year. His four TDs and 11.2 yards-per-catch average were career lows. Fitzgerald freely admits that some of that decline was his own doing, whether it was due to mistakes in reads, route running or the occasional dropped ball (three).
But the Cards' dreadful running game, offensive line play and quarterback play made last season a frustrating one for Fitzgerald, who couldn't conceal that frustration at times on the field when it looked like he had become largely irrelevant in the offense.
"Obviously, I’m aware of what happened last year, and I don’t ever want to repeat last year, but moving forward I have to be focused on what’s asked of me from my teammates and coaching staff and I can’t give them my complete focus thinking about stuff like that,” he said.
Fitzgerald insists the possibilities are endless now that the
have added quarterback
is in the backfield, receiver
has taken a major step forward and the offensive lines woes have been addressed, despite Jonathan Cooper’s season-ending injury.
And if his language sounds like that of a player with greater perspective, well, that’s to be expected of someone reporters jokingly refer to as the world’s most interesting man.
“When you see the kinds of things I’ve seen, it gives you perspective,” Fitzgerald said. “And when you see people that have such tremendously positive attitudes even when they’re facing such adversity -- no clean drinking water, no food to eat, the harshest conditions you’ve ever seen -- it gives you a real appreciation for the things you do have.”
Fitzgerald turned 30 on Aug. 31, but it wasn’t the take-stock-of-your-life moment you might expect. “It was just another day,” he said.
That’s because Fitzgerald is afforded constant opportunities to take stock of his life, whether it’s through the enormous wealth he is piling up as an elite NFL receiver or the enormous amount of goodwill he is piling up as an ambassador for the league, his franchise and as a genuine servant for humanity.
This offseason, Fitzgerald embarked on his annual world tour, visiting 19 countries and six continents including Singapore, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, India, Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia and yes, Antarctica, the lone continent he hadn’t visited (and one reporters thought he was joking about visiting when he mentioned it during the 2012 preseason).
Fitz had his fun. He was a judge at the
Miss USA pageant
, and he was named an honorary member of the show “Duck Dynasty.” He went ice climbing in Slovenia, snowboarding down a volcano in Nicaragua and snorkeling in Cartagena with nervous teammate
“That was my first time and I didn’t know what I was doing,” Roberts said. “So his thing was to tell me, ‘stop panicking; everything will be all right.’ ”
But the offseason was also about work for Fitz, and like he does every time he straps on his pads, Fitzgerald rolled up his sleeves. To honor his late mother, Carol, he has remained heavily involved in furthering breast cancer awareness and research, he’s helping kids in crisis through the
Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund
and he even helped Senegalese villagers build a fence to protect their crops from hungry hippos.
“He’s all that was advertised,” said first-year coach Bruce Arians during training camp. “He’s what you hope your players become.”
All the suffering, injustice and desperate need he has witnessed during his travels has forced Fitzgerald to come to grips with a difficult truth that strikes most aid workers in impoverished or strife-torn areas: He can’t help everyone.
“I don’t think about it that way,” he said. “I can’t remember who said this, but if there’s a thousand star fish washed up on the beach, you throw back as many as you can before the sun goes down. If a person walks by and says ‘You can’t save all of them,’ your response is: ‘The ones I threw back in I saved.’
“That’s the mentality you have to have. You have to do everything you’re capable of and maybe a little bit more. Maybe you can’t save everyone, but the people you’re helping and affecting do appreciate it.”
Adding to the magnitude of these life-altering experiences is the fact that his son, Devin, accompanied him on many of them.
“I want to instill in him what my parents instilled in me; pass it down from generation to generation to be a person that gives of your time and helps your fellow man,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald knows that his playing clock is ticking. He’s only 30, and receivers can play well into that decade, but to use a golf metaphor, it feels like has made the turn onto the back nine.
“I remember one of the first conversations I had with (former Cardinals running back) Emmitt (Smith),” Fitzgerald said. “He told me, ‘It’s gonna go by so fast.’
“I’m a rookie then, and as a rookie you’re thinking you’re gonna play forever. But he was right, it does fly by when you’re having fun. So I’ve learned to savor the moments; enjoy every day with my teammates and playing a game that was my dream.
“I’m so much more mature, man; not as selfish, not focused on stats and individual accomplishments. My approach to every day is different, and I’m more confident with everything I do.”
This experienced-enriched wisdom doesn’t mean Fitzgerald will be at peace with another losing season.
“My passion for winning has not waned one bit even with all my world experiences,” he said, pointing to his heart. “In here, there burns a desire to be a champion.”
But he’s also experienced enough to know that when he steps off the field, it’s time to flip the switch and be present in that new reality.
“When it’s time to be dadda, it’s time to be dadda,” he said. “You can’t allow work to affect your personal life. I learned a long time ago that you have to be able to separate.
“My whole approach has changed, and it’s changed for the better. I’m a very different person and player than I was when I came into this league.”