As Thanksgiving winded down at Phoenix Children’s Hospital a couple weeks ago, a tinge of sadness swept over some of the young patients who believed the day’s festivities were over.
Larry Fitzgerald made sure there was one last thrill to be had.
After delivering a turkey to Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill and then serving meals to the less fortunate at St. Vincent de Paul, the star wideout wanted to make one final stop. He made his way to north Phoenix to spend time with the kids who couldn’t enjoy the holiday at home, delivering a lasting memory during a time of hardship.
Team president Michael Bidwill presented Fitzgerald with the Cardinals’ Walter Payton Man of the Year award after practice on Thursday, and lavished praise upon the face of the franchise. It was that selfless Thanksgiving day, punctuated by the hospital visit, which encapsulated why Bidwill thought Fitzgerald was so deserving.
“Here’s a guy who is an amazing, high-profile athlete … who can be doing anything he wants that day,” Bidwill said, “and he spends the entire day in service of others after he gets done with his work. It’s just an amazing thing.”
Fitzgerald, a man infinitely more interested in giving to the community than talking about it, said he knows how much one interaction can mean because he lived it.
“I remember Cris Carter coming to visit us over at the Boys & Girls Club off Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis, and how our eyes lit up,” Fitzgerald said. “I remember when I was going to get one of my really routine check-ups, and Kevin Garnett was visiting the Children’s Hospital. I remember how excited I was to be able to see him.
“Those two visits alone just showed me, man, they can change a kid’s perspective just like that, just by coming in and letting them know that you care about them. Now me being a professional, I try to make that same impact, and just let people know that you care.”
It is his second career Cardinals/Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Fitzgerald first earned the honor in 2012 and was named one of three finalists for the national award. Each team chooses a recipient, and this year’s national winner will be chosen the night before Super Bowl LI in February.
Nationwide provided Fitzgerald $10,000 for receiving the honor and will donate $50,000 to the charity of Fitzgerald’s choice. Another $50,000 has been made in his name to implement the Character Playbook program in Arizona.
Fitzgerald has been a prominent advocate of breast cancer research in honor of his late mother, Carol, who succumbed to the disease. His First Down Fund has benefited thousands of kids across the country, and he’s been active in support of the military and other philanthropic causes.
Fitzgerald has made a name for himself on the field but appreciates the recognition for his work in the community.
“The Walter Payton Award is really the one award that, off the field, represents really what it should be about,” Fitzgerald said. “A lot of times in the media you hear about all the negativity. It’s great to always have a positive conversation when you’re being portrayed in the media, and to be a part of that, it means a great deal to me.”
Bidwill knows the Cardinals selected Fitzgerald in the 2004 draft because of his on-field talent, but his off-field work has been just as sensational.
“There’s no sports star in Arizona history that has done more (for the community) than Larry Fitzgerald,” Bidwill said.
FITZGERALD BELIEVES HE’S DONE CLIMBING RECEPTIONS LADDER
Fitzgerald has been doing some amazing things on the field as well of late, as he is tied with Antonio Brown for the NFL lead in receptions with 88.
Fitzgerald surpassed Carter and Marvin Harrison on Sunday to move to third all-time with 1,106 receptions, and the only two names remaining above him are Tony Gonzalez and Jerry Rice. Fitzgerald needs 219 more catches to reach Gonzalez and 443 more to match Rice, but closed the door on that possibility Thursday.
“I won’t catch any of those guys,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t plan on playing that long to catch those guys.”
MATHIEU SITS AGAIN
For the Dolphins, linebacker Kiko Alonso (hand/hamstring), linebacker Jelani Jenkins (knee/hand), center Mike Pouncey (hip) and defensive end Mario Williams (ankle) didn’t practice. Safety Isa Abdul-Quddus (neck), running back Kenyan Drake (knee), cornerback Xavien Howard (knee), defensive tackle Earl Mitchell (back), wideout DeVante Parker (back), and center/guard Kraig Urbik (knee) were limited.