Dennis Gardeck arrived at the Westgate Entertainment District Friday morning, his trademark long hair in a bun, ready to play some football.
It just wasn't for the Cardinals.
Sporting his jersey over a red sleeved shirt, the linebacker helped run the Cardinals station at the "Guardian Games," featuring eight athletic events for four-man teams that included a Special Olympics athlete.
Big Red, Cardinals alumni and cheerleaders also were in attendance. The money raised from the event will benefit Special Olympics Arizona, which provides athletes opportunities to support the community.
Gardeck cheered on the kids at his station as they launched footballs into colored trash cans. When someone converted on a shot attempt, Gardeck gave a fistbump and celebrated with them.
"It was fun," Gardeck said. "The great vibes. The fun competition. It's everything you love about sports."
Gardeck has become an essential piece for the Cardinals since joining the team in 2018 as an undrafted free agent. He's a special teams ace and reliable part-time pass rusher. It's why General Manager Steve Keim re-signed Gardeck to a three-year deal during free agency to keep the linebacker in Arizona.
Gardeck is proud of his on-field rise but more so his work in the community. He teamed with fellow Cardinal Kelvin Beachum in November for a holiday food distribution for families at the Eisenhower Center for Innovation. He also dished out lunches from women-owned restaurants to women-owned businesses two weeks ago.
"Helping the community has been instilled in me since high school," Gardeck said. "My purpose is to be involved in the community and give back. And being a professional football player gives me the platform to make that impact."
Gardeck also competed in the throwing contest, signed autographs, and took pictures with fans. His favorite moment was playing catch with Ethan, a Special Olympian who impressed Gardeck by throwing tight spirals.
"(Gardeck) is doing a great job," said Peoria policeman Trace Martin, who was part of one of the teams. "He's been out there interacting with everybody. It's cool to see that kind of support from our professional athletes."
Cardinals linebacker Dennis Gardeck takes part in the Guardian Games at Westgate benefitting Special Olympics in the Valley.