Brice Butler said he’s followed Larry Fitzgerald’s career “since I was a young kid.”
What the new Cardinals wide receiver didn’t know about his iconic teammate until they shared a locker room was the lengths Fitzgerald has gone for life beyond sports.
“Stuff that will help him prepare himself – or already has prepared him – to be the guy,” Butler said. “Not just Larry Fitzgerald the football player, but the guy. Like the President.”
Fitzgerald arrived at his 15th training camp this weekend showing few signs that he has to worry about a post-playing career if he so chooses. Three straight 100-reception seasons has left him, even with his 35th birthday looming at the end of August, the Cardinals’ clear No. 1 receiver and crucial part of the offense.
Yet Fitz has always been hyper-aware the NFL lasts only so long.
“It’s professional sports, and you think you have an idea but you really have no idea,” Fitzgerald said Sunday morning. “There’s retirement and then there’s being retired. Most guys get retired. (The teams) tell you it’s time to go to pasture. You have to figure it out and they give you your apple and a road map.
“For the last 10 years I’ve been doing internships and those types of things to prepare myself and figure out what I am interested in and what I want to do when I transition out. (But) this is my focus right now. End of July to the beginning of February, the only thing I’m really focused on is ball.”
While it has been obvious for a while the Cardinals would be Fitzgerald’s only NFL franchise – he reiterated that in an interview before camp – when asked about having any kind of post-playing connection within the NFL, Fitzgerald interestingly noted the idea of staying with the Cards even then.
“When you’re in it and all you’re consumed with is that and performance and every Sunday’s results, you don’t allow yourself to venture out and see (what to do) when I’m done,” Fitzgerald said. “If Mr. (Michael) Bidwill comes to me and talks to me about a position, I don’t know, that would be time to think about it.”
There is football to be played, after all. Never a big fan of training camp, Fitzgerald allowed that all the changes around the team has made this trip out to the west side more exciting. With all of the unknowns, Fitzgerald is one of the constants – although even he has questions to be answered.
After learning to play the slot under former coach Bruce Arians and becoming excellent both as a shorter pass target but also a blocker, Fitzgerald isn’t sure exactly what his role will entail.
Coach Steve Wilks only would say Fitzgerald, as a top playmaker, needs to get the ball. That job is entrusted to offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.
“Mike is going to do a good job of moving Larry around,” Wilks said.
Fitzgerald, who struggled mightily in 2013 when Arians first had him change positions, is more at peace with whatever might come.
“I’m not allowing myself to think this is going to be this way or I’m going to be doing that,” Fitzgerald said, shaking off the notion playing the slot can be harder physically than splitting out wide.
“As long as my number is being called on Sundays, I’m happy wherever I’m at,” Fitzgerald said.
Plans for the future can wait. It’s late July, so the focus is, as always, on just one place. It’s been the same way for 15 years.
“I’ve had success doing it one way, and I’m not saying it’s the only way but I am a bit of a creature of habit,” Fitzgerald said. “I try to follow the same script.”
Images from the first practice of training camp