Larry Fitzgerald was one of the greatest wide receivers not only in the franchise history of the Arizona Cardinals but also in the history of the National Football League.
Fitzgerald learned the ropes of the gridiron from greats such as Randy Moss and Barry Sanders when he was a Minnesota Vikings ball boy in high school.
Fitzgerald took those lessons to heart, put in the work, and enjoyed a prolific 17-year career with the Arizona Cardinals.
Before long Larry Fitzgerald became an 11-time Pro Bowler and the second-leading career receptions and receiving yardage leader in National Football League history.
He also became one of the league’s most popular philanthropists during his storied pro football career.
Truly, Larry Fitzgerald set the bar high for the wide receiver position for future generations of gridiron warriors.
Larry Darnell Fitzgerald Jr. was born to parents Larry Sr. and Carol in Minneapolis, MN on August 31, 1983. He has a younger brother named Marcus.
The Fitzgerald family attended New Beginnings Missionary Baptist Church. Carol Fitzgerald forbade her two sons from playing sports unless they attended church every Sunday.
Larry Fitzgerald learned to catch a football at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park in his hometown. While Larry Fitzgerald became a potential Hall of Fame wide receiver, he was also interested in other sports during his formative years.
Fitzgerald learned how to play chess at Sabathani Community Center’s after-school program. He played against his dad regularly once he got the hang of it.
According to Darren Urban of the Arizona Cardinals’ official website, Fitzgerald played basketball as a young boy.
Unfortunately, the team was so bad he wanted to quit.
His father Larry Sr. was having none of it – he told his younger namesake he should finish what he started.
Young Larry Jr. obliged and learned a lesson in perseverance.
He was also a baseball fan when he was a boy in Minnesota. He and his brother Marcus tagged along with their dad to Minnesota Twins games and even shagged balls with Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett, per AZ Central Sports’ Kent Somers.
Larry Fitzgerald attended the Academy of Holy Angels (AHA) in Richfield, MN from 1998 to 2001. He was a three-sport star who excelled in football, basketball, and track for the AHA Stars.
Fitzgerald’s high school basketball coach Jesse Foley remembered him as somebody both students and staff liked during his time at AHA.
On the other hand, he played multiple positions on the gridiron for his high school football coach Mike Pendino. However, he excelled the most at wideout – the position where he’d earn 11 Pro Bowl berths in the National Football League.
Fitzgerald was so famous an opposing cornerback once asked him for his autograph after a game, per the Star Tribune.
His dad’s reputation as a famous sportswriter in the Minneapolis region gave him a free ticket to Minnesota Vikings training camp every summer.
#BEREDSEERED Larry Fitzgerald as a ball boy for The Minnesota Vikings. Now one of the greatest receivers to play the game #FBF #Post #Assignment #SocialMedia #SCState #SCStateBulldogs pic.twitter.com/OYweR6ZeeO
— Cameron Hardison (@cameronhardiso5) March 30, 2021
Fitzgerald eventually became a Vikings ball boy in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He did odd jobs for the players and assisted in practice and on the sidelines during games.
He regularly saw Vikings players such as Cris Carter, Korey Stringer, Dwayne Rudd, Orlando Thomas, John Randle, Chris Walsh, and Jake Reed, to name a few.
However, one Vikings star stood out the most for Fitzgerald – Randy Moss.
“I love Randy,” Fitzgerald told ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss in December 2017. “He taught me this game. I grew up immortalizing him, watching him, trying to emulate what he was doing every single day.”
Moss was a regular at Stars’ practices. He and his other Vikings teammates cheered Fitzgerald from the sidelines. Moss also gave him cleats – they both wore size 14 shoes – and gloves while the latter was in high school.
Fitzgerald told Weinfuss that the Vikings’ show of support at his games made his confidence levels soar.
On some days, Fitzgerald washed Moss’ cars. The Vikings wide receiver let the youngster play basketball – one of his favorite sports – at his house afterward.
Fitzgerald earned his driver’s license a few days before his senior prom. He asked Moss if he could borrow his blue BMW 740. The latter obliged and Fitzgerald drove it back without a scratch.
Whenever Fitzgerald ran an errand for Moss in Vikings practice or games, he paid the former in cash. Fitzgerald also ran routes with Vikings receivers during his ball boy days in Minnesota.
Contrary to the public’s perception of the controversial Moss, Fitzgerald told ESPN the legendary Hall of Fame wide receiver regularly visited homeless shelters and schools, helped teammates in need, and shunned the spotlight when he played for the Vikings.
“He was just that kind of guy. He always did for others. I saw that just being a kid around him,” Fitzgerald told ESPN in 2017.
Fitzgerald didn’t just learn valuable life lessons from his hometown Vikings.
Whenever legendary Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders was in town and scored a touchdown, he wasn’t one to celebrate and perform unnecessary antics. Instead, he handed the ball over to an official or dropped it in the end zone.
Sanders’ example had a powerful effect on Fitzgerald – the latter also did the same thing during his 17-year pro football career.
Fitzgerald also recalled Sanders gave him $10 while he was in the locker room one Sunday afternoon. Sanders also reminded him you have to work for whatever you want in life.
“He would never remember saying that because I know there were a million kids who came up to him over the years,” Fitzgerald told Somers some fifteen years later. “But it resonated with me and it was special.”
While Fitzgerald was learning all these life lessons from football’s greatest, he also excelled on the high school gridiron.
Fitzgerald initially played outside linebacker for the AHA Stars because two seniors already took the wideout spots.
AHA defensive coordinator Ray Betton told AZ Central Sports in 2015 that Fitzgerald never pouted nor sulked once. He just did what the coaches told him to do.
Fitzgerald became a two-time First-Team All-State wideout at AHA. When he was sixteen years old, he worked with Vikings wideout Cris Carter and his trainer Bill Welle in Florida in the summer of 1999, per the Star Tribune’s Chip Scoggins.
That training session sparked an offseason summer program that gained notoriety in the pro football ranks in later years.
Fitzgerald showed his dedication to football while he lay on his bed at night – he had a habit of tossing the ball toward the ceiling and catching it repeatedly, per Somers.
Larry Fitzgerald was all set for the college gridiron – he would eventually become one of the best wide receivers who ever donned Pitt Panthers Blue and Gold during his college days.
College Days With The Pittsburgh Panthers
Before starring for the Pitt Panthers, Larry Fitzgerald spent one year at Valley Forge Military Academy because he didn’t meet NCAA eligibility requirements.
He eventually transferred to the University of Pittsburgh prior to the 2002 NCAA season. He called up his dad that year and complained about men with drinking issues, among other things.
Larry Fitzgerald Sr. just hung up on his son – it was a clear sign he wanted him to man up. That was something Larry Jr. eventually learned over the years.
Fitzgerald made an immediate impact with Walt Harris’ squad in 2002.
He had 1,005 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns as the Panthers won nine games in 2002. It was Pitt’s best record since the 1982 NCAA campaign.
Behind Fitzgerald’s emergence, 24th-ranked Pitt routed the Oregon State Beavers in the 2002 Insight Bowl, 38-13.
— Pittsburgh Clothing Company (@PGHClothingCo) November 8, 2017
Larry Fitzgerald took his game to unprecedented heights the following season.
Despite facing double and even triple coverages, he had 1,672 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns in 2003.
Fitzgerald’s average of 128.6 receiving yards per game led the nation that year.
Unfortunately, Pitt lost to the Virginia Cavaliers in the 2003 Continental Tire Bowl, 23-16.
Nonetheless, Larry Fitzgerald racked up several accolades after his second year with the Panthers.
He became the first sophomore to earn Walter Camp Player of the Year honors. Fitzgerald became an All-American and won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best wide receiver.
He also finished runner-up to Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Jason White in the 2003 Heisman Trophy voting.
Fitzgerald received sobering news during his sophomore campaign at Pitt – his mother Carol had breast cancer.
In a first-person essay Fitzgerald wrote for The Athletic in the fall of 2020, he admitted he was an immature 20-year-old young man who was more concerned about his career path than people who cared about him.
While Fitzgerald was laying a foundation for a star-studded career in the National Football League, he overlooked his mother’s concern for him.
That all changed when doctors diagnosed Carol Fitzgerald with cancer.
Fitzgerald’s world turned upside down in a heartbeat – he didn’t know how to cope with a family member dealing with the insidious disease. Consequently, he wasn’t as present for his mother as he should’ve been.
“The most formidable battles in my life up that point were waged on the football field, not in the area of life and death,” Fitzgerald wrote on The Athletic in October 2002. “Cancer changed all that.”
Sadly, Carol Fitzgerald succumbed to breast cancer in 2003.
Fitzgerald decided to forego his final two years of college eligibility and declare for the 2004 NFL Draft.
He finished his short but remarkable college gridiron career with 2,677 receiving yards and 34 touchdowns on 161 receptions.
Larry Fitzgerald would embark on a memorable 17-year career with the Arizona Cardinals in the National Football League.
Pro Football Career
The Arizona Cardinals made Larry Fitzgerald the third overall selection of the 2004 NFL Draft.
Congratulations to all of the young men whose dreams come true this weekend, as well as their families, coaches, and teammates.
— Larry Fitzgerald (@LarryFitzgerald) April 28, 2022
Fitzgerald credited part of his success to his trainers at the University of Pittsburgh, Dave Kennedy and Dave Langworthy.
The 21-year-old Fitzgerald trained with both men in Lincoln, NE when they took jobs with the Nebraska Cornhuskers in 2004. He worked with them five days a week for eight weeks leading up to the 2004 NFL campaign.
“Those guys never stop pushing me,” Fitzgerald told SI.com’s Lisa Altobelli in November 2004. “That’s why I always go back to them.”
Fitzgerald reported for training with Kennedy and Langworthy at 6:30 a.m. Here’s a sample of his workout regimen during his rookie year in the NFL:
Mondays and Thursdays
- General leg stretches
- Thirty- and 60-yard parachute sprints
- Cone sprints
- Run 10 gassers – running horizontally across the football field back and forth four times
- Weight training – including hang cleans, squats, shrugs, and lunges
Tuesdays and Fridays
- Stretches and pass-catching from Cornhusker’s quarterbacks or the Jugs machine
- Cut sprints
- Weight training including bench presses, seated shoulder presses, and dips
Fitzgerald did an active recovery on Wednesdays by running two miles on the University of Nebraska campus grounds. He rested completely on weekends.
His breakfast consisted of a two-egg omelet, plain bagel, grits, orange juice, and a piece of fruit.
For lunch, Fitzgerald upped his carbohydrate intake and consumed bread and pasta. He ate lean meat such as turkey, chicken, or salmon, for supper.
Fitzgerald told Altobelli his guilty pleasure was Popeye’s spicy chicken, which he had for dinner several times weekly. He also drank up to a gallon of water daily to replace lost nutrients after a hard workout.
Despite spending his entire 17-year pro football career in Arizona, Fitzgerald always cherished his Minnesota roots. He spent most of his summers prior to training camp in the North Star State.
The key to Fitzgerald’s longevity and durability in the National Football League lay in his training and conditioning.
Whenever Fitzgerald was in Minneapolis for the summer, he led a dozen or so NFL players in morning workouts at the University of Minnesota which became known as “Camp Fitz.” He also opened his residence to them in the afternoon, per Urban.
Other NFL legends who participated in Camp Fitz include Jerry Rice, Cris Carter, and Andre Rison.
A 46-year-old Rice, who was still in impressive shape, attended Camp Fitz for two days in 2008. He said the camp’s intensity was on a vastly different level.
“That was crazy, man,” Rice told the Star Tribune eight years later. “I was really impressed with his workout.”
Twelve years after declaring early for the 2004 NFL Draft, Larry Fitzgerald earned his communications degree with a minor in marketing from the University of Phoenix in the spring of 2016.
Fitzgerald told Urban getting his degree wasn’t smooth sailing – he had to drop several classes due to time constraints in the years leading up to his graduation.
Through it all, Fitzgerald persevered. Before earning his bachelor’s degree, he was the only one in his family who didn’t have one.
“Now, I can say to them I am finally there,” Fitzgerald told the Cardinals’ official website in 2016. “That was a pride thing for me.”
He also felt that accomplishment will inspire his young sons to finish what he started – a lesson his father Larry Sr. taught him after he almost quit his youth basketball team almost three decades earlier.
Fitzgerald won the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award the same year he earned his college diploma.
He became just the second former Pitt Panthers player after Dan Marino to win that honor, per the school’s official athletics website.
During his downtime in the summer, Fitzgerald went jet skiing with Cardinals wide receiver Andre Roberts and speedboating with Seattle Seahawks running back Leon Washington.
“Football was my occupation. It’s not who I am,” Fitzgerald told the Star Tribune’s Chip Scoggins in the fall of 2021.
The intensity of Larry Fitzgerald’s training made him an elite wide receiver as his career in the National Football League progressed.
His 105 receptions led the league in his second season. He duplicated that feat with 107 receptions as a 33-year-old wide receiver eleven years later.
Fitzgerald earned the first of his eventual eleven Pro Bowl selections in 2005. His 12 and 13 receiving touchdowns led the NFL in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
He became a First-Team All-Pro selection and led the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII in 2008. Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat them, 27-23.
Fitzgerald earned the first of his two career Second-Team All-Pro selections the following season.
The 6’3″, 218-lb. Fitzgerald simply overpowered defensive backs with his amazing physical prowess during his 17-year pro football career.
“His ability to attack the ball is off the charts,” former Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings defensive back Captain Munnerlyn told Scoggins in 2016. “When the ball is in the air, he’s like a power forward. He goes up and gets it at the highest point and he brings it down.”
The Cardinals were mostly an average team during Fitzgerald’s tenure with the squad – Arizona averaged seven wins per year from 2004 to 2020.
They made just four postseason appearances during that time frame. They lost in their only Super Bowl appearance against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008.
Larry Fitzgerald played his final down following the 2020 NFL season.
Although he never released an official statement announcing his retirement, he had no intention of playing pro football at that point in time.
“I’m a long way from retirement,” he told ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss in February 2022. “I had a great run. It was fun. I wouldn’t change anything.”
Fitzgerald’s career 17,492 receiving yards currently rank second all-time behind Rice (22,895).
Fitzgerald has more career receiving yards than Terrell Owens (15,934), Randy Moss (15,292), and Isaac Bruce (15,208).
Fitzgerald’s 1,432 career receptions also rank second all-time behind Rice (1,549) and ahead of Tony Gonzalez (1,325), Jason Witten (1,228), and Marvin Harrison (1,108).
Larry Fitzgerald is a single dad to 14-year-old Devin and eight-year-old Apollo. They currently reside in the Phoenix, AZ area.
Fitzgerald has been one of the NFL’s most popular philanthropists in recent years.
He launched his Larry Fitzgerald Foundation in 2005. He started the foundation in honor of his late mother Carol who succumbed to breast cancer two years earlier.
Aside from breast cancer research and support, the organization focuses on grants to enhance reading and technology among K-12 youth.
Fitzgerald has been an active figure in the NFL’s annual collaboration with the American Cancer Society, the Crucial Catch initiative. As of October 2020, the program has raised more than $20 million and helped organize more than 257,000 breast cancer screenings.
He has been providing hearing aids to people in Africa via the Starkey Hearing Foundation. He has also helped build irrigation systems and wells in Ethiopia with his former Cardinals teammate Anquan Boldin.
Fitzgerald has also helped raise funds for the Semper Fi Fund on behalf of injured members of the armed forces. He previously joined other NFL players on a USO Tour of Iraq and Afghanistan in his sixth year in the pro football ranks.
The Pitt Panthers retired Fitzgerald’s No. 1 jersey in the team’s ACC debut against the Florida State Seminoles at Heinz Field on September 3, 2013.
There has been no greater privilege in my life than to be the son of @FitzBeatSr. Even when he is causing a stir in the Twitterverse. 😂🤦🏾♂️
Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there! pic.twitter.com/5Q290im50w
— Larry Fitzgerald (@LarryFitzgerald) June 20, 2022
Larry Fitzgerald is also an accomplished golfer. He won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am twice in a span of three years from 2018 to 2020.
Fitzgerald bought a minority stake in the NBA’s Phoenix Suns in January 2020. He became the second NFL player to earn a stake in an NBA franchise after Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers, who is a minority owner of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Fitzgerald is also a player advisor of the Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.
He has been an astute businessman during his retirement years – at one point, he invested in an estimated 40 to 50 companies in a three- to four-year span.
Aside from his work at Larry Fitzgerald Enterprises, he’s also currently a member of the board of directors of Dick’s Sporting Goods.
According to Scoggins, Fitzgerald is an avid traveler – he had visited 96 countries in every continent as of 2016.
Fitzgerald has always been locked in on his training even when he’s on vacation. He brings along his personal trainer James Smith to facilitate his early morning workouts in whatever part of the globe Fitzgerald is in.
Smith accompanied Fitzgerald while running sprints in the rain in a public park and training at a rugby complex in England, among other things.
Larry Fitzgerald is also a member of the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team and NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.