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2016 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Finalist: Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald keeps the tradition going strong

By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider

Larry Fitzgerald remembers growing up in Minneapolis, getting to meet the city’s top pro athletes and how exciting it was for him.

Fitzgerald, the Arizona Cardinals’ star wide receiver, has taken that a few steps further in his brilliant 14-year NFL career.

When he’s not leading the Cardinals offense on the field, Fitzgerald has been just as much of a star off it. His Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund, has helped the Phoenix Children’s Hospital and their Rainbow Camp with generous donations. And his Carol Fitzgerald Memorial Fund, named after his late mother, has helped in the fight and awareness of breast cancer nationwide.

For his efforts, Fitzgerald has been named a finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. It’s Fitzgerald’s second nomination. He was also nominated in 2012. 

“It started way back before I ever got to be a professional athlete when I was a kid,’’ Fitzgerald said. “I remember (former Vikings’ star wide receiver) Cris Carter coming to visit us over at the Boys & Girls Club off of Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis and how our eyes lit up. I remember when I was going to get one of my yearly routine checkups and (former Timberwolves star) Kevin Garnett was visiting Children’s Hospital, and I remember how excited I was to be able to see him. Those two visits alone just showed me they can change a kid’s perspective just like that, just 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.”

Fitzgerald has done just that throughout his career and his teammates let him know how they feel by nominating him for the prestigious award.

“It’s a tremendous honor,’’ he said. “First, being here in this community – this community has done so much for me and so many of my teammates. It’s a privilege because it’s not something that’s fallen on deaf ears. The message that comes from the very top of our organization, it really falls down to all the players in serving this community. Mr. Bidwill (Cardinals owner William) and his family, countless places I’ve been throughout my years, they always talk about the generous donations that the Bidwill family has done here and there. So, it’s coming from the very top of this organization. It makes me very proud of to be part of the long-standing tradition here.

“I want to congratulate all my other teammates – Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell, all the rest of the guys who are doing great work as well, and Nationwide, thank you for your support. I know this is just one of 32 teams you guys are supporting, and it means a great deal. This award, Walter Payton Award, really is the one award that I think, off the field, represents really what it should be about. A lot of times in the media you hear about all the negativity. It’s great to always have a positive connotation when you’re being portrayed in the media. To be a part of that, it means a great deal to me.”

One of Fitzgerald’s former teammates, quarterback Kurt Warner, who along with Fitzgerald helped the Cardinals to get to Super Bowl XLIII, was the winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, that same year. Fitzgerald remembered it well.

“That was pretty cool,’’ he said. “We were all on the sideline right before the National Anthem, and Kurt was standing there on the podium with Mrs. Payton receiving his award. That was really special. I think he’s got to be the only one that was actually in uniform to accept the award.’’

Fitzgerald won’t be in uniform when the winner is announced, now the night before the Super Bowl. It would be an honor to cherish.

“It feels like I’ve done what I’m supposed to do,’’ he said. “I’ve done what I’ve been asked to do. Like I said, I’m not the only one that’s done it though. A lot of guys, from Kurt Warner to (former Cardinals and current Lions receiver) Anquan Boldin, two guys who were Arizona Cardinals and also past Walter Payton Award recipients, so it’s something that is expected here as an Arizona Cardinal. That’s great to be a part of that tradition.’’

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