Thursday, October 11, 2012
A look at what makes Fitzgerald so great
By Mike Sando
Halloween 2004 still haunts Larry Fitzgerald. That day marked the only time Arizona's all-world receiver played an NFL game without catching even one pass.
Buffalo was the Cardinals' opponent that day. With the Bills scheduled to visit Arizona in Week 6, the memory of that 2004 game has been revived.
Fitzgerald could see the question coming during a conference call with Buffalo-area media. This call was different from most in that only one reporter called in for the interview. The one-on-one opportunity produced exchanges revealing just how competitive and driven Fitzgerald can be.
The interview began with the reporter pressing Fitzgerald to discuss the Bills' problems following successive embarrassing defeats. Fitzgerald deflected the questions until finally explaining why the subject wasn't for him. He said discussing the Bills problems would be like analyzing another person's marriage when his own was also troubled. He called the Cardinals' three-point showing at St. Louis in Week 5 an embarrassment. The game was notable for the pass Fitzgerald dropped, his first drop in more than 150 targets. But that 2004 game, played in the wind and rain, was also central on his mind.
Reporter: "It’s funny, I would not have known this, if not for Twitter, which I am not --"
Fitzgerald, interrupting: "Oh, no, no, don’t remind me, please don’t remind me."
Reporter: "I have to."
Fitzgerald: "No, no, I already know. It was the worst day professionally of my career, up there at Ralph Wilson Stadium. We don’t even need to talk about it."
Fitzgerald: "We know already what you’re going to ask me, so let’s just -- you know how you were in trouble when you come home with your dad and you already know what you did wrong, he knows what you did wrong? 'Dad, look, I messed up, I apologize, I am going to apologize before you even say it.' "
Reporter: "Larry, it was eight years ago. Come on."
Fitzgerald: "It still eats at me."
Reporter: "Does it really?"
Fitzgerald: "It still bothers the heck out of me. Absolutely. I’m a professional. It would be like you going out and writing a bad column. You take pride in what you do, right?"
Reporter: "Sure I do."
Fitzgerald: "I take a lot of pride in what I do. I worked nine years tirelessly to make sure that never happens again."
Reporter: "Well you’ve done a pretty good job. To whip out another stat, what was it, 159 balls that came your way without a drop? That is --"
Fitzgerald, interrupting: "Oh, man, you see, you’re bringing up another sore subject with me."
Reporter: "No, that’s a compliment."
Fitzgerald: "That is not. That is a lack of concentration, a lack of focus and a lack of execution on my part. I’m better than that. I need to play at a high level, especially if I want this offense to be as good as I know we’re capable of being. Me as the leader of this offense, I have to perform at the highest level in practice, in the game, in my preparation. I have to be a leader by example."
Reporter: "Larry --"
Fitzgerald, continuing: "I take a lot of pride in that."
Reporter: "That was one play. Well, I guess that explains a little bit about why you are successful."
The reporter then asked Fitzgerald if he recalled the most productive day the receiver had ever enjoyed in high school or college. Athletes tend to remember such things, and Fitzgerald recalled three 200-yard games he had while at Pitt. He couldn't recall his exact stats for an Oct. 18, 2003 game against Rutgers, but a little Googling produced the following numbers: eight receptions for 207 yards and two scores -- in the first half.
What did Fitzgerald remember about that day? The fact that he went without a catch after halftime, of course.
Reporter: "And that is still bothering you, I assume?"
Fitzgerald: "Absolutely. Absolutely. That was in 2003. If I would have taken care of business in the second half, I probably would have won the Heisman Trophy that year. So I cost myself."
Fitzgerald went on to explain how his greatest gift -- a consuming drive to be the best -- is his greatest weakness. The failures hurt to a greater degree than he can enjoy the successes.
"This is a make-or-break game for us realistically," Fitzgerald said. "We are sitting there at 4-1. We control our own destiny. We have a tough schedule coming ahead with you guys (Buffalo) and Minnesota and San Francisco, and then we have to go to Green Bay. This is one of the toughest stretches of our season and it's going to define us as a ball club."