TEMPE, Ariz. – Larry Fitzgerald was in a jovial mood this week. On Wednesday, he gave erstwhile practice squad receiver Kerry Taylor a good ribbing for the extra cash he was due to collect for his promotion to the 53-man roster. On Thursday, he chided a male reporter with an ample midriff, asking, “When’s the baby due?”
Maybe it was the holiday season that had him feeling so good. Maybe it was the sight of his most recent paycheck. Maybe it was his offseason travel itinerary. Or maybe it was just the simple pleasure of coming to work.
“For many reasons, it does not suck to play in the NFL,” Fitzgerald said with a wide grin. “I keep everything in perspective. At the end of the day, I’m living my dream.”
It’s been a trying season for the Cardinals. Once 4-0, the team has lost 10 of its last 11 games. There have been war-like numbers of casualties. There have been public expressions of displeasure with the coaching staff from Darnell Dockett and Beanie Wells. There have been four quarterbacks behind center, and there won’t be any playoff games for a third straight season.
There has been speculation about the futures of Dockett, Wells, Adrian Wilson and Kevin Kolb, and there has been speculation about the future of coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves.
With all that negativity surrounding the club — and fan and media criticism only fueling the fire — you would think the Cardinals couldn’t wait to finish the season this Sunday in San Francisco.
“You might want a fresh start so you have a chance at making the playoffs, but nobody wants to stop playing,” linebacker Paris Lenon said. “This is what you wanted to do your whole life.”
It’s easy to forget that for 61 players and a coaching staff, the definition of work is playing and coaching a game they have loved since childhood. Every day. Together.
“The best time of the day is when you’re out here with the guys,” Whisenhunt said. “All the other stuff, that’s part of this league; that’s part of football, and I understand.
“We’re frustrated that we haven’t won more games, but I’m proud of the way our guys have continued to play hard.”
Even Lenon, a veteran player with a well-traveled past and a deeper perspective on life than most, admitted there were times this season when the weekly losing got to him.
“It’s almost human nature to get discouraged and go in a funk,” he said. “But I think, just being a professional athlete, you have to be almost machine-like in the way you approach things and look at things.
“Regardless of the circumstance, you have to approach each situation and each opportunity one way, and that’s to make the most of it — to play as hard as you can and not let reality or your record or what’s going on or what people might say about you affect what you do.”
That’s imperative, Fitzgerald said, because he has been given a rare opportunity.
“I’m one of 1,500 men around the world that can actually say that they are playing in this league. That’s an exclusive group,” he said. “It’s everybody’s dream and goal at the beginning of the year to hoist that Lombardi Trophy — it’s all-consuming — but it still doesn’t take away from all the work that we’ve put in the last six or seven months out here.
“And it doesn’t take away the relationships you have. These are lifelong bonds you build here.”