Huerbin: Steelers’ fans should respect Fitzgerald

By Jay Huerbin

I can still remember when Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford hit receiver Larry Fitzgerald for a… I can still remember when Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford hit receiver Larry Fitzgerald for a 40-yard pass in the 2002 Insight Bowl. Years later, it’s nice to see Fitzgerald making those plays in big games. Now he’s in the big game, and it’s definitely possible that he’s saved his best just for this. I might be a Steelers fan, but you have to admire good players and good people, too. The story of Fitzgerald’s life is not your typical one, which is why my next NFL jersey might very well be an Arizona Cardinals one with No. 11 spread across the back. Growing up, Fitzgerald was influenced by the same man who will be covering him in the Super Bowl: his father, Larry Fitzgerald, Sr. As a sportswriter, Fitzgerald’s father has been heading to different cities to report on the game for longer than he’s been alive. So, when Fitzgerald runs onto the field of Super Bowl XLIII, it won’t be hard to find both Senior and Junior proud of each other. Life as a Minnesota teenager was what any sports-loving boy could want. His father might have been talking with the World Champions, but Fitzgerald was just as close when he was a ballboy for a championship-contending Minnesota Vikings football team. He followed around guys like Chris Carter and Randy Moss. And if you have any desire to become a wide receiver in the NFL, you can’t get a better lesson from any other receiving duo. Fitzgerald spoke about his youth and time spent idolizing Carter and Moss in an interview with the Boston Globe. In his interview, he said the greatest advantage to watching the players was seeing what they were like during the week. For Fitzgerald, watching how they spent their non-Sunday time studying film and engaging in practice workouts had a tremendous impact on how he approaches his game. This all seemed to come together for Fitzgerald when he committed and showed off his potential at Pitt. After two years of making plays in the blue-and-gold uniform, Fitzgerald rose to the top of the college football scene. He set records throughout the college football world and is considered one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play in the NCAA. Oh, and finishing within 130 votes of the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore was pretty nice, too. But it hasn’t all been easy. In April of 2003, Fitzgerald’s mother, Carol, died of breast cancer, just less than a year before he entered the 2004 NFL Draft. In an interview with ESPN, Fitzgerald, Sr. said that his wife’s voice is still on the family’s answering machine. The Fitzgerald sons asked their father to keep her voice because it helps them get through rough days. While it seems like he hasn’t had too many of those difficult days recently, the way Fitzgerald has taken on the game of football after his mother’s death is something to respect. In five years in the NFL, Fitzgerald rose to the top of current receivers and is already being considered by some to be the greatest to ever run down the field. He’s already broken records previously held by receivers like Jerry Rice. Cardinals’ quarterback Kurt Warner might have the veteran presence on the Cardinals’ roster, but Fitzgerald is single-handedly leading the team this postseason. When the experts had written off Arizona after a 1-3 record in December, Fitzgerald ignored the critics and continued his record-setting run toward a Super Bowl championship. He’s going to have to go through my Pittsburgh Steelers to get that ring, but there’s no doubt that he’s up for the challenge. After all, he’s been breaking records and predictions all his life. So, don’t be too surprised when you see Fitzgerald make a diving Lynn Swan-like catch this Sunday. Like the rest of the Steelers fans, I’ll curse and yell at the television when it happens. But my Pitt pride and admiration for good players will eventually come out. And maybe someday, I’ll be watching him in a Steelers jersey. If Fitzgerald can have dreams, so can I.