|Arizona's Fitzgerald a master of leaping catches|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 29 November 2007 13:53|
He warmed up last summer for what has become the best season of his career with a 628-foot bungee jump off Sky Tower in downtown Auckland, New Zealand.
``I was thinking that (Cardinals general manager) Rod Graves probably wouldn't like me doing this,'' Fitzgerald said. ``It was crazy. I did it three times.''
In his fourth pro season, Fitzgerald leads the NFC with 75 catches, 28 shy of the franchise record he set in 2005. With five games to go, he already has his second 1,000-yard season at 1,060. His career totals are 305 catches for 4,195 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Yet he's just 24 and refuses to consider himself among the NFL's elite.
``I think a great player is defined by how much he makes his team successful,'' Fitzgerald said in an interview with The Associated Press. ``When I'm good enough to put my team on my back and lead us to victory week in and week out, that's a great player.''
Fitzgerald has been around the game his whole life. He was a ball boy at Minnesota when Dennis Green coached the Vikings. So when Green took over as Cardinals coach in 2004, it was no surprise Arizona drafted Fitzgerald, who left school after his sophomore season at Pittsburgh, as the No. 3 pick overall.
Fitzgerald has lived up to expectations, teaming with Anquan Boldin to form one of the most dynamic receiving duos in the league. Their styles are vastly different. Fitzgerald will make the spectacular catch, Boldin will knock over defenders after he grabs the ball.
``Q is still the heart and soul of our team,'' Fitzgerald said. ``He's probably our emotional leader. He's a phenomenal player, and I feel blessed to play with a guy of his caliber.''
Fitzgerald is far more reserved.
``I'm definitely real low-keyed,'' he said. ``I would say I have a great relationship with my teammates, but I'm not a guy who hangs out with them too much. I think the guys respect me.''
He is rarely around in the locker room after games, dressing and leaving before the door is opened to reporters. It's a habit that has gotten him into trouble with the NFL. He said he has never turned down an interview, but likes to vanish as soon as possible when the games end.
``It doesn't matter if I have no catches or 30 catches, I like to be in and out,'' Fitzgerald said. ``I don't like to make it a big deal.''
His greatest asset, in addition to his 6-foot-3 height, is his ability to perfectly time his jumps to make catches despite tight coverage.
``I know when to jump,'' he said. ``When I'm able to reach the apex of my jump is when the ball is coming down.''
Never was that ability more apparent than when he caught Kurt Warner's desperation 58-yard pass for a touchdown as the first half ended in last Sunday's overtime loss to San Francisco.
``I've never been around a guy that has the ability to control his body, to put his body into position, then couple that with his raw athletic ability and his hands,'' Warner said. ``You don't see many guys that size who can control their body like that. I kind of liken it to Randy Moss.''
When his good friend Green was fired after last season, Fitzgerald had to adjust to a new regime. He calls new coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff ``high-character guys who have been straight up with me from Day 1. Everything you get you have to earn, and I like that.''
The coaches worked with Fitzgerald on adding discipline to his route running, working on the details of his position. He acknowledged that for many years he relied mostly on his natural ability.
``I think he's made tremendous strides,'' Whisenhunt said. ``He recognizes he still has a ways to go, but he's working to get better. To see a player with the accomplishments he's had continue to work to get better is a tribute to him.''
He was a forerunner among NFL players wearing dreadlocks, not because of the style, though.
``I lost my mom in '03, April 10,'' he said. ``I was devastated and I still think about her every day.''
He wanted to do something to honor her memory.
``I was thinking about a tattoo, but I didn't think that would be appropriate,'' Fitzgerald said. ``I'm not a tattoo kind of guy. So I decided to grow my hair. Every time I look at myself, I see my hair and think about her. That's my tribute.''
Even with the losing, Fitzgerald loves coming to work every day, he said, and he realizes how privileged he is.
``I'm living my dream. I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing,'' he said. ``How many people can say that?''