With high honors looming, NFL stars with Minnesota bond stay connected

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 2, 2013 - 10:46 PM

Larry Fitzgerald, a Man of the Year candidate, grew up idolizing receiver Cris Carter, who's up for a slot in Canton.

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Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr.

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NEW ORLEANS - Minneapolis native Larry Fitzgerald Jr., the star Arizona Cardinals receiver, grew up idolizing Cris Carter. The two remain close.

This weekend, the two could earn singular honors in New Orleans. While Carter is a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Fitzgerald is one of three finalists for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, along with Dallas tight end Jason Witten and Cleveland left tackle Joe Thomas.

Fitzgerald wouldn't be the first player with Minnesota ties to win it. St. Paul's Matt Birk won it as a Baltimore Raven. Vikings safety Madieu Williams won it, as did Carter.

The award honors players who combine on-field excellence with generous volunteer and charity work. Fitzgerald said he became inspired to help people long before he made it to the NFL.

"My mother was going to serve," Fitzgerald said. "My father, as well. They always set a great example for my brother and I. That's one thing that we heard in our household: To serve. To always serve."

Fitzgerald's mother, Carol, died of breast cancer in 2003.

"She led by example," Fitzgerald said on Friday in New Orleans. "I remember the last time she was checking into the hospital before she passed away, she went and visited a friend of hers in the hospital. She always put others in front of her even in the most severe times."

Fitzgerald was a Vikings ball boy when growing up, and Carter was and is an influence on his life.

"He was a huge influence," Fitzgerald said. "Growing up in Minnesota, I worshipped the ground he walked on. He was everything to me growing up. I had his jerseys. I was even blessed to have a relationship with him. Our relationship is still great.

"I really want to see him get into the Hall of Fame. I know how bad he wants to be in there, and I think he deserves it."

Asked when he became aware of the importance of good works, Fitzgerald said: "When I was young. I didn't like it at all. I would have much rather been playing basketball. I was 7, 8 years old and my mother would drag me to a meeting of cancer survivors. Any 7-year-old would have rather been outside, but it taught me a valuable lesson, that it's important to give of yourself, not just monetarily but of your time.

"One thing you learn is that everybody has 24 hours, whether you're President Obama or a working-class gentleman. Everybody has 24 hours, and how you spend it is up to you."

The winner of the award will be announced on Saturday.

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