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Fitzgerald's silence over QB issue gives Cardinals much-needed leadership

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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Regardless of the situation, Fitzgerald gives his all for the Cardinals. (Getty Images)  
Regardless of the situation, Fitzgerald gives his all for the Cardinals. (Getty Images)  

The Arizona Cardinals don't know who their next quarterback is, and it's not because of competition at the position -- rather the lack of it. Neither Kevin Kolb nor John Skelton has done much of anything this summer, and, yes, that's a problem.

It's a problem for the team in general, and it's a problem for star receiver Larry Fitzgerald in particular. Fitzgerald is one of the NFL's premier pass catchers, and he's dependent on the guy who pulls the trigger.

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Only nobody can -- or will -- and I can only imagine the frustration the poor guy feels. But that's all I can do. Imagine.

Because Larry Fitzgerald doesn't whine. He doesn't pout. And he doesn't demand to be traded. In short, he doesn't act like the spoiled divas who give his position a bad name, and let's hear it for the Larry Fitzgeralds who remember that football is, after all, a team game.

"I don't want to push or force it," Fitzgerald said of the Cards' search for a starting quarterback. "This job is going to be won over with the test of time with a few games and weeks of practices and evaluations ... and that's how it should be. It shouldn't be awarded after one game or one practice. It's a marathon; not a sprint."

He's right, of course. But don't tell me you'd get the same response from, say, Terrell Owens or Chad Johnson or Braylon Edwards or Randy Moss or Santonio Holmes because you wouldn't. In an age when wide receivers can be selfish, uncooperative, arrogant and downright intolerant, Larry Fitzgerald stands out and not only because of his considerable abilities, but because of his considerable restraint.

With Kolb and Skelton struggling to throw him the damn ball, Fitzgerald would be forgiven if he erupted, criticized or chose sides. But he doesn't. And he won't. Instead, he steers a middle course on Arizona's quarterbacks, refusing to be drawn into a controversy when the public practically demands it.

Look, I guarantee he's not happy about the situation, but he never lets on. He understands the score, and the score is this: He chose to stay in Arizona when he might have made more money or won more games elsewhere, and he stayed because he had a comfort zone there. Only now it's more like a discomfort zone, with Fitzgerald watching his quarterbacks founder to separate themselves from each other.

A talk-radio host in Phoenix this week asked what I thought Fitzgerald made of the mess the Cardinals have at the game's most important position, and I told him I didn't know. Because I don't, and, young receivers, take note: Sometimes less can be more.

"When you see how good he is as a player," said coach Ken Whisenhunt, "and you see how hard he works and what he does in the community ... I mean, he goes to Africa on missions, whether it's for hearing aids or trying to find water ... that's the kind of guy you want. And I have to believe that other players see that and say, 'I aspire to be that.'

"It's good for our game. If he was the fifth wide receiver on the team, that stuff wouldn't have that impact. But when you're one of the best receivers in the game and you do that, it's great for the community and great for our game."

I'll second that. Fitzgerald is the guy who was so alert during last year's defeat of the Rams that he approached Whisenhunt in the game's closing moments to notify him that running back Beanie Wells was 1 yard short of the franchise record. The implication was clear: Wells could break the record if Whisenhunt called his number, but the choice was the head coach's.

"How do you know what the record is?" a puzzled Whisenhunt asked.

"I know all the records," Fitzgerald said.

He wasn't boasting; just telling the truth. Fitzgerald knows a lot about a lot. In fact, he's the guy who last year warned me not to choose the St. Louis Rams to win the NFC West. When I asked him why, he asked if I'd looked at the first half of their schedule. I told him I hadn't.

"They'll be lucky to win one of their first seven games," he said.

And that's exactly what happened -- they were lucky to win one of their first seven, upsetting New Orleans. I chose them anyway and learned a valuable lesson: Next time, pay attention to Larry Fitzgerald.

That's not a bad idea for young receivers across the league, too. Fitzgerald is not the only role model for the next wave of wideouts. Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green and Julio Jones and Victor Cruz are others, but my concern is not the others; it's Larry Fitzgerald because the others aren't dealing with quarterbacks who can't deliver them the ball.

Fitzgerald is -- only you'd never know it, and let's hear it for Larry Fitzgerald.

"My father always taught me one thing in life," he said, "and that's that while there are a lot of things in life you can't control, your effort is one thing you always have control of.

"I'm fortunate as heck to be able play football. It's something I really love doing. Every day I wake up in the morning I thank God I'm able to do something I love doing. There are a billion people in this world who don't have that opportunity, so I keep things in perspective. I know I'm going to go out there and work hard every day and be the best player I can, and I know that's leading by example.

"There's something to be said for being drafted to a place and turning things around, and I saw that happen in 2008, and that makes you feel good. I still believe 'Coach Whiz' and his staff can get this thing done, and that's not going to change. So I'm going to continue to keep chipping away at it."

He stopped.

"Plus," he said, "nobody wants to hear a millionaire athlete complain about his problems. Nobody is going to listen, and nobody's going to care. They're trying to make the bills and keep the lights on in the house."

That will score him points with Middle America, but my question is: How does Larry Fitzgerald score points, period, if the Cards don't find someone, anyone, to get him the football?

I reminded him of a wide receiver I once covered who wondered what it would be like to catch passes from an All-Pro like John Elway or Dan Marino. So he did something about it. He left when his contract was up.

I wondered if somewhere, deep down inside, Larry Fitzgerald wishes he was that guy. I should've known better.

"It's hard to complain to your wife," he said, "about how sexy the girl next door is. She doesn't want to hear it. I committed here, I signed up and I'm here for the long haul. I still think our greatest moment is to come."

I hope so. Not just for the Cardinals' sake, but for the sake of Larry Fitzgerald.

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