Larry Fitzgerald is the professional football player who developed a special friendship with Senator John McCain over the years. McCain was a big fan of the Arizona Cardinals, where Fitzgerald has spent his entire professional career. Fitzgerald was asked to read a tribute to the senator at the memorial service held Thursday, August 30 at North Phoenix Baptist Church.
Fitzgerald told ESPN that Cindy McCain asked him to participate in the service a couple of months before Senator McCain passed. He said the it was “truly one of the greatest honors of my life to be able to talk about somebody who served his country so passionately and had been so dedicated to policies of this nation.”
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Senator John McCain Was a Big Fan of the Arizona Cardinals and Attended Games and Practices as Often as He Could
Larry Fitzgerald is a wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals. He was drafted in 2004 and has remained with the team ever since. He says he admired John McCain, and got to know him over the past several years because the Senator loved to attend games and practices. In the picture above, John McCain is seen shaking Fitzgerald’s hand before the coin flip at a game in September 2016.
McCain was a big fan of all Arizona sports. AZCentral.com wrote that while McCain was a force to be reckoned with on the Senate floor, around athletes “he melted and usually looked at them with the adulation of a kid.”
The pair would have bonded over a shared desire to serve and give back to their communities. Fitzgerald launched the First Down Fund in 2005 to raise money for various charities across the country. He was also awarded the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in 2017, which is rewarded to players for their off-the-field philanthropic efforts.
2. Fitzgerald Praised McCain’s Sacrifices and Legacy in an Op-Ed for Sports Illustrated in December 2017
Larry Fitzgerald shared his admiration and respect for Senator John McCain in an op-ed for Sports Illustrated in December 2017. This was around the time that McCain returned to Arizona for good, after being hospitalized with a viral infection. It was a side effect of the chemotherapy he was receiving to fight the brain cancer. McCan shared on Twitter that he was looking forward to “returning to work after the holidays,” but was unable to get back to Washington because of his treatments.
Fitzgerald said Christmas was the perfect time to write his op-ed about John McCain, because of the Senator’s willingness to sacrifice and give all that he had for his county. (You can read the tribute its its entirety here). Fitzgerald began his tribute as follows:
“Merry Christmas, everyone. As we enjoy this special day and celebrate the holidays with friends and family, I’ll be thinking about someone who has become very important to me: Arizona Senator John McCain. We’ve become friends since I’ve been playing for the Cardinals. I have so much admiration for him, and I wanted to share why that admiration has become so strong. The Christmas season is the perfect time to do that.
As I’ve gotten older, giving at Christmas has become more significant for me—and more fun—than receiving. When I think about Christmas, and I think about Senator McCain, I think of giving.”
Fitzgerald shared that he was able to visit McCain at the U.S. Capitol. He wrote that one of the reasons he respected McCain was because the Senator was willing to put principles over simple party allegiance.
“Over the last four or five years, Senator McCain and I have gotten closer. He gave me a private tour of the Senate, which was tremendous. To see where so much history has happened blew me away. As I said, I’m not a super-political person, but I have young sons and I want them to know our nation’s history. I also want them to be proud of our country. We should be a nation of fairness and equality. We should be a country with justice for all. One of the reasons I admire Senator McCain is that he doesn’t always just vote his party. He votes his conscience, and that can seem like a rare quality these days.”
Fitzgerald also wrote that McCain will be “revered and respected” for as long as the United States survives. He ended his letter by stating that McCain’s “legacy will outlive us all” and sending up his prayers for McCain’s recovery.
3. Larry Fitzgerald Visited the Spot in Vietnam Where McCain Was Shot Down and Taken Prisoner
Fitzgerald loves to travel, explore different cultures and learn all he can about history. He has visited World War II battlegrounds, concentration camps and Iowa Jima. Vietnam was also high on his list of places he wanted to travel. Specifically, he wanted to see the exact spot where John McCain was shot down on October 26, 1967.
McCain was flying a mission over Hanoi when his plane was struck by a missile. He bailed out and landed in Truc Bach Lake, breaking his arms and a leg. As Americans know, McCain, was captured and spent the next 5.5 years as a prisoner of war. He could have been released sooner, but refused to leave his fellow soldiers behind.
Fitzgerald wrote about his awe for Senator McCain in that Sports Illustrated op-ed.
“I saw the very jail cell where he was held as a POW and I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be him. I took a photo of myself next to his flight suit, the suit he was wearing when he got shot down. So powerful. So meaningful. Those images will never leave my mind.”
Fitzgerald never asked McCain about his experience in Vietnam. He wrote that he was curious and thought about it often, but held off because he didn’t want to “bring up what might be a painful subject for him.”
4. The Football Star Visited John and Cindy McCain While the Senator Battled Brain Cancer
Larry Fitzgerald was there to support John McCain as he battled through cancer treatments. The football star visited McCain at the McCain home in February 2018.
Cindy McCain shared a photo of the three of them smiling on the couch. She described Fitzgerald as “Our favorite @azcardinals and a wonderful human being!” McCain was wearing a Navy hat, showing his everlasting loyalty to his alma mater.
When the Senator passed on August 25, 2018, Fitzgerald took to Twitter to share his grief and say goodbye to his friend and hero. He wrote, “Rest in peace to an American hero, statesman, servant of the people, and dear friend. Godspeed Senator McCain. My prayers for Cindy and the beautiful McCain family.”
5. The President of the Arizona Cardinals Wrote the World Will ‘Never Be the Same’ Without John Mccain
The entire Arizona Cardinals team mourned the loss of their biggest fan. McCain was also friendly with the president of the team, Michael Bidwill. Bidwill shared a letter on behalf of the team after McCain died.
“Arizona, the United States and the world will never be the same without the voice of Senator John McCain. We are heart-broken by his passing but know that the character, courage and conviction that he demonstrated throughout his life will endure forever. All of us at the Arizona Cardinals extend our deepest condolences to his wife Cindy and their entire family. The world was a better place with Senator John McCain in it and we all mourn his loss tonight.”