To college football fans in Pittsburgh, Larry Fitzgerald is forever a Panther. They saw his record-breaking career culminate with a runner-up in the Heisman voting to Jason White in 2003.
To Steelers fans, Fitzgerald's a threat. They saw him take a short slant and run 64 yards for a touchdown to give the Arizona Cardinals the lead with 2:37 left in Super Bowl XLIII.
To Pittsburgh sportswriters, Fitzgerald's a legend. They tell stories of Fitzgerald answering any and every question with class, intelligence and humor for as long as the reporter had the time.
So with that I eagerly awaited my first interview, via conference call, with "Larry Fitz" earlier this week. Everything they said about him turned out to be true.
Here's the digested version of that group interview:
Q: What are your thoughts on returning to Heinz Field on Sunday?
LF: "This is a business trip. It’s no different than me going back to Minneapolis to play the Vikings. I’m not there to exchange pleasantries. I’m there to get a win. I have a lot of fond memories of people from Pittsburgh. Some of my closest friends from school still live in the city. I still keep in touch with them. I have to get a lot of tickets. Funny thing, I’m getting tickets for my friends but they really don’t want to see me win."
Q: Takes a lot of nerve for them to ask for tickets, doesn't it?
LF: "They know I'm a good guy. They know I'm going to get them for them regardless. You can't expect a yinzer to really pull for anybody else beside the Steelers, right?"
Q: Are you a yinzer?
LF: "I used to be. It actually became a part of my vernacular at a time, but I also moved out West. I stopped using it. Stop jaggin' me around over there, man."
(Four questions later)
Q: Have you ever heard of the Cardinals being cursed?
LF: "What do yinz mean?"
Q: Apparently the Pottsville Maroons put a curse on the Bidwills. Had you ever heard that?
LF: "No, no. I've never heard. That's news to me. That's news to me. I've never heard anything about that. I hope it's not true."
Q: Do you ever feel cursed?
LF: "Nooo. Nooo. Not at all. It's been a really nice 12 years here. I enjoy working for the Bidwill family and playing for the Cardinals. It’s been a lot of fun. I hope to be able to finish my career here one day."
Q: Do you have any good Todd Haley stories?
LF: "Todd used to always get the best out of me. It’s great to see what he’s doing with the receivers in Pittsburgh. Antonio (Brown) had a record-breaking year last year and the development of (Markus) Wheaton and (Martavis) Bryant, being able to see Darrius Heyward-Bey kind of revive his career with Pittsburgh, it’s a lot of fun to watch those guys. They've got speed to burn. It's a high-scoring, potent offense. I'm going to be sitting down on the bench this week when the defense is on the field and I'm going to be making sure I'm watching."
Q: What’s it like working with the guy who developed Lynn Swann and John Stallworth?
LF: "Oh, yeah, Coach (Tom) Moore, I'm always bombarding him with questions about those guys, what their work ethic was like and how they approached the game from a physical and mental standpoint. Coach Moore, he's like a walking, talking encyclopedia. He doesn’t forget anything. We were talking today about the differences in offenses when he coached the Steelers and now how they've evolved: eight to 10 runs, 10 to 15 dropbacks, just how much the game has evolved. But it still comes down to blocking, tackling, catching, throwing, the basics of football. That's one thing that has never changed."
Q: Anything interesting about Swann or Stallworth?
LF: "He said they really complemented each other well -- completely different personalities, completely different upbringings, but really, really pushed each other. Lynn would make a great play and John would want to do the same and then vice-versa. And then going against Mel Blount every day in practice, things like that, and how competitive those guys were and how they pushed each other throughout the work week to be the best they could on Sundays. That's a lot of the reason they had success, the leadership -- Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood and those guys like that -- was infectious in the locker room. He talks about those types of things, the intangibles that those teams had. You think about the great Steelers teams, even in the 2000s, the Hines Wards, the Joey Porters, the Troy Polamalus and the Jerome Bettises, guys like that who were catalysts in terms of being leaders and holding guys, when they come in the door, holding guys accountable. When James Harrison comes in, he learns from Joey Porter. Now when Jarvis Jones comes in, he learns from James Harrison. That leadership just continues to trickle down and has become the Steelers way. We would love to be able to have that same tradition down the road for the Cardinals."
Q: Why do players like playing for Bruce Arians?
LF: "Well he's just a cool dude, I mean, everything about him, from the way he dresses to the way he talks. Just everything about him, he's a real cool guy. He knows his stuff. He's an unbelievable offensive mind, in terms of drawing up and designing plays and finding ways to get guys open. Today is Wednesday, we come in and there are 20 different concepts that weren't even in our plan that are in our plan this week. It's a lot of new stuff, an innovative way to try to exploit the defense that we're playing against, try to hurt the opponent."
Q: Do you really think his hats are cool?
LF: "Yeah, I definitely do. I wish the NFL would allow him to wear them so we could raise some money for his charity. He does some great jobs in communities. He's done unbelievable work in just a short period of time on and off the field in Arizona."
Q: In all these years, has anyone ever given you a good reason why you didn't win the Heisman?
LF: "I didn't earn it. Very simple. You gotta play better when you have your opportunities. Seeing success always helps, too. You can't complain about spoiled milk. I'll tell you what, I wouldn't trade places at this point in my career."
Q: Do you have a favorite baseball team?
LF: "Oh, yeah. I'm a Minnesota Twins guy through and through. But living in Arizona now for 12 years I definitely pull for the Diamondbacks. I'm a Blue Jays guy right now. I got a couple buddies who play for the Blue Jays, so I'm pulling for them. It would be fun to watch a Cubs-Blue Jays World Series. It would be like 15-12 scores every single night with the lineups those guys have."
Q: Well, your buddies will win because you know the Cubs are cursed, don't you?
LF: "Hey, here you are with the curses again. All they're doing is getting to the NLCS and you say they're cursed. With that lineup and those bats they got and the pitching they have, I don't know, they might do something about that this year."
Q: If we pay B.A., would he stop wearing those hats?
LF: "If you donate money to his charity?"
LF: "I don't think so. Why don't you like his hats?"
Q: I don't know. He looks kinda like a jagoff, don't you think?
LF: "Ah, hahahahahaha, hahahahahaha. I walked right into that one."