“LARRY!” “LARRY!” thundered off of the walls of University of Phoenix Stadium on Jan. 16 after the 9-time Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer torched the Green Bay Packers’ defense for 75 yards on the first play of overtime. Two plays later, Larry Fitzgerald would score, causing the crowd to erupt further while catapulting his team into the NFC Championship Game and one step closer to his ultimate goal: a Super Bowl win.
To truly understand these Cardinals, we must take a quick look back. The much-improved 10-6 Cardinals of 2013 ranked 12th in yards per game and 16th in points scored per game, but missed the post season. The 11-5 Cardinals of 2014 ranked 24th in both yards and points scored per game, and lost in the first round of the playoffs. But this year’s 13-3 Cardinals far surpassed both of those teams.
The 2015 Cardinals ranked No. 1 in yards per game and No. 2 in points per game. These Cardinals were NFL-leading good. And the on-field results showed it. To NFL fans across the country, the Arizona Cardinals’ juggernaut 2015 season probably appeared to emerge from nowhere. But to Fitz, who has spent his entire 12-year career in Arizona, this year’s proficient, dynamic team was no surprise.
In his letter “Ode to Arizona,” which was published Jan. 20 after the gut-check win over the Packers, Fitz reflected on his career and what it took to get him – and the team – to that point. He defined the team’s 2015 success as the natural result of envisioning a plan, executing that plan, investing in the future and changing a culture. And, like most true leaders, Fitz, from the day he was chosen in the 2004 NFL Draft, placed the responsibility squarely on himself to drive a Cardinals metamorphosis.
“This team used the third overall pick in the draft on me, and in my mind, there’s a certain obligation that comes along with that. It means you’re expected to be a difference-maker. It means you’re expected to be part of the foundation,” he wrote. “…I learned early on that winning doesn’t just happen all at once. Winning is a culture. So that’s what we set out to create.”
As I read the letter, I was struck by the parallels between Fitz’ approach to his Cardinals career and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce’s approach to promoting and enhancing Arizona’s business community. We happily accept the obligation to be difference-makers for our businesses, serving as the foundation upon which they build their success.
The fact that Larry was inspired to write a letter shows his deep-seeded passion for both this place and for his goal of bringing a championship to Arizona. He initially encountered a perception that it couldn’t be done here.
As he and others set out to change the culture, the team came very close to winning a Super Bowl in 2009, but ultimately fell short. However, the team showed what can happen when passion and belief are combined with strategic planning and execution.
“I think that entire experience helped put this team in the position it’s in today. Honestly, it sparked something really special. We came away from that game…unsatisfied. Which is very different than being defeated,” Fitz wrote.
With the perception changed, the Cardinals were now hungry – the team proved to itself that it could find success on the biggest stages. And with success came more believers and further investment in the team. Arizona became a place players wanted to play – they could see the mission and want to be a part of it.
And although the season didn’t end in the fashion we all had hoped, it is up to everyone in the Cardinals organization to continue pushing the team towards its goals by investing in and maintaining the winning culture and expectation of success Fitz helped to create.
The Chamber aims to be the Fitz of the Arizona business community – a tireless catalyst that sees the big picture while doggedly pursuing incremental successes – one business and one sector at a time. We act as a pillar during challenging times and a celebrant during triumphant times. We always work toward our goal – growing and expanding Arizona businesses and advocating for a business-friendly environment.
Fitz ended his Ode to Arizona by switching from gazing at the past to laser-focusing on what was right in front of him at that time.
“There’s still work to be done – but we’re getting there. In fact, I think there’s only one, large, final box left for us to check off: Win a Super Bowl,” he wrote. “…So let’s do it.”
Just like Fitz, the Chamber takes a tireless, can-do attitude toward the work of promoting Arizona businesses and economic development.
I congratulate our Arizona Cardinals on a season for the ages which produced some of the most exciting moments in franchise history. I look forward to next year knowing that Fitz and the Cards will remain dogged in their pursuit of accomplishing their goals.
Hats off to Larry Fitzgerald for setting an example worthy of following for professional athletes, residents and even business leaders.