My ode to ‘Fitz’. The moment I fell in love with the NFL
I watched my first ever NFL game in 2009 – Cardinals vs Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. I had played in a couple of – very underwhelming – games of Tag American Football at lunch in school, which peaked my interest. So much so, that I pulled a sicky the night of the Super Bowl, just to stay up and watch the game and see what the real thing was like.
Could the Quarterbacks actually throw a 70-yard spiral right into the receivers hands? Could the Running Backs actually go from pivoting at the line of scrimmage to turning on the afterburners at the flick of a switch? Could a 17-year old from Dublin actually enjoy this sport that was taking place almost 7,000 miles away? The answer to all the above was a resounding yes!
Initially, I was confused, bemused and somewhat bored. As was my style, I had done very little planning. I had a barely-passable understanding of the rules and was getting sick of the incessant stoppages and commercials. It seemed like every time I would start to get properly interested a time-out would be called or it would go to an ad break. If I’m honest, Bruce Springsteen’s halftime show kept me going and replenished my interest just enough to keep me going into the second half.
Then I noticed something. This red and white clad Wide Receiver began making plays that I had never seen before. The commentators kept calling him ‘Fitz’. 1 touchdown. 2 touchdowns. ‘Fitz’. I was awestruck. ‘Fitz’. Suddenly, this game and most importantly, this sport, had my full attention.
I watched as he soared above a Steelers Cornerback to claw the ball out of the Tampa night sky like something out of Space Jam. I sat there, jaw firmly planted on the floor – as he raced, from his own half, through the Pittsburgh secondary and into the end zone to seal what I was sure to be a Cardinal win. You can imagine my heartbreak when Santonio Holmes made that miraculous catch in the corner of the end zone to hand Pittsburgh its sixth Super Bowl title and more importantly – for him anyway – secure the Super Bowl MVP title.
I was sure that ‘Fitz’ would win it in 2010, because that’s what happens in sports – right? No, the NFL is a fickle beast – unless you’re a Packers or Patriots fan, there’s no guarantee you’ll be in playoff picture year after year – and Larry would come close, but never that close again.
I watched as ‘Fitz’ put up Pro Bowl numbers season after season and led the Cardinals offence for the better part of the next decade. I watched as he got to the brink of another Super Bowl appearance in 2016 only to be denied by the rampant Carolina Panthers, which produced a moment for Amazon’s ‘All or Nothing: All or Nothing: A Season with the Arizona Cardinals’ that still leaves me a little fragile.
That February morning in 2009, I went to bed, not devastated, or even sad, but definitely peeved that my new favourite athlete – ‘Fitz’ – had been so cruelly denied what was rightfully his a Super Bowl victory. But I was hooked. Some time between ‘Fitz’s’ TD’s and Holmes’ winner, I had fallen head-over-heels in love with the NFL. Whether it was colourful uniforms, supreme athletes or the entertainment value only matched by a Wrestlemania Main Event, I was all in and I had Larry ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald to thank for it.
This OTI piece was written by Mark Gordon. Mark is an Arizona Cardinals fan from Dublin with a background in advertising. You can find Mark on Twitter at @MarkGordon__