When I was 7 years old, the unthinkable happened. On a fateful bus ride home from school, the neighborhood bully introduced us for the very first time to the f-word and the innocence-shattering reality that there is no Santa Claus.
After I burst through the door and cried to my parents, “What? There is no eff’n Santa Clause?”....they washed my mouth out with soap and grounded me for a month.
However, one day at school, my 3rd grade teacher showed us a letter that an 8 year old girl named Virginia O’Hanlon wrote in 1897 to the editor of the New York Sun. Virginia asked the same question I had asked my parents—-only she had the grace to omit the profanity. She implored the editor to tell her the truth—-”Is there a Santa Claus?”
The venerable editor, Mr. Francis P. Church, replied as such: “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.”
As the deputy editor of ROTB, if a young Arizona child were to ask me the same question—I would say, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus—-and his name is Larry Fitzgerald.”
Fitz, when he was a child, was highly attentive and eager to follow in his mother’s footsteps. How does Carol Fitzgerald suit you as as Christmas name? Fitz said, “I don’t think my mother ever said no to anything.”
Following in her parents’ footsteps who started a non-profit organization in Plano, Texas to help indigent children and adults obtain affordable eye care, Carol Fitzgerald ran a non-profit of her own to help support families of people living with AIDS. In assisting his mother, Fitz witnessed the devastating pain in the eyes of the needy and the glimmers of hope that human kindness provides.
But—-giving—-to Larry Fitzgerald—-means far more than just writing a check or making a donation on-line. He says, “In my experience, nothing means as much as actually interacting with and serving the people that these (philanthropic) organizations represent.”
Thus—just like Santa—-Fitz is a globe-trotter. Whether it be visiting the troops in Afghanistan, or bringing valuable medical supplies with Anquan Boldin to impoverished children in Ethiopia, or feeding the homeless with Michael Bidwill in Phoenix or in desolate places all around the world, or going to Vietnam to find the actual POW camp where Arizona senator John McCain was detained—-Fitz longs to understand human suffering so that he can do all he can to replace it or at least counter it with comfort and joy.
This past September when Fitz heard that the owner of Casella’s Italian Delicatessen was diagnosed with cancer, Fitz raised money for the family by treating all of their customers on the afternoon of September 18th to sandwiches and drinks.
In early December after Fitz’s sensational third and 22 yard catch helped the Cardinals pull off a stunning upset in Green Bay, Fitz threw a game ball to a young Cardinals fan in attendance who was wearing his jersey. Fitz thanked the boy and his family for their support “in enemy territory during such a trying year.”
A pic of my son Dino after @LarryFitzgerald threw him a pre-game ball on Sunday in Lambeau. I think he’s slept with it every night since. Thanks Larry. We are forever grateful. @AZCardinals #WisconsinCardsfans #RedSea #BeRedSeeRed #BirdGang pic.twitter.com/s8hcA2Tcve— William D Koukouras (@BillKoukouras) December 5, 2018
These are just a few drops of brine in an ocean of efforts that Larry Fitzgerald makes in order to bring comfort and joy to others.
When Fitz received the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 2016—-which was presented to him by a former teammate and Payton award winner, Kurt Warner—-Fitz emphasized what his mother Carol used to say to him: “Everyone has 24 hours in a day and what they do with that time is up to them.”
Talk about what to do with 24 hours? Read what Michael Bidwill had to say two years about Fitz’s time commitments during the holidays: “When I think about probably the day that really typifies what Larry Fitzgerald’s all about, it’s this Thanksgiving, just a couple weeks ago,” Bidwill said. “Larry’s day went like this: at 5:50 in the morning he was out the door to come here (to the facility) to get treatment. He gets his treatment, he goes to his meetings, he goes to a very physical practice that day.
“Immediately after he leaves, he goes and picks up two deep-fried turkeys: one for my dad — he just wanted to visit my dad; my dad’s had kind of a tough year, losing my mom, and I know he wanted to visit him — but dropping off that turkey and spending some time with my father, I thought it was just tremendous. But he knew that here’s an older gentleman that probably needed a visit, and he knew it would lift up his spirits. He did. Then, Larry went to his own family’s Thanksgiving. But his day was not done. From there, he went down to St. Vincent de Paul and served food to the homeless and to the underprivileged for hours. And then from there, at the end of the day, when every kid at Phoenix Children’s Hospital thought that all the visits were over and sort of the end of the day’s there, and everybody’s a little bit sad that all the excitement (is over), in comes Larry Fitzgerald and lifts everybody’s spirits up one more time.”
This past Sunday, during Fitz’s press conference, after what could have been his last home game as a Cardinal, Fitz had far more important business to discuss that that of his own performance in the game or his potential retirement. Fitz used the occasion to celebrate the 43 year career of AP reporter Bob Baum, by presenting Baum with a framed personalized Cardinals’ jersey.
Recently, Fitz made it clear how much he and his teammates appreciate their heavily scrutinized rookie head coach, Steve Wilks. Fitz’s loyalty is nonpareil. Fitz knows that it is unjust for Wilks to have to shoulder the vast majority of the blame as to why this year’s Cardinals are so poor. As supremely competitive as Fitz is—-his competitiveness always takes a back seat to the generosity in his heart. Heck, he even apologized to the Falcons’ FS Damontae Kazee for lowering the boom on him in the waning moments of the 4th quarter of a blowout game. But, Fitz never quits on anything—-he never quits on a play, on a game, on his teammates or on his coaches (did you know that Fitz gives his coaches expensive exquisitely tailored suits for Christmas?).
Larry Fitzgerald in all his 15 years—-has never quit on the Arizona Cardinals—-and he never will.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus—-and his spirit is alive and well in Arizona and around the world.
And just like Santa, when Fitz’s work for the Cardinals is finally fulfilled—-he wants to quietly and quickly drift out of sight.
In the immortal words of poet Clement Clarke Moore:
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
May it be said of Larry Fitzgerald—-in the words of Charles Dickens—-”that he knew how to keep Christmas well, every day of the rolling year, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”
To all my pals at ROTB and my captain, Seth Cox, I wish you and your families a very merry Christmas. Have yourself a very Larry Christmas, as well. We are truly blessed to have Larry Fitzgerald on our team and in our hearts.