MIAMI, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- He might not be the original 'Larry Legend,' but he's leaving a lengthy legacy.
Larry Fitzgerald is old school. He's not a boaster, nor a showboat. He hates talking about himself in any capacity. The nine-time Pro Bowl selection has an arsenal of awards.
But it's the one he was recently nominated for that he views as an "incredible" honor. Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwill presented Fitzgerald with the Cardinals' Walter Payton Man of the Year Award after practice Thursday. The award is a nod to the excellence exemplified by NFL athletes on and off of the field. It was named after the Chicago Bears' legendary running back.
The 32 nominees for the overall award will be whittled down to three finalists. The winner will have $1 million donated in his name, with $500,000 going to a charity of his choice and the other half going to the United Way's Character Playbook Program. Two other finalists will have a $125,000 donation made to a charity of their choice and $125,000 donated to expand the Character Playbook. The additional 29 winners will get a $50,000 donation made to a charity of their choice and $50,000 donated to the Character Playbook.
Fitzgerald was also nominated for the award in 2012 and was named a finalist for the overall award that season. The winner of the award will be named the night before Super Bowl LI in February.
"It's kind of uncomfortable to talk about what you do off of the field," Fitzgerald said. "It's uncomfortable for me to talk about what I do on the field. It's a tremendous honor. Walter Payton stands for greatness on all levels. To be recognized as my team's Walter Payton Man of the Year is already a great nod. If I were to be able to be a finalist and have a chance to win, it would be unbelievable."
Fitzgerald, 33, is showing no signs of slowing down. In his 13th season, he is on pace to tie his career best total in receptions , which he also achieved last season. Entering Sunday, his 88 catches led the NFL.
But the retirement question still lingers, especially after games like Sunday, when the Cardinals lost a 26-23 heartbreaker to the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.
"It's not about me," Fitzgerald said. "We are going to continue to fight these last three games. We are at home against New Orleans, and on the road for Seattle and Los Angeles, two division games. We have a lot to play for. We are a prideful group. They scheduled a 16 game season at the beginning. It didn't matter what our record was going to be. We are going to fight to the end."
Fitzgerald is due $11 million this season and in 2017, before hitting free agency in 2018. The University of Pittsburgh product has more career receptions than any other active player. His 1,109 catches rank No. 3 all-time, behind the great Jerry Rice and Tony Gonzalez. Fitzgerald, a first-team All-Pro in 2008, trails Gonzalez by 216 receptions.
When you walk into the Cardinals' locker room, you can tell that younger players are soaking up his veteran professionalism. But what he does in his free time is even more coveted than his natural Velcro mitts or ironclad work ethic.
Last month he visited Phoenix Children's Hospital, after delivering turkey and serving meals to the less fortunate at St. Vincent de Paul. The young patients at the hospital thought their Thanksgiving Day festivities had ended, before Fitzgerald walked in the door to spend time with the children who couldn't be at home to celebrate the holiday. The visit was the final straw that made Bidwill think that Fitzgerald deserved the award.
"I remember Cris Carter coming to visit us over at the Boys & Girls Club off Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis, and how our eyes lit up," Fitzgerald told the Cardinals website. "I remember when I was going to get one of my really routine check-ups, and Kevin Garnett was visiting the Children's Hospital. I remember how excited I was to be able to see him."
"Those two visits alone just showed me, man, they can change a kid's perspective just like that, just by coming in and letting them know that you care about them. Now me being a professional, I try to make that same impact, and just let people know that you care."
He also is a big-time philanthropist when it comes to breast cancer, researching cures for the disease that killed his mother Carol in 2003. Fitzgerald fulfilled a promise to his mom when he graduated in May from the University of Phoenix. Thirteen years after making the pact, he owns a degree in communications. Fitzgerald left the University of Pittsburgh after his sophomore season to pursue the NFL. He was rewarded with a first round draft selection.
Graduation day baby!! 🎉— Larry Fitzgerald (@LarryFitzgerald) May 14, 2016
His First Down Fund helps thousands of children in the United States. The fund funds positive activities for kids during the summer and through the year, "supporting kids and families in crisis, and supporting health-related organizations that work with families," according to its website.
He also is a strong supporter of the military and other causes. Fitzgerald has made countless trips to visit troops in the Middle East. He's gone to Africa and Asia with the Starkey Hearing Foundation to help fit kids for hearing aids. In early 2016, Fitzgerald and former teammate Anquan Boldin went to Ethiopia with Oxfam America and visited projects including a farm-training center. While there, the duo helped plant trees and worked on an irrigation project to help build retaining walls to capture rainwater and prevent erosion, according to Fitzgerald's official website.
The Cardinals [5-7-1] battle the New Orleans Saints at 4:05 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18 at University of Phoenix Stadium. Fitzgerald is expected to make his 198th career start, all of them coming in a Cardinals uniform.