If you’re a football fan, this episode’s guest needs no introduction. Future first-ballot Hall of Fame wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals Larry Fitzgerald joins To The Point as headline speaker during the 2022 RYNOx event!
From 10x Pro Bowl honors to being a business owner, venture investor, and well-known for his charitable works, Larry is famous in more ways than one. His story and impact extends far beyond the field, and he asks us one important question: “What legacy are YOU building?”
If you’ve ever watched Larry Fitzgerald play football, it’s pretty clear he’s one of the greatest to ever do it. This is no mistake, either. For nearly 30 years of his life, Larry has dedicated himself to the sport. He feels incredibly blessed and fortunate to have made a career out of the game he loves. It’s also taught him a great deal about life and himself. One thing he’s learned through football is that life’s purpose lies in the journey.
Perhaps you feel the same about your work. Whether you’re a business owner or technician, sales rep or plumber, you might be doing what you were truly made to do. You’re constantly refining your craft, and challenging yourself to become the absolute best you can be. That’s not just professionally, either. You’re trying to be the best version of yourself as a father, a mother, a friend, a sibling, and a human being.
If you are exceptional at what you do, it’s never by accident. While you may have been blessed with natural gifts, the “greats” are always backed by countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears. Larry knows better than most that to go from good to great, it takes more than just God-given talent.
Larry thinks back to when he joined the University of Pittsburgh to play collegiate football. He grew up playing a wide range of sports including basketball, football, baseball, and track. Fortunately, Larry had never really experienced a major injury despite spending his entire life playing competitive sports. During his Sophomore year as an All-American wide receiver, Larry was in training camp and experienced his first real setback. He was going up for a catch that had been thrown slightly behind him, and he remembers feeling his hamstring pop. In that moment, fear flooded his mind. Laying on his back with a towel over his head, Larry felt tears streaming down his face. He didn’t know how bad the injury was, and doubts and uncertainty charged into his thoughts.
At that point in his career, Larry hadn’t really given much thought to the big picture or his legacy. He was really just living his football life one day at a time. There was no intentionality; no purpose behind his actions. When you’re young, you’re full of visions, dreams, and excitement. It’s natural to live day-to-day without any thoughtful planning. Few of us are really thinking strategically about building at this age. The injury was the first time that Larry was forced to overcome adversity and think about the bigger picture.
What are we building with our lives?
In his younger years, Larry was not building by design. He recalls the day he was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. He thought he had reached the pinnacle of his success. Surrounded by more than 50 of his closest friends and family, the call came in from Dennis Green on his flip phone. Immediately following that flood of emotions, Larry had another feeling. He realized that he hadn’t actually done anything yet. All that had happened was he had earned the opportunity to do something bigger.
It’s similar to a promotion at work. It’s great, but there is more responsibility. You might have better pay, but it comes with more adversity, or people to manage. When you step up, there are going to be complications that come with it. Larry was 20 years old and going to compete against the best athletes in the world. Not only that, these are men playing for their livelihood. They aren’t just playing the game, this is their career; their means of providing for themselves and their family. There was more at stake than a score, and Larry had to think about what he needed to do in order to have a long, successful career.
Larry learned a big lesson about building a legacy at this time in his life. He wanted to leave a mark, but in order to do that, he knew he had to recalibrate his goals. Larry wanted to be great. What he did in college wasn’t enough to be great in the big leagues. That lesson translates across life and sports. What you did last season doesn’t mean that much, and what you did to get you where you are won’t be enough to get you to where you want to go.
It’s exactly the same in business. Perhaps last year you hit new records for profitability and revenue growth. Maybe you broke some sales records. That’s all great, but it doesn’t guarantee anything this year. Legacy is the same. You have to build year after year. You must calibrate your goals to find a way to be better. Find new solutions to new challenges, and improve every day, every month, and every year.
Whether on the field or off, the greats in any industry or sport have great mentors. No one does it all on their own! Larry was fortunate enough to have some incredible mentors, and credits them with teaching him a lot about life, business, and having the right mindset.
Whether by design or not, Larry found himself next to the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith during his rookie season. While in the twilight of his career, Emmitt was still one of the biggest names in the game. Everything Emmitt did, Larry mirrored. If Emmitt ate grapes for breakfast, Larry was putting grapes on his plate too. After one of Larry’s first press conferences, Emmitt pulled him aside for some advice. He told Larry that he did great with his answers and being articulate, but that he didn’t like how Larry was wearing sweatpants.
Emmitt explained to Larry that most of the time, people are seeing him on TV with his helmet on. That’s building his professional brand. Any time off the field, you’re building your personal brand. By wearing a suit to press conferences and being intentional about how he carried himself outside of the game, Emmitt knew he was building something that would extend far after his career was over. Emmitt Smith was onto something, as he now runs a highly successful real estate company in Texas.
Emmitt would retire after Larry’s rookie year, but in came another mentor. Kurt Warner was traded to the Cardinals, and brought a different voice. While Emmitt was pretty laid back, Kurt wasn’t afraid to get in your face and tell you exactly what he was thinking. Larry had made a name for himself relying on his pure athleticism; often “freestyling” his running routes to get himself open. Kurt didn’t like that.
Kurt explained to Larry that in order to be great, he had to focus on the details. He needed to be able to trust Larry to run the routes they had planned. That meant that Larry had to no longer rely on his talent alone, but dig deep and learn the X’s and O’s of the game. This was an elevation of Larry’s mindset, and something business leaders understand. In order to be great, you have to be intentional about your growth. You have to understand your P&L sheets, your profit margins, and all of the other details that make your business successful. Similarly, your legacy must be intentional. Are you letting your talents carry you along in life, or are you doing the work that is necessary for greatness and a legacy you want to leave behind?
Another truth about legacy that Larry learned is that it rarely comes without challenges. Your legacy will be intertwined with pain, loss, and grief. It’s not simply about the adversity we faced, but the story of how we overcame our hurdles. Those who look at the legacy we leave will see not just our successes but also how we handled things when the odds were against us, or how we reacted to unfair circumstances.
Larry’s late mother taught him a lot about this. Her first cancer diagnosis came in 1997. After going into remission twice, the cancer came back a third time and ultimately took her life in 2003. Many times, she would use her diagnosis to teach lessons to Larry and his siblings. She would tell Larry to not let pain be an excuse in reaching his full potential. She told him not to allow grief
to change the direction of his life.
We all pass on at some point. When we leave this world, our legacy will be what we leave behind. Larry’s mother taught him to not be a victim, and to not allow circumstances to dictate his life. Not a lot in life frustrates Larry any more, and his mother imparted to him wisdom he continues to live by. There are only a few things in life that you can really control, and two of those are your attitude and effort.
If you’re a long-time Arizona Cardinals fan, be warned: this may bring back some difficult memories. In 2008, Larry Fitzgerald had the opportunity to play in the biggest game football has to offer. The “Big Game” was like nothing Larry had ever experienced. He was incredibly nervous, and can recall burying his head in his playbook before the game. There would be 10s of millions of people watching his every step. His every success, his every failure.
Then, Larry started to think about all of the amazing moments he had watched growing up in previous years during this event. Great plays of clutch passes, incredible catches, and last-minute victories flooded his mind. He decided right then and there that he wanted to have that type of legacy. Larry wants to have that type of moment in this game. It was his time to create that for himself. He went from being intimidated and scared to stepping out of the locker room with a renewed sense of purpose. Larry was going to own that moment and be the best player on the field that day.
The game was played against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a worthy opponent from Larry’s college city. With only a few minutes left, Larry made some incredible plays that gave his team the lead. It looked like they were about to be champions, and Larry was a shoo-in to win MVP honors for the game. However, in the final minutes, the Steelers would make a long, unlikely drive down the field to score and steal the game away from the Cardinals.
Larry had a record day during that game, and yet still fell short. In just a couple of minutes, he went from feeling the highest of highs to crushing defeat. The emotional swing was intense, and Larry recalls sitting in the locker room for a while after the game. He looked at the goals he had set for himself, and was surprised. Most of the things he wanted to accomplish he had succeeded in. Perhaps the game was lost, but he had crushed his goals outside of that.
Defeat teaches us quite a bit. Most of the time, our greatest lessons are learned in the face of adversity. Even when we don’t succeed in the way we thought we would, that planning and work we’ve put in often allows us to achieve more than we realize at first.
Legacy doesn’t happen by accident. And it doesn’t happen all at once. Just like a beautiful home or an incredible football stadium, it has to be designed and engineered. The foundation must be laid, the frame raised, and brick by brick, it must be built. Our legacies are similar. If we are to have an intentional legacy, it must be designed piece by piece.
You’ve heard it said before: if we fail to plan, we plan to fail. Our time is limited on Earth, and we must be intentional about the legacy we are building. Being intentional is the beginning of defining your legacy and finding meaning to it all. Work on building an intentional legacy that inspires others and leaves the world a better place.
We thank Larry Fitzgerald for being a headline speaker at RYNOx this year! If you’d like to learn more about Larry, including his work off of the field, please visit his website.