An unlikely friendship developed between Larry Fitzgerald and Sen. John McCain over the past 15 years.

Decades separated the two in age, but the Cardinals receiver and Arizona senator found common ground and mutual respect during their time together. Although they share an interest in sports, and both called Arizona home, their relationship extended beyond the scope of football.

“I’ve been to a lot of different sporting events with him and sitting around him, but the things I enjoyed most were some of those intimate moments,” Fitzgerald said Monday at his annual charity event. “Just hearing him talk about stories, the things he has dealt with, and battling to get bills pushed through and gathering votes to get things accomplished on Capitol Hill. So, some of those things are much more fascinating to me than any sports games.”

McCain died Saturday at age 81 after ending his treatment for glioblastoma, a rare and often deadly form of brain cancer.

“You know, I was heartbroken not only for myself and his family, but for our nation,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald is scheduled to speak at the U.S. Senator’s memorial service Thursday in Phoenix, and is representing the Arizona sports community along with several other local athletes. Former Arizona Coyote captain Shane Doan and former Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Luis Gonzalez will participate in the service as pallbearers.

“It’s remarkable to hear that he’s been asked. Larry’s someone who is really passionate about what he does and he gets asked to do a lot of things, but John McCain, he cared a lot about him,” said Fitzgerald’s father, Larry Fitzgerald Sr..

Fitzgerald spoke at his annual charity event, Fitz’s Supper Club, hosted at Dominick’s Steakhouse in Scottsdale, about his relationship with McCain and what it meant to him.

“He’s such an inspirational figure, a beacon of hope and service that he has provided this country, and great leadership,” Fitzgerald said. “I think he’s always been a great sign of inspiration for our country. I was really devastated to hear about his loss.”.

McCain regularly attended sporting events throughout the Phoenix area as a supporter of Arizona’s local sports community.

As a fan of the Diamondbacks, McCain attended many games, including during the team’s 2001 World Series run. He also attended the team’s expansion draft in 1997. McCain provided narration for the Suns’ 50-year anniversary video last season, and attended Cardinals games as well.

Professional sports teams, and their players, throughout Arizona reacted to McCain’s death through numerous tweets and statements across social media.

Fitzgerald rose to prominence in Arizona as a member of the Cardinals, and is now entering his 15th season with the team, 11 of which he made the Pro Bowl He uses his visibility in the community to raise money for several charity organizations, including his First Down Fund.

In addition to his annual Fitz’s Supper Dinner fundraiser, Fitzgerald also hosts an annual celebrity softball game to raise money for his First Down Fund.

McCain’s memorial service will take place Thursday at North Phoenix Baptist Church.

“I mean, we’re talking about one of the greatest senators in American history,” Fitzgerald Sr. said about his son’s relationship with McCain. “…they really respected one another.”


Story by JAKE GOODRICK, Cronkite News