Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has the talent and work ethic to become the most prolific player at his position since Jerry Rice. During Arizona's memorable run to last February's Super Bowl, Fitzgerald made 30 catches for 546 yards, scoring seven touchdowns in the process all postseason records. His encore starts on Sunday, Sept. 13, when the Cardinals, who suffered a heart-breaking Super Bowl loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, host the San Francisco 49ers in their 2009 opener. On the eve of the NFL season, Fitzgerald talked to TIME about Michael Vick, his fantasy football past and what exactly makes those diva wide receivers tick.
You share the cover of the wildly popular Madden video game with Troy Polamalu of the Steelers. You know about the so-called curse that has befallen past Madden cover boys. Are you worried about a hex?
I don't worry about that stuff. I believe in God. God controls my fate. Whatever his plan is, I will follow.
In NFL circles, your off-season workout regiment is renowned. What kind of things do you do?
I'm motivated every summer. My goal is to be the best player in the business. I have a personal chef that prepares all my meals. I work out, and drink my Myoplex shake [made by EAS, a sports nutrition company]. This summer, I got together with a bunch of receivers [in Minneapolis, Fitzgerald's hometown] to go out there and work. We invited teachers out there, [Hall of Fame receiver] Cris Carter and Jerry Rice, to teach us the nuances.
Have you watched last year's Super Bowl on tape?
Nah, that's all in the past. There's no point to watching. Obviously, we fell short of our goal. That doesn't take away from what we accomplished last year.
Is it true that you sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about plays that happened in the game?
When I'm not doing something well, or I didn't play my best, it kind of eats at me. Sometimes at night, I will get out of bed, unconsciously, and I'll walk through the play, and try to correct it. I pride myself in doing that. If I had a girlfriend, she'd be like, "Larry, what are you doing?" She'd get confused by it. My love for this sport is definitely a sickness. It's one of my best attributes, but at the wrong time, it can be one of my worst attributes.
Some of your wide receiver colleaguesguys like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocincohave a reputation for being divas or attention-seekers. What is it about the position that causes so much drama?
I can only speak for myself. I'm always a pretty quiet guy. But I just think the wide receiver position gets glorified. I know offensive lineman that are just as crazy as any receiver in the NFL, but they don't get the publicity that receivers get. I think those guys happen to be special football players too. Trust me, you won't get much attention if you are a wild guy and you aren't catching touchdowns.
Another talented wide receiver, Brandon Marshall, was suspended by the Denver Broncos for insubordination, though he's now been reinstated. He wants a trade, caused a commotion in Broncos camp, and has taken a ton of heat. What do you think of that situation?
I talk to Brandon all the time. He's a really nice man, and really fun to be around. A down-to-earth, jubilant guy, man, seriously. I just try to relate to him that you're a football player, and football players go out there and perform. In due time, if you continue to perform, all things will work themselves out.
What's your opinion of the Michael Vick situation?
I think everyone deserves a second chance in life. I'm glad to see him get back in the NFL. I know Michael Vick personally. What he did was wrong. I think he paid the price for it.
Any words out there for the folks who have drafted you for their fantasy teams?
I'm going to play hard on every single snap.
Do you play fantasy football?
Not this year. Last year I participated.
Who was your top pick?
[San Diego Chargers running back] LaDainian Tomlinson.
He's had better years.
Yeah, but you can't go wrong with a guy like that, and his body of work.
Your Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl after finishing the regular season with an 8-8 record. Some think it was a fluke, and most "experts" aren't predicting you'll make another run. Is this extra motivation?
No. I've been here six years now. We've never been picked a favorite for anything. It kind of comes with the territory. We just have to go out there and prove people wrong once again.