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Podcast 151: NFL Legend Larry Fitzgerald on Journey from Ballboy to All-Time Great

December 8, 2021

On this week’s podcast we sit down with Larry Fitzgerald, one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game of football.

By Will Ahmed

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Larry Fitzgerald is undeniably one of the best football players of all-time–and his journey truly started at the bottom. He was a ballboy for the Minnesota Vikings when he was a teenager, years before his remarkable career as a wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals began.

The future Hall of Famer spent 17 years in the NFL and is second all-time in league history in catches and receiving yards.

Larry explains why his drive to be great in football extends to every other aspect of his life, and talks about his upbringing and how he now approaches being a parent himself. He discusses the importance of consistency and durability, and how those traits enabled him succeed at the highest level. Larry also dives deep on wearing WHOOP and how it helped him discover that he had sleep apnea.

Stay healthy and stay in the green!


Larry Fitzgerald Podcast Quotes & Highlights

4:05 – From Ballboy to NFL Legend. Larry details his journey from a teenage ballboy for the Minnesota Vikings to becoming one of the greatest receivers in the history of football. “Most people only get a chance to really watch professionals [on game or match day]. You see Rory McIlroy when he’s teeing off at Brookline and he’s playing in the [U.S.] Open. You don’t get a chance to see him in the hours and hours and hours and hours of work that he spends on perfecting his craft. You only see the 66 that he posts during his round, you don’t see all the grind that goes behind it. And I got a chance to see all of that work that was behind the scenes [with the Vikings].”

7:34 – Military Academy. Larry went to the Valley Forge Military Academy to help prepare him for college. “It was the toughest year and a half that I’ve had. Moving away from home for the first time, not really wanting to do it. Going to a military environment was very difficult for me to deal with. … The structure, I just wasn’t accustomed to it, but it was one of those things that really helped shape the course of my life moving forward. There’s no way I would be sitting here on this podcast had I not taken that route.”

13:24 – Overcoming Early Challenges. “When I got to college, I was struggling a little bit the first few days, just the physicality, the speed, all of these things. I wasn’t accustomed to it. I remember calling my dad the second day saying, ‘Dad, I don’t know if I’m cut out for this.’ And he just hung up on me. I guess his message to me was, ‘You better figure it out, get it together.’ And I started getting my confidence, getting my legs under me, and I started making plays.”

16:30 – Parenting. Larry talks about his relationship with his dad, longtime Minnesota sportswriter Larry Fitzgerald Sr., and how he thinks about being a father himself now.

17:47 – Being Drafted. “Once you find a way to be able to get through that struggle, there’s always another obstacle at the end of the road. I remember getting to the NFL and how happy I was on draft night. And my dad told me, ‘This was not the goal to get drafted. The goal is to be a Hall of Famer and a Super Bowl champion one day.’ And that just put it in perspective. All it is is an opportunity to come into the league. It doesn’t guarantee anything else, but an opportunity.”

19:51 – High Performance Mindset. “No matter what I accomplished, what I did, I could have 200 yards in a game and 3 touchdowns, and all I would do on the next day is go into film and I would see bad things that I did. … If you listened to Michael Jordan in his documentary, The Last Dance. You look at Tom Brady, the guy’s accomplished everything that anybody could ever accomplish. There’s people that are just intrinsically motivated to be wired to go be the very best.”

22:45 – The 2008 Playoffs. Larry talks about his playoff showing in 2008, one of the great individual performances in NFL postseason history. In 4 postseason games, he caught 30 passes for 546 yards and 7 touchdowns. All NFL records.

23:59 – Advice To Live By. Larry’s grandmother told him growing up that “If you don’t stay humble, you will stumble.”

28:48 – Losing His Mom. Larry talks about his mother, Carol, who passed away from breast cancer when he was a freshman in college. “I contemplated not playing ball and dropping out of school. All of these crazy thoughts kind of went through my mind as I was going through the grieving process. My teammates were able to support me and help me battle through those times.” Larry wrote about his mother’s death last year, saying he wished he had done more to support her at the end of her life.

31:26 – Taking Care of Your Body. “I’m not a drinker. I’m not a clubber, I never really was. I never used drugs. My body is my temple. I always take care of it. I like a little ice cream here and there, but I do it in moderation.”

32:23 – Success Over the Long Haul. “I really respect and admire people who are able to have long-term success. People often talk about Warren Buffet and how he’s slow grinded it for 60, 70 years, right? Nothing special, no cockamamie schemes, just consistency every single year. There’s something to be valued and respected about people who just methodically go about their business.”

35:49 – Discovering WHOOP. Larry learned about WHOOP from his friend and teammate, Kelvin Beachum, who’s also been on the podcast.

36:20 – Sleep Apnea. Larry dealt with sleep apnea for years, and discovered how much of an issue it was when he started wearing WHOOP. “Essentially WHOOP is a sleep study without having to go stay the night at the hospital and go through all the tests and get hooked up to everything. I was waking up 7 times throughout the night because of sleep apnea.” Larry has since gotten a mouthpiece and says that has helped greatly improve the quality of his sleep.

37:27 – Sleep Hack for Road Games. During his NFL career, Larry would have a replica of his mattress at home shipped to the team hotel when he was on the road.

41:23 – Making the World a Healthier Place. “Imagine if everybody had a WHOOP on every single day and how their lives would be enhanced by sleeping better?” Larry says. “They’ll be better employees. They’ll be more attentive and caring parents. There’s so many great benefits from that.”

45:32 – Larry Fitzgerald the Intern. Larry talks about how he became an intern at JP Morgan in 2011, in the height of his football career. “It changed my life,” Larry says, adding that the experience he got that summer was invaluable. “It opened my eyes to so much. … You have to humble yourself and realize that you don’t have expertise in [different] fields, and if you want to this is where you have to start.”

Connect with Larry on Instagram and Twitter.


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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.