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Originally published Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald is one of a kind, on the field and off

Arizona star gets style points for his football skills and his wardrobe.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Super Bowl

Pittsburgh vs. Arizona, 3:17 p.m., Ch. 5

The most prolific receiver in the NFL this season sat at the Metropolitan Grill in Seattle on a November night before his team played the Seahawks.

Larry Fitzgerald was flanked by Cardinals teammates. What Fitzgerald was wearing around his neck caused Paul Lawrence to shake his head and smile.

Was that an, umm, ascot? Why yes. Yes it was an ascot, that unconventional piece of neckwear favored by Don Knotts on "Three's Company" and Fred in the cartoon "Scooby Doo."

Typical Fitzgerald, thought Lawrence, who lives in Snohomish and is part of Maximum Sports, the agency that represents Fitzgerald. The Cardinals receiver is one of a kind, both as a wideout and with his wardrobe.

"Larry Fitzgerald thinks that he's a connoisseur of clothes, that's the best way to put it," Lawrence said. "He's the guy who is willing to go out on the edge and do something that is going to be professional and fashionable at the same time and push the envelope."

The man stands out, that's for sure. He is the receiver with the long hair and the unbelievable hands who has broken Jerry Rice's record for most receiving yards in an NFL postseason. And if Arizona somehow finds a way to beat Pittsburgh, there's a pretty good chance Fitzgerald's fingerprints will be all over the Lombardi Trophy.

Fitzgerald has 419 yards receiving in three playoff games this month, nearly twice as many as anyone else in these playoffs. No one in the NFL has caught more passes than Fitzgerald the past four regular seasons, no one has amassed more receiving yards. But he played in a state known for its retirees, not its NFL playoff resume. At least that was the case until this month, when Fitzgerald started treating opposing cornerbacks like hurdles, hopping on over them to grab passes with hands that are so soft, so sure, he looks capable of plucking BBs out of midair.

And now the nation has become familiar with Fitzgerald, nattily dressed game-breaker.

"He's hot right now," Lawrence said.

Blazing. And the portfolio of endorsement deals that includes Nike and Alltel is going to expand.

Lawrence got to know Fitzgerald through Fitzgerald's father, a sports writer. The first time Lawrence called, he talked with the father for two hours about the business of football. Now after the son's fifth season in the league, he is in the midst of a national breakthrough.

All that has been confirmation of the first impression of Mike Muscella, the man who coached Fitzgerald at the Valley Forge Military Academy the season before he enrolled at Pittsburgh.

"He looked like the guys who play on Sunday afternoons," Muscella said. "The first time I saw him, it was just impressive. His size, even his hand size, his strength when he shook your hand."

Valley Forge is the military academy Julian Peterson once attended. Fitzgerald arrived there in January 2001 with obvious talents and a high-school transcript too toxic to get into college. For the next three semesters he went to work fixing those grades. His game didn't need much work.

"You'd like to take credit for coaching him," Muscella said with a laugh. "I just made sure that guy was on the bus. People say, 'You coached Larry Fitzgerald.' No, I didn't. I was the guy that just made sure he was on course.

"If anything, he taught me."

And while Fitzgerald has dropped jaws across the country in these playoffs with his ability to go up and get the ball, Muscella has simply watched with a little bit of pride and a whole lot of admiration.

"Am I surprised, absolutely, positively not," Muscella said. "I always knew that he could do that. He made the same catches here."

Could he make one of those catches Sunday against Pittsburgh? You bet your ascot.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Pitch and catch
Larry Fitzgerald entered the league as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2004 draft. Beginning in 2005, he has caught more passes for more yards than anyone in football. The top eight, ranked by yardage:
Rec. Yards
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona 368 5,195
Steve Smith, Carolina 351 5,152
Reggie Wayne, Ind. 355 5,020
Chad Johnson, Cincinnati 330 4,781
Donald Driver, Green Bay 334 4,576
Torry Holt, St. Louis 352 4,504
Anquan Boldin, Arizona 345 4,496
Terrell Owens, Dallas 282 4,350

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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