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Cardinals provide local flair to NFL Honors

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Fans roared outside as another SUV or limo opened up and A-list celebrities stepped out to a rain-soaked crowd on the red carpet. It is award season but this was a different kind of prize they were nominated for. It wasn’t for their work in a film or TV show but rather over the course of a season.

Most were NFL players, coaches and executives who made their way inside Phoenix Symphony Hall for the fourth NFL Honors, which had a particular local taste in 2015.

Kurt Warner did not make the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame class but Arizona Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald went home with hardware.

Arians won AP Coach of the Year. “It was a great honor. To be able to accept this award here in town, for the Arizona Cardinals organization,” said Arians. “There is no such thing for me as a one person award in such a team sport.”

He led the Cardinals to an 11-5 record and the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs. Although he was elated to receive the award, he was disappointed the Cardinals didn’t make it to the Super Bowl in their home stadium.

“Yeah, that’s the tough part,” he said. “We were sitting there at 9-1 and thought really strongly that we were going to be here and play in our hometown Super Bowl. We just didn’t play well enough. There are no excuses on injuries. We just didn’t play well enough in the playoffs.”

Fitzgerald received the inaugural Art Rooney Award, given to the player who demonstrates the best on-field sportsmanship. He didn’t think he did anything special to deserve the award. It’s just in his blood.

“It’s not like I’m consciously thinking about it or anything like that, it’s just who I am,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s the way my parents raised me. I can always remember back to my first year of Pop Warner football, my coach Don, he used to always preach sportsmanship to us. No matter if we win, we lose, we draw, you always have to respect your opponents and give them the respect that they deserve because they are competing and playing the same game that you are.”

The award had special meaning for Fitzgerald. Rooney, the award’s namesake, founded the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1933. Fitzgerald attended the University of Pittsburgh in 2002 and 2003 and had his No. 1 jersey retired in 2013. He was a unanimous All-American and Biletnikoff Award winner his sophomore year.

“My facility and school was right next door to the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Fitzgerald said. “We saw them practice every single day and got to know Mr. Rooney very well and I remember after we lost the Super Bowl to Pittsburgh, Mr. Dan Rooney came up and found me and shook my hand and still, just the class of that family and the way they run their organization, it was something that I recognized at an early age.”

Now seven years removed from that Super Bowl, Fitzgerald caught 63 passes for 784 yards and two touchdowns this season. He has caught 909 passes for 12,151 yards and 81 touchdowns in his career.

Warner’s failure to make the Hall of Fame bitterly disappointed his former teammate.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s gut-wrenching to be honest with you,’’ said Fitzgerald. There is nobody who deserves it more than Kurt, not only as a Hall of Fame player but a Hall of Fame human being. It’s tough to see him not on that stage but I know it’s coming. His time is coming and it’s not going to be far from now that he will be walking across that stage.”