Professional athletes don't often have the opportunity to stand among current and former high-ranking government officials at public memorial services.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr., however, had the honor Thursday to be among a group of distinguished guests, which included former Vice President Joe Biden and former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods, to deliver a moving tribute to the late Sen. John McCain, who passed away Saturday at 81.
Fitzgerald and McCain struck up a friendship after meeting in 2006, which marked Fitzgerald's third season with the Cardinals, and the relationship between the two blossomed over the past decade despite a 47-year age difference.
"Many people might wonder what a young, African-American kid from Minnesota and a highly decorated Vietnam War hero-turned-United States Senator might have in common," Fitzgerald said, via the Cardinals' official website. "Well, I thought of a few.
"I'm black. He was white. I'm young. He wasn't so young. He lived with physical limitations brought on by war. I'm a professional athlete. He ran for president. I run out of bounds. He was the epitome of toughness, and I do everything I can to avoid contact. I have flowing locks and, well, he didn't. How does this unlikely pair become friends? I've asked myself the same question. But, you know what the answer is? That's just who he is."
Fitzgerald said he and McCain spent a lot of time together over the years, sometimes seeing each other on the practice field at the Cardinals' facility, and even communicated through text messages.
The Cardinals wide receiver looked back on their friendship fondly and he cherished the moments with McCain even if they lived in different worlds and came from different backgrounds.
"And this highlights the very rare and very special qualities of Senator McCain that I came to deeply admire," Fitzgerald said. "He didn't judge individuals based on the color of their skin, their gender, their backgrounds, their political affiliations or their bank accounts. He evaluated them on the merits of their character and the contents of their hearts. He judged them on the work they put in and the principles they lived by."
For approximately seven minutes, Fitzgerald recalled McCain's accomplishments in life and devotion to his family, the state of Arizona and service to the people of the U.S.
He then closed out his remarks by pointing out the profound impact McCain had not just on him, but on others and the world.
"We are all better for having known you," Fitzgerald said. "Rest in peace, my friend."
McCain is scheduled to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol on Friday before a memorial service Saturday at the Washington National Cathedral, where former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama are scheduled to deliver eulogies.
McCain will be buried Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Md.