Wide Receiver Larry Fitzgerald's team didn't win the Superbowl last year, but his phenomonal ability to catch a football drew raves from fans and opponents.
But at least one expert believes that Fitzgerald's vision may be at the core of his success - and credits the time spent at his grandfather's optometry practice as a child.
Well developed visual skills allow Fitzgerald to actually "see" the ball's destination in his mind - and coordinate that position with his body - an extraordinary case of how vital vision is to athletes as well.
By REED ALBERGOTTI, The Wall Street Journal
While they're not over yet, this year's National Football League playoffs have already produced one spectacle for the ages: the remarkable ability of Arizona Cardinals' wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald to pluck passes out of the sky.
As the Cardinals prepare to face Philadelphia in Sunday's NFC championship game, Mr. Fitzgerald's acrobatics are the talk of the NFL. They have also stirred up a mystery: in photographs, Mr. Fitzgerald can often be seen doing something almost unfathomable: making catches with his eyes closed. "I don't understand it myself," he says.
On paper, Mr. Fitzgerald is not an extraordinary athlete. He's not the tallest receiver in the NFL or the best leaper. His 40-yard-dash time of 4.63 seconds at the 2004 NFL scouting combine is mediocre for the position. To explain his 1,431 yards receiving this season and his ability to haul in footballs with one hand or hold on to them while being pounded by defenders, most analysts say he must have soft hands, great timing or excellent body positioning.
But after 20 years of studying the eyes of elite athletes, and after taking into account two unusual opportunities Mr. Fitzgerald had as a child, one prominent researcher believes his catching talent has less to do with his hands and feet than his eyes and brain. The two catalysts for Mr. Fitzgerald's success may, in fact, be his stint as a teenage ballboy for the Minnesota Vikings and the summer days he spent at his grandfather's optometry clinic.
BERNSTEIN CENTER COMMENTS: Athletes of all ages may benefit from increased visual skills - The Bernstein Center for Visual Performance offers a Sports Enhancement Program to detect sports related visual deficits - and therapy programs to help remediate them.