Fitzgerald, who spoke before former Vice President Joe Biden, used the moment to share a lighthearted comparison between him and his friend McCain.
“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. “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.”
Fitzgerald said that while he and McCain were from very different worlds, they developed a meaningful friendship. He said it was the perfect example of what made McCain an iconic figure.
Fitzgerald said McCain celebrated differences and championed humanity. He said McCain didn’t judge individuals on the color of their skin, their gender or their bank accounts, but by the merit of their character and content of their hearts.
Fitzgerald also discussed his need to visit Vietnam to see what McCain endured as a prisoner of war.
“I wanted to see the places where the will of John McCain was tested and forged,” Fitzgerald said. “I saw the lake. I walked the steps. I sat in the cell. And the ordeal that my friend survived became all the more real.”
Fitzgerald was asked by Cindy McCain, the senator’s widow, a couple of months ago to speak at the service. Former Diamondbacks outfielder Luis Gonzalez and former Coyotes forward Shane Doan also served as pallbearers. McCain was an avid sports fan and became friends with many of the athletes in the area.
About 3,500 people packed a Phoenix church for the service. There will be a viewing for McCain at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., before a memorial service Saturday featuring former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. McCain will be buried Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.