Zach Ertz had been hurt before but not like this, not with a wrecked knee that ended his season in the moment.
But as the rehab began recently, and the Cardinals tight end would do work at home, it helped that he had a four-month-old partner – his new son Madden.
“At least I have a buddy with me all the time,” Ertz said with a smile.
Ertz was officially honored for being the Cardinals’ Walter Payton Man of the Year candidate on Thursday, a meaningful time for he and wife Julie and a dichotomy from the torn left ACL and MCL he suffered not quite a month previous when the Cardinals had beaten the Rams in Los Angeles.
“It was very tough,” Ertz said. “I’ve never had a season where the abruptness was just you’re done. I felt like I personally was playing really good football and it was tough from me to not translate it into the wins we were all expecting.”
Ertz had been on pace to obliterate the franchise record for receptions in a season. Instead, his role will be more about attacking his rehab in hopes of returning in time for the 2023 regular-season opener.
The difficulty came most in the first week, when Ertz had to wait for the surgery and then finding out the ACL was partially torn and wouldn’t hold up long-term without a procedure.
“It was a really hard time, seeing your husband in a hard place,” Julie Ertz said. “You want to be able to be able to perform and play, and I have a front row seat to all his hard work.”
Ertz said he won’t rush himself back, having done that before in Philadelphia with an ankle problem when he played without feeling like himself, and in hindsight putting the team in a bad position.
“I don’t want to make the same mistake again,” Ertz said.
While Ertz can’t play football, it isn’t stopping his community work, which is why he received the Payton honor. Zach and Julie had created the Ertz Family Foundation when he played in Philadelphia – Ertz’s mom Lisa is the foundation’s director – and wanted to continue the giving in Arizona after his 2021 trade.
His focus in Arizona has been providing meals for the needed – 1.4 million in the short time he’s been here – and reiterated his strong feelings for both the organization and the area and the desire to play the rest of his career with the Cardinals.
“His work ethic, intensity, focus, leadership—all those things that you heard about he’s been that and more I’d say,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “He’s everything you want in your organization to be around on a daily basis.”
Ertz said his desire to help others has only grown stronger as the years pass.
“As I’ve gotten older, you start to realize what we had growing up and when you’re growing up you think that’s normal. That’s just not the case,” Ertz said. “As you grow older, you’re exposed to more, you understand what we had is not necessarily what everyone else had and that’s probably not the way it should be.
“Julie and I wanted to step up be and be a bridge for people. Give people hope. Show people love.”
It was fitting Ertz delivered the line next to his wife and son/workout buddy.
“I learned a lot about myself over the last month,” Ertz said, before looking again at his son, “but this guy has helped a lot to get me through it.”