Refuting coach, Fugett tough enough for any challenge

Bill Tanton

February 16, 1993|By Bill Tanton

Jean Fugett, who entered the State of Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame yesterday, is a man who seemingly can do just about anything.

When he was a 16-year-old senior at Cardinal Gibbons High School here,he told coach Bob Patzwall he wanted to come out for football.

"You're not tough enough to play football," Patzwall told him.

Patzwall, now a Baltimore stock broker, knew Fugett as a basketball player and as one of the school's brightest scholars. But he couldn't see the youngster in football -- especially starting out in his senior year.

Patzwall relented and had equipment issued to Fugett. After a week of practice, Gibbons had a Saturday scrimmage against Loyola High.

The next morning, Joe Brune, Loyola's coach then and now, telephoned his close friend Patzwall. Brune was studying films of the scrimmage.

"Who's the boy playing tight end for you?" Brune asked.

"Tight end?" said Patzwall. "That's a new kid named Fugett. He just came out for football last week."

"He's a darn good player," Brune said. "Come on over to my house and I'll show you."

So Brune and Patzwall looked at the films together, and, sure enough, there was this neophyte kid blocking people all over the place and catching passes. Jean Fugett was on his way to a brilliant college and pro career.

Through the intercession of George Young, then City College's coach, Fugett was steered to Amherst College in western Massachusetts. The coach there was former Baltimorean Jim "Smokey" Ostendarp, who had played at Poly and at Bucknell with Young.

Fugett played four years of football and basketball at Amherst, though he did endure one embarrassing basketball moment in his freshman year.

Amherst was playing the University of Massachusetts and Fugett, who was 6 feet 4 and weighed 220, was told not to go in the paint and challenge a great leaper on the UMass team.

Fugett, never one to walk away from a challenge, took the ball and went straight at the UMass guy, naturally, only to have his shot swatted away and into the 10th row of the stands. The UMass player was Dr. J., Julius Erving, who was voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last week.

Fugett graduated cum laude from Amherst and was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.

This West Baltimore kid who was not supposed to be tough enough for high school football played four years for the Cowboys (1972-1975). The first year he alternated with another tight end carrying in plays from coach Tom Landry. The other end was Mike Ditka.

Fugett, 230 pounds by then, caught a pass in the 21-17 loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl X.

Jean played the next four years with the Washington Redskins. He caught six touchdown passes in '76, seven in '78 and played in the 1977 Pro Bowl.

After football, Jean got a law degree from George Washington University. He wrote articles for the New York Times, the Washington Post and for this newspaper. He did radio work -- including a Redskins pre-game show this past season on WTEM. He has been an agent for several NFL players.

Last month, Fugett's world was turned upside down when his half-brother, Reggie Lewis, died of a brain tumor at age 50. Lewis was chairman of the biggest black-owned business in America, TLC Beatrice. At 41, Jean Fugett is the new chairman of that business.

When he accepted his Hall of Fame plaque at Martin's West yesterday, Jean talked about his half-brother, who was a Dunbar High product.

"Reg was the quarterback of the first Dunbar team to beat Poly," Fugett recalled. "Reg was also a good basketball and baseball player at Dunbar."

What propelled men like Lewis and Fugett from modest backgrounds to scale these heights?

"My father always told us," Fugett said, "that a black American had to be twice as good to get to the top. But he delivered that message with love and without a trace of bitterness."

Smokey Ostendarp had something to do with Fugett's success, too. Ostendarp, who retired as Amherst coach last year after 33 seasons, said Fugett was "a leader in a lot of things at school."

"I was fortunate," Fugett said, "to play for a coach who emphasized things off the playing field as well as on it. One important lesson I learned was what can happen when a group comes together as a team. That's something that stays with you all your life."

Stepping in to run a business as big as TLC Beatrice would frighten a lot of people. Says Fugett: "I'm not worried about that. That'll work out all right."

Jean Fugett has won many honors, but joining the Maryland Hall of Fame was special to him.

"I'm thrilled to be remembered as one of Maryland's best," he said. "That's touching."

Entering the Hall of Fame with him were 15-year tennis pro Pam Shriver, who was once No. 3 in the world; ex-City College, University of Tennessee and Pittsburgh Steelers football player Arthur "Otts" Brandau and the first representative from our state sport -- jousting -- to go in: Mary Lou Bartram.

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