The UM salute Navy didn't forget

40 years later, Jerry Fishman is still being fingered for halting the Maryland-Navy football rivalry.

College Football

August 29, 2005|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

Right from the start, Jerry Fishman wants to be clear. He's not sorry.

In fact, if you came looking for apologies or for him to show remorse, then you're out of luck.

And to be honest, when you get right down to it, Fishman still finds the whole thing, well, kind of funny.

"It's nice to be remembered," Fishman says. "Most people get their 15 minutes of fame. Me, I got 40 years."

Infamy is probably a more accurate description of the way people most remember Fishman, a hard-hitting, hot-tempered linebacker for the University of Maryland in 1963 and 1964. Though he was clearly one of the Terps' best players during his career, that's hardly the reason his phone has been ringing practically nonstop for the past few weeks.

Instead, with Maryland and Navy scheduled to play each other this week for the first time in four decades, all anyone wants to talk about is the one-fingered salute Fishman gave the Midshipmen during the game on Nov. 7, 1964, after a sideline tackle in Byrd Stadium.

Many within the academy were so offended by the gesture, it has been repeatedly cited as one of the reasons, if not the main one, that Navy refused to schedule the Terps until this season. And though nearly all the parties involved agree the significance of the incident has been overblown, there is no denying it played a factor in killing off regular meetings between the schools.

Several Maryland athletic directors over the years, including Debbie Yow, have spoken with Fishman, urging him to reach out to Navy and apologize. But Fishman, now 61 and a retired lawyer living in Boca Raton, Fla., isn't interested.

"What do I need to apologize for?" Fishman says. "It's a rivalry. When we played, the Maryland fans hated Navy, and the Navy fans hated Maryland. That's what made it exciting."

In fact, Fishman, who has never been shy about sharing his opinion, doesn't mind fanning the flames a bit. In an interview last week with The Capital of Annapolis, he suggested Navy change its mascot from a goat to a chicken. While posing for a photograph to accompany this article, Fishman, wearing a Terps shirt and leaning against his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, gave Navy fans the bird once again. With both hands.

When his friend and ex-teammate Darryl Hill -- who works in the Maryland athletic department as the director of major gifts -- asked Fishman if he would consider traveling to Baltimore to attend this year's game, Fishman joked he would only do it on one condition: He wanted to be an honorary captain.

"Darryl told me he would think about it, but only if I promised I wouldn't give Navy the finger again," Fishman says. "I told him, `I'll make no such guarantees.'"

Maryland, for its part, would love to muzzle Fishman, but since it clearly cannot, the school has tried to distance itself from him and his comments. Yow hasn't been available to the media leading up to the game, but after some initial interviews with Fishman were published, she issued a statement condemning his behavior.

"Each of us in positions of leadership at Maryland has on multiple occasions indicated a disdain for the actions of Jerry Fishman 40 years ago during the Maryland-Navy football game," Yow wrote. "The inappropriate behavior of Mr. Fishman is ancient history. He is a single individual who does not represent the University of Maryland Department of Athletics or our institution. While we have no control over his statements, we are clear in our expectation that all of our athletes compete with honor and integrity, including good sportsmanship."

Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said he had "absolutely nothing to say" about Fishman's comments or any role he may have played in keeping Maryland off Navy's schedule.

Fishman wasn't alone

To be fair, Fishman's finger-waving wasn't the only reason things got heated during the 1964 game, a 27-22 Maryland victory. Several fights broke out in the stands during the game, and some Maryland students allegedly threw powder on the uniforms of midshipmen in the stands. On the field, personal fouls were being handed out right and left, and according to newspaper accounts, ankles were getting twisted at the bottom of every pile. But a third-quarter punt return involving Fishman, teammate Ron Nalewak and Navy's Skip Orr caused emotions to finally boil over.

"Skip was returning the punt, and I put a great hit on him," Fishman says. "I just creamed him out of bounds."

On his way down, however, someone twisted Orr's face mask. Game films would show later that it was Nalewak, but Fishman was called for a personal foul, and Orr, one of Navy's best players, left the game with a knee injury.

"It was right there on the press box side of Byrd Stadium, right in front of all the Navy people," Fishman says. "When I got up, they were booing and yelling at me, so I just flipped them the finger."

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