Much more to this story

Getting past the finger incident

September 01, 2010|Kevin Cowherd

Jerry Fishman's phone rings often whenever Maryland and Navy get ready to play each other, as they will Monday at M&T Bank Stadium to kick off the college football season.

Usually it's a reporter calling with some variation of the question: "Are you the guy who flipped Navy the bird in the '64 game? The guy responsible for ending the great rivalry between those two teams?"

Fishman is a retired lawyer living in Boca Raton, Fla. But 46 years ago, he was a tough, volatile Terps linebacker and running back who hated the smug, superior attitude that seemed to emanate from Navy like gamma rays.

So he'll cop to giving the Brigade of Midshipmen the one-fingered salute -- not once, but twice, the second time just to rub it in when Maryland finally sealed a thrilling 27-22 win.

But that other stuff about being the reason Navy decided to take its ball and go home and not play those crude roughnecks from College Park anymore?

That's not true, Fishman says. His good friend Darryl Hill, who retired last year from the Maryland athletic department as the director of major gifts, agrees.

Hill was a talented, 170-pound wide receiver on that Maryland team of '64. He was also the first African-American athlete in the ACC, no insignificant feat given the racially charged backdrop of college football in the South at that time.

Fishman and Hill formed a fast, if unlikely, friendship that lasts to this day.

Fishman was a big, tough Jewish kid from Connecticut. Hill was a skinny, intellectually gifted black kid from the streets of Washington.

"Kind of a reversal of the stereotype," says Hill with a laugh. "Jerry said, 'They don't like me in the South any more than they like you.' He said, 'You help me get through business school and I'll get you through football in the ACC.'"

On that infamous Saturday afternoon at Byrd Stadium in '64, the Maryland-Navy rivalry was at full throttle.

The two teams had played each other eight times in 16 seasons, with each team winning four times. Fishman was a total wild man in this game, eager to stick it to the powerful team from just down the road that played a vaunted national schedule.

"It was intense," he says now. Then, after a pause: "The Navy guys always looked down on the Maryland guys."

This didn't sit well with Fishman. As the rough game got rougher -- penalty flags flew everywhere, personal fouls were handed out like arcade tickets -- Fishman became more and more amped, according to newspaper reports at the time.

Then it happened.

On a punt return in the third quarter by Navy's Skip Orr, Fishman, 6 feet 1 and 235pounds, drilled him on the sideline.

A penalty flag flew. A Maryland player had twisted Orr's face mask. Fishman swears it wasn't him. Nevertheless, he was called for the personal foul.

All of this occurred right in front of the howling Navy crowd, which proceeded to boo and jeer Fishman unmercifully.

With his adrenaline levels red-lining, Fishman snapped.

"I just flipped them the finger," Fishman says. "In fact, I flipped them both fingers."

Hill would see this kind of intensity from his teammate often during his Maryland career. And as the Jackie Robinson of his league, the quiet, reserved Hill benefited from that intensity on more than one occasion when the Terps played in the segregated South.

"Jerry Fishman was always more of a hero than a villain," Hill says.

This much is clear: when the Terps played below the Mason-Dixon line, Fishman was practically Hill's bodyguard.

Hill recalls accompanying Fishman and a dozen other Maryland teammates to a Woolworth's lunch counter in Winston-Salem, N.C., before the Terps played Wake Forest.

"The guy behind the counter said, 'We don't serve Negroes in here,'" Hill says. "Jerry says: 'No problem. We don't feel like eating Negroes anyway. We just want an ice cream sundae.'"

When the man behind the counter didn't relent, Fishman stood and led his teammates out the door -- but not before delivering a typically unsubtle message.

"He took his arm and knocked all the plates and glasses off the counter," Hill says.

On another day, in a game against Duke, Hill was knocked out by a vicious hit and carried to the sideline.

As he came to, he heard someone yell for an oxygen mask.

"The Duke medical techs said, 'We're not going to put this oxygen mask on a Negro,'" Hill remembers. "So Jerry grabbed it and put it on me."

Maybe the scariest moment of Hill's career came after a 13-9 loss to South Carolina in Columbia, a game in which Hill had played well.

"Everyone [in the stands] was drunk," he recalled. "We had to go through this narrow chute to get off the field and this guy poured a drink on me. Fishman clocked the guy in the mouth with his helmet.

"I said: 'Look, if a riot breaks out, you can blend in with the white guys. You don't have a Jewish star on your forehead. I can't blend in with anyone.'"

So Hill wasn't surprised to see how wound up Fishman was in that '64 game against Navy.

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