Whatever Happened to …. Pat Fischer
If you were to look at him in civilian clothes you would not have thought he was a professional football player. He stood only 5-feet, 8-inches tall and weighed 170 pounds. Not too many people thought he would make it in the National Football League including himself when he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 17th round of the NFL draft in 1961. But he was also selected by the then Dallas Texans (later to be the Kansas City Chiefs) in the AFL draft.
Yep, no one would have thought. But after a 17 year career he proved to himself and everyone else that he had the talent to play and then some. He played in a total of 213 games for the St. Louis Cardinals (1961 - 1967) and the Washington Redskins (1968 - 1977) and had a total of 56 interceptions for 941 yards and he returned four of them for touchdowns. He is actually ranked 15th on the all-time NFL list for number of interceptions which puts him two places AHEAD of Darrell Green. He played in three Pro Bowls (1964, 1965, 1969) and is recognized as one of the 70 Greatest Redskins. Oh, yeah, he also played in a Super Bowl (Super Bowl VII, Jan. 1973).
Brothers Pushed Him On
Patrick Fischer was born on January 2, 1940 and he was raised in St. Edward, Nebraska. He cracked that the town had a total population of 800 people when he lived there. He was the second youngest of nine children — six boys and three girls. His dad was a carpenter, electrician and plumber and his mom was a homemaker.
He picked up his competitive attitude from his four brothers — Clete, Kenny, Rex and Jack. All four played football in high school and college and young Pat remembers going to see each and everyone of his brothers play in high school and college at the University of Nebraska. He also watched Clete, Kenny and Rex go on to coach for the University of Nebraska football team.
“My attitude and everything I know about football comes from growing up in a family of very competitive young people,” said Fischer. “Then being coached by them in high school and college. They all attended Nebraska and I listened to every Nebraska game on radio.”
Pat didn’t play organized sports until his Freshman year at Oakland High School. At the time his brother Kenny was a coach there. He also played basketball and baseball. “I played both ways at Oakland, halfback and cornerback,” said Pat. “We had to play both ways because there were only 22 kids on the roster.”
When the Fischer family moved to Omaha, Nebraska during Pat’s junior year in high school, he attended Westside High School and continued to play football. He remembers being all-state.
When it came time for him to select a college, well, there was no other choice as far as he was concerned. It would be the University of Nebraska. “Where else am I going to go with my brothers coaching and playing there,” said Pat.
He played several positions for Nebraska including safety, tailback and quarterback. “When we played single wing, I was the tailback. When we moved into the T-formation, I played quarterback and that was a disaster,” he quipped. “I couldn’t throw the football well.”
The Nebraska teams Pat Fischer played for turned out not to be the best. Yet they had their moment of glory when they upset the University of Oklahoma which was the most dominating team in the Big 8 Conference. In fact, Oklahoma did not lose a game in the Big 8 Conference for 13 years. “It was a thrilling game,” said Pat. “The Nebraska fans tore down the goal post, we got a couple of days off and they closed the school to celebrate.”
Still, his college career did not attract a lot of attention. When it came to the 17th round of the 1961 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Cardinals decided to take a chance and selected him. It was the second to the last round of the draft. The AFL Dallas Texans, later to become the Kansas City Chiefs, also selected him late in the AFL draft. “I was selected in the 17th round of the draft, so whenever anyone would ask I could say that I was drafted. I didn’t have to say the round, just saying that I was drafted by an NFL team was enough to impress people,” said Pat.
He decided to sign with the Cardinals because they were in the NFL and a coach for Nebraska had been the offensive line coach for the Cardinals. He had talked to Fischer before he made his selection. “I looked upon the AFL as a fallback. I thought the NFL was the better league. If I didn’t make the Cardinals, I could always go on and try out for the Chiefs.”
The Bump and Run, George Allen, Mel Gray and Super Bowl VII
Fellow Nebraska player Ron McDole joined Fischer with the Cardinals. At the time the Cardinals were playing a guy by the name of Larry Wilson at free safety. And the defensive coordinator was a guy named Chuck Drulis. It was Drulis who created the safety blitz and it was Wilson who executed it. “We blitzed more than having the normal set,” said Pat.
He explained that whenever Wilson would blitz, the defense was open to some kind of post pattern because the center of the field was wide open. After they were burned with a couple of post patterns, Drulis suggested that Fischer play the bump and run. At the time, NFL rules allowed the defensive back to bump the receiver all the way down the field.
“I would play about seven yards off the line and our defensive back on the other side, Abe Woodson, would play up close about three or four yards off the line of scrimmage,” explained Pat. “Drulis told me to play a normal goal line defense whenever Wilson blitzed. On the goal line I would have to play right up on the line because there was no room. The idea was to bump the receiver and take a second or two away from him, screw up the timing of the pass play. I did what I was told, but I wasn’t confident about it at first. It took a number of games for me to see what it was like and to build my confidence. It developed over a period of time.” And over a period of time Pat Fischer became very skilled in executing the bump and run and it worked well for him for the rest of his career.
The St. Louis Cardinals had a pretty good ball club during Fischer’s stay. The team included Charley Johnson at quarterback and John David Crowe at running back. And the two receivers were Sonny Randle and Billy Gambrell. “Gambrell was about my size,” laughed Fischer.
In 1964 the Cardinals finished a close second to the Cleveland Browns. Back then to extend the playoff season the NFL played the Runner Up Bowl. The Cardinals were in it that year and beat the Green Bay Packers.
By 1967 the Cardinals had fallen on hard times. Fischer played out his option and decided not to return to the Cardinals for the ‘68 season. He said that if he did not sign with a team he would have quit football and been satisfied with a seven year career. “I needed nine hours to get my degree from Nebraska so I would have gone back to school,” said Fischer. “I had played seven years already and couldn’t expect to play more than 10 years. So at that point it was a decent career. I could walk away from it. It was an easy decision not to sign with the Cardinals.”
Instead, he joined the Redskins as a free agent. “About three or four guys played out their options and signed with other teams. I did that,” said Fischer. But Pete Rozelle, commissioner of the National Football League, believed that a team that lost a player to another team through a free agent agreement should be compensated with a draft choice. So the ‘Skins had to compensate the Cardinals. But it was a number two draft choice that was given to the Cardinals, not a number one.
“The Redskins had obtained Gary Beban the weekend before I went to visit Washington and talk to (then head coach) Otto Graham.” The Skins traded a first round pick for Beban. So the Redskins gave up a second round pick for Fischer. The requirement that a team who lost a player to another team through a free agent deal has to be compensated with a draft choice was referred to as the “Rozelle Rule.”
Fischer joined the Redskins during a lot of coaching changes. There was Graham, then Vince Lombardi, Bill Austin and George Allen. He found Allen and Lombardi to be great teachers. But he also found Allen to be a “Uniter.” “He could attract the right kind of personalities,” said Fischer. “He could look at diverse personalities and know how to use them. Allen didn’t do it with just Xs and Os. He united the team. All of us were going in the same direction. It was fun to play football and in the end we won.”
Fischer said that the biggest game the team played during his stay with the Skins was against the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC title on New Year’s Eve 1972. “We exhausted ourselves in that game.” The win got them a ticket to Super Bowl VII against the undefeated Miami Dolphins.
At the time there was a two week break between the conference title games and the Super Bowl. “I think if we had played the Dolphins the following week after beating Dallas, we would have won,” said Fischer.
And perhaps the biggest play he was involved in was what is referred to as the “Mel Gray” play. The Redskins were playing the St. Louis Cardinals at RFK Stadium. At the end of the fourth quarter Jim Hart threw a pass to Mel Gray in the endzone. Fisher was covering Gray. As Gray’s hands touched the ball, Fischer smacked him and the ball fell to the ground. It should have been called incomplete. Instead, the referees called it a completion and a touchdown. That play tied the game and the Cardinals went on to win with a field goal in overtime. “That is one of the plays they point to to justify instant replay,” said Fischer.
Later on Fischer would talk to people who had been with the Cardinal organization when that game was played. That included Joe Gibbs, Jim Hart and others. “No one would admit that it wasn’t a catch,” laughed Fischer.
During his years with the Redskins, Fischer had to cover a wide variety of receivers. Some very tall and some very fast. In this case, I refer to Harold Carmicheal of the Eagles, the very tall guy; and Bob Hayes of the Dallas Cowboys, the very fast guy. He used the bump and run against Carmichael. Hayes was another story. He was too quick for the bump and run. “I didn’t use the bump and run against Hayes. I lined up about 15 yards deep. He was so quick I couldn’t get my hands on him. I wasn’t even in the picture when Hayes caught the pass.” He added that Hayes was the toughest receiver he faced.
It was an injury that ultimately caused Fischer to retire. In 1972 he had hurt a disc in his back. He said that the damaged disc caused problems with his left leg. He still played against the San Francisco 49’ers in a playoff game, then he had surgery. He returned to the Skins the following season. But in 1977 he re-injured the disc. “I walked off the field and said to Bubba Tyer (the team’s trainer), ‘Bubba, I can’t control my left leg and it’s burning. I have to get this thing fixed.’” Fischer had another operation, but the injury was too serious and he had to retire. “If it wasn’t for that, I would have played until they took my helmet away from me.”
Race Horses Keep the competitive Juices Flowing
After retirement, Fischer was a stockbroker and also worked at Dominion National Bank in Washington. He also had a successful real estate business which he just recently closed. And he raised race horses in Leesburg, Virginia. He was interested in race horses since he was a kid back in Omaha. One family friend was Jack Van Berg, a horse trainer. And the Fischer’s lived across the street from a race track in Omaha.
He said that owning race horses was financial disaster, but thrilling nevertheless. “There was a game every night. It was the thrill of playing and being involved. It was like having a football game every time I entered a horse in a race. The preparation, the race, the workouts, it was like playing football.”
He also worked for W.J. Hyman and Associates, a company that managed the business interests of Jim Hyman. Fischer noted that Hyman had started Jiffy Lube. “He was a coach at a small college in Baltimore,” said Fischer. “He gathered together the guys that he had on his team and challenged them to start a business. It was Jiffy Lube.” Hyman later sold Jiffy Lube to Pennsoil.
Fischer now lives in Centerville, Virginia. He is currently in a business venture with Ron McDole selling polyurethane paint. The paint is used on bridges.
He is married and has two children — a son, Marty, and a daughter, Allison.