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Catching Up With ... Cardinal Gibbons, NFL wide receiver Jean Fugett

This is Jean Fugett, an attorney and former NFL player. He played for the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys.
This is Jean Fugett, an attorney and former NFL player. He played for the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

Jean Fugett was a rookie tight end that night in October 1972 when, after defeating the Baltimore Colts, 21-0 at Memorial Stadium, he and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys boarded the team bus. Suddenly, a Baltimore woman fought her way down the aisle and approached coach Tom Landry.

"Hi coach, I'm Carolyn Fugett and I want you to take care of my son," she said.

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Jean Fugett never heard the end of it.

"That was one long plane ride back to Dallas," he said.

Family is everything to Fugett, a graduate of Cardinal Gibbons who played eight years in the NFL. Now 63, he lives in West Baltimore, cares for his parents at their home in Randallstown and dotes on his wife of 29 years and their three children, one of whom, Audie, married Orioles outfielder Adam Jones last year. When they started dating, Fugett wasn't thrilled.

"I discouraged that relationship," he said. "Audie was in law school and I thought, I don't want my daughter seeing a ballplayer, I want her dating a serious professional. Well, I didn't know how serious a professional Adam was."

Fugett is also writing his memoirs, the tale of a straight-arrow city kid who grew up a pioneer for his race during the turbulent 1960s. At Gibbons (now closed) he became the first African American to be named Baltimore Catholic Athlete of the Year. Basketball was his game; football, an afterthought. In 1968 Fugett, a 6-foot-3 forward, had 33 points and 20 rebounds in a 69-65 upset of Catholic power Mount Saint Joseph. As a junior he averaged nearly 20 points a game, but knew his prospects lay elsewhere.

"Once I watched the Bullets practice and, when (guard) Earl Monroe walked past and stood taller than me, I knew my future in basketball was over," he said.

As a senior, he first played varsity football after defeating the track team's sprinters in an impromptu foot race.

"Football coach Bob Patzwall told me, 'Dude, your future is with a ball with points on it,'" he said.

Fugett suited up and, in his first game, caught nine passes for 143 yards and a touchdown in Gibbons' 32-0 victory over Andover (Anne Arundel County).

At Amherst, he made Little All-American and set several New England College Division receiving records. He also served as editor of the school paper and president of the Afro American Society. Asked to join the Young Republicans, whose members included classmate David Eisenhower, son of the former president, Fugett declined.

"I told them, 'We don't have any Republicans in Maryland," he said. In hindsight, Fugett believes that if he'd joined, "I could have been (Supreme Court justice) Clarence Thomas."

Selected by Dallas in the 13th round of the 1972 NFL draft, Fugett spent four years there but didn't play much.

"I learned a lot of football from Landry but that was the only damn thing that was good about it," he said. "Discrimination? Things moved more slowly in Texas."

When white players bragged about making extra money from speaking engagements, Fugett asked a Cowboys' official why black players weren't included.

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"Do you want to speak?" the official said.

"Hell, yes," Fugett said.

The team sent him to talk to a group in Sherman, Texas, When he got there, Fugett found he'd walked into a revival meeting.

"I stumbled through it and collected my $200," he said. "Back in Dallas, the Cowboys asked how it went. I said, 'Great, when's the next one?' But I was madder than a wet hen."

A free agent in 1976, Fugett signed with Washington and, a year later, led all Redskins receivers with 36 catches and made the Pro Bowl. At night he attended law school at George Washington and earned his degree in 1981, a year after he left football. He retired with 156 receptions for 2,270 yards and 28 touchdowns.

He practiced law, did CBS football broadcasts and had a D.C.-based sports radio talk show. For a time, after the death in 1993 of his half-brother, Reginald Lewis, Fugett ran TLC Beatrice International, an international food conglomerate that Lewis had built.

Still to come on Fugett's bucket list: A book that would celebrate the stories of the first black football players to compete at every major college.

"Every school should honor" those men, Fugett said, "because of what [they] had to go through."

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