State Your Case: Pat Fischer

Nicknamed "Mouse" but played like a lion

(Published December 2014)

Does the Pro Football Hall of Fame have something against the University of Nebraska?

This is one of college football’s most storied programs. Nebraska ranks fifth all-time in victories and has won five national titles. The College Football Hall of Fame has recognized those achievements, enshrining 16 Nebraska players and six coaches.

But the Pro Football Hall of Fame has been slow to embrace the Cornhuskers. Only three are enshrined in Canton: Coach Guy Chamberlain and offensive tackles Bob Brown and Link Lyman.

Chamberlain last coached in the NFL in 1928, Lyman last played in 1934 and Brown had to wait 26 years for enshrinement and only then as a senior candidate. Brown was named to the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1960s — so Nebraska has had only one enshrinee from the last eight decades.

There have been other worthy candidates, and Mick Tingelhoff could be the school’s second modern-era player enshrined in 2015. He started more games than any player in NFL history at center (240) and also played in six Pro Bowls and four Super Bowls.

Despite his achievements, Tingelhoff has never been discussed as a finalist. Like Brown, his candidacy was resurrected by the senior committee. He has waited 32 years for his first visit to the finals in 2015.

Then there’s Will Shields, who won an Outland Trophy at Nebraska and was named to the NFL all-decade team for the 2000s. He started a franchise-record 223 consecutive games for the Kansas City Chiefs and was selected to 12 Pro Bowls in his 14 seasons. Only five players in NFL history have gone to more Pro Bowls.

Yet Shields has been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame each of the last three years and has been passed over each time. Roger Craig also had a spin in the room as the finalist in 2010, but the committee didn’t warm up to him, either.

At least Brown, Craig and Shields have been discussed as finalists, and Tingelhoff will soon join them with that honor. Pat Fischer has not been as fortunate.

Apparently, longevity runs at the school. Tingelhoff played 240 games, Shields 224 and Fischer 213. That places Fischer seventh all-time among cornerbacks at arguably the NFL’s toughest position. And Fischer did it the hard way — with no size.

At 5-9, 170 pounds, Fisher was nicknamed “Mouse” but played like a lion. He lasted 17 seasons lining up every down against someone bigger than him. But Fischer never lined up against anyone tougher than him.

“I’ve never been hit so hard as when Pat Fischer tackled me,” said Hall-of-Fame halfback Frank Gifford.

“Pat Fischer intimidated me,” added Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff. “He’s probably the one guy I played against that when you came off the line, you’d better know where he was at.”

Fischer played in an era when he was asked to cover players with Olympic speed (Bob Hayes) and basketball size (6-8 Harold Carmichael). But early on he found a way to succeed — as one of the first proponents of the bump-and-run.

There’s some debate where the coverage technique originated in the 1960s — with Fischer or in the AFL with Willie Brown and the Oakland Raiders. But Fischer was the first to use it as a primary coverage tool in the NFL.

Fischer broke in with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1961 as a 17th-round draft pick and played alongside Hall of Famer Larry Wilson, a pioneer of the safety blitz.

When Wilson blitzed, that left a hole in the secondary that quarterbacks could exploit with quick passes before the pass rush arrived. Fischer needed to devise a plan to combat those quick passes — and he did so by jamming the receivers at the line, taking them out of their route and thus eliminating those quick throws. He bumped them and then ran with them.

“Pat was tough as nails,” added Hall-of-Fame safety Ken Houston, who played with Fischer in Washington. “He was a special breed.”

But there was more to the Fischer package than toughness. There was ability. He intercepted 56 passes, including 10 in 1964. Even though he has not played since 1977, Fischer still ranks eighth among pure corners interceptions. His 16 fumble recoveries also are a record for NFL cornerbacks.

Does Pat Fischer belong in the Hall of Fame? That’s open to debate. But he certainly should have been discussed as a finalist by now — and that’s not open to debate. Pat Fischer’s case needs to be heard.


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