As a Hatfield and a McCoy, Jean Fugett was able to experience both sides of the longstanding rivalry between the Redskins and the Cowboys.
Selected by Dallas in the 13th round, the 338th pick of the 1972 draft, the Amherst tight end realized the odds of making the team were decidedly not in his favor. He, however, had a Plan B. “I had been admitted into Columbia University Law School, and I was waitlisted at Harvard,” said Fugett.
“My brother, Reginald F. Lewis, was always a great advisor to me, and he said, ‘Don’t worry, during the summer the list will go down and you’ll probably get into Harvard. You need to get the best summer job that you can find.’ So I got $2,000 in cash to sign with the Cowboys, and believe me that was the best summer job I could have possibly come up with.”
While that may be true, a summer job that turns into a fulltime job would definitely be better. “The first day you walk in and (Dallas coach) Tom Landry gives you a playbook and said, ‘I can’t teach you where to line up. But if you learn where to line up, I’ll teach you how to play football.’”
“I (became) a second down expert because 1972 was the year when Tom Landry decided to go with Roger Staubach for the first time (as the fulltime starting quarterback),” Fugett said. “You may recall the year prior, Tom used Roger and Craig Morton alternately to send the plays in and out. So the next year, he decided to go with the messenger tight end system, and the messengers were Mike Ditka and myself.”
Did Fugett ever forget the play Landry had called?
“No, but the most interesting time was when Craig Morton changed the play. I brought the play in and Craig said, ‘We can’t run that’ (and) called another play. It didn’t work,” said Fugett.
“We come out and Landry came at me and said, ‘What play did I call?’ I repeated it to him, the play that he called. He said, ‘Well?’ And I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut because I knew that Morton may never throw me a pass again.”
Fugett would be on the receiving end of 58 passes and seven touchdowns during his four seasons with Dallas [1972-75]. Prior to the 1976 season, he became a free agent and was contacted by Washington. Surprising, though, it wasn’t the Redskins.
“I was recruited by the Washington Post as an intern reporter,” Fugett said. “I was the executive editor of Amherst News, so I had a journalism background, and somehow I came to the attention of the Washington Post, which had an affirmative action program seeking to find fine, young African American reporters.
“I was visiting (Cowboys tackle) Rayfield Wright at the Pro Bowl in New Orleans, and they found me and asked if I was interested. So I went to Washington and had an interview, and one of the people who interviewed me was Benjamin Bradlee, who at the time was running the paper. The interview was about my time at Amherst and my time (as an intern reporter) at the Baltimore Sun. And finally, they offered me the opportunity to be a news reporter.”
The move would also offer the Redskins an opportunity to follow the Post’s lead and recruit an experienced player that just happened to live in the neighborhood.
“One of Coach Allen’s assistants contacted my agent and set up a meeting where I met Coach Allen,” said Fugett. “We talked quite a bit about goals. He told me about the Redskins’ goals and asked me about my personal goals.
“And after that he assured me that I could achieve all of my personal football goals and my personal business goals, which at the time was to go to law school and continue working in the media. He assured me that I could do all of that in Washington.”
During four seasons with the Redskins [1976-79], Fugett collected 98 receptions for 21 touchdowns, and was able to experience the rivalry with the Cowboys from the other side.
“Both teams during that ‘70s period knew that one would have to defeat the other just to have the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl.,” Fugett said.
“I’ll never forget my early years in Dallas when we would be working against the Redskins’ nickel defense, which at the time was one of the first so-called nickel defenses. George Allen would take a linebacker out and put in a defensive back. The Cowboys would run plays against that in training camp.
“And the Redskins would work against the Cowboys’ flex defense, which was the defense where the front four alignment of the defensive line, the Bob Lilly position, would be off the line of scrimmage. The flex defense was unique to Dallas, and we would run blocking schemes against that in training camp.
“I wasn’t really ready (to face my former Dallas teammates). Randy White hit me in the back of the head as I was walking back to the huddle. I turned around and said, ‘Randy!’ And he said, ‘Man, you’re a Redskin now.’ So it was interesting and fun at the same time.”