If Pat Fischer had paid heed to his critics (and even some friends) when he graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1961, he would have taken refuge in banker’s gray instead of football knickers. They were positive Fischer’s skinny 5’9″, 170-pound body soon would be layered into the sod by pro football’s human steamrollers. Now a Washington Redskins star at 35, he has not only clearly survived, he ranks as one of the oldest starters in the NFL. Even more remarkable, the mildewing Fischer plays defensive back, a position which calls for catlike quickness and spectacular agility—the average defensive back in the pros burns out in seven years or so.
“I can’t explain how I’ve done it,” says the game’s most durable munchkin, who supplements his meals with Nutrament, a chalky vitamin-fortified liquid, to maintain what heft he has. “I just go out and do it. It’s instinctive.” What he does, with deceptive ease, is tackle as viciously as men half again his weight and intercept passes as adroitly as defenders five inches taller.
From his earliest days in pro football, Fischer has felt compelled, as many small players do, to compensate for his size and comparative slowness with sly aggression. His slickest trick is to work his hands subtly but vigorously over a potential receiver, a no-no that Fischer violates with extraordinary skill. “We don’t even try to throw into his area,” Dallas Coach Tom Landry once said. “It’s a real dogfight for a receiver to beat out Fischer.” Selected by the St. Louis Cardinals as a 17th-round astigmatic, also-ran in the draft, rookie Fischer was noticed in training camp primarily because the Cardinals couldn’t find a uniform small enough to fit him. In desperation, they hunted up some college equipment. But later his dumping of the team’s star running back, John David Crow, earned him a berth on the team, and within the year he was a starter.
Fischer’s pulverizing tackles nearly finished him in 1972, after he moved to Washington. He ruptured a disc in his lower back. “I thought that was the end,” he remembers. But surgeons pieced him back together and Pat has been sidelined only once since—for a sprained knee earlier this season.
The fourth of six boys, Fischer was raised in St. Edward, Nebr. (pop. 950) and weaned on football talk. His three older brothers played for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and brother Cletus, also 170 pounds, played halfback position for the New York Giants in 1949. Pat, the most talented of the Fischer brood, has been named all-pro three times. His 50 pass interceptions rank him second among active defensive backs.
Off the field, Fischer’s pursuits are almost genteel. He is, of all things, a poetry lover and has been known to soothe himself during a game by silently reciting Kipling or George L. Scarborough’s To the Men Who Lose. “I’m a very nervous guy,” he says. “I have to have something to relax me.”
Once a cheerful man-about-town, Fischer settled down three years ago and married Carol Caputo, a former University of Maryland cheerleader. They now live in a three-bedroom stone ranch house in the horse country of Virginia. “It’s just a better place to raise kids,” he says. So far he and Carol have one—23-month-old Allison.
The house puts Pat near his business interests—a Thoroughbred breeding operation, where he is a part owner, and a bank, where he is an executive trainee. But Fischer is in no hurry to hang up his cleats. “Some day I’ll retire,” he says airily, “but not until I can’t take care of my little corner of the football field.”