One of the first things NFL players do when taking the field is size up their opponent.
They look to see how they will fare that day given their opponent’s size, speed, and reputation.
For many receivers in the 1960s and 70s, one look at Pat Fischer gave them a confidence boost.
Pat Fischer pic.twitter.com/3kM3TmkFRj
— ᑭᖇO ᖴOOTᗷᗩᒪᒪ ᒍOᑌᖇᑎᗩᒪ 🏈 (@NFL_Journal) February 23, 2022
Fischer was known as “Mouse” during his playing days for one reason.
He was 5’9” on a good day and was usually smaller than the man he lined up across.
However, experienced vets knew better than to doubt Fischer.
They understood that what Fischer lacked in size, he more than made up for in smarts, fearlessness, and basic knowledge of the game.
Many an opponent crossed paths with the mouse only to find themselves on their backsides.
Fischer was not one to be denied his goals, whether it was tackling a large running back or being one of the best defensive backs in the game.
This is the story of Pat Fischer.
A Family of Football Players
Patrick “Pat” Fischer was born on January 2, 1940, in the tiny town of Edward, Nebraska.
— Ken Crippen (@KenCrippen) January 2, 2017
He was one of nine children, six of whom were boys.
Four of his older brothers played football and young Patrick attended many of their games, waiting for his opportunity to suit up.
By the time he reached Oakland High School, Fischer was already the little engine that could.
In addition to playing baseball and basketball, he played both ways for the football team.
“I played both ways at Oakland, halfback, and cornerback,” said Fischer. “We had to play both ways because there were only 22 kids on the roster.”
The lack of available bodies meant that Fischer had to be in great shape, stay healthy, and not back down from anyone.
That wasn’t a problem for someone who grew up in a competitive household.
“My attitude and everything I know about football comes from growing up in a family of very competitive young people,” said Fischer.
When he was a junior in high school, his family moved outside of Omaha, Nebraska and Pat attended Westside High School.
His tenacious play endeared Fischer to his new teammates and he would eventually become an All-State selection in 1956.
As graduation loomed, a number of area colleges expressed interest.
However, the University of Nebraska was a second home to the Fischer family and Pat became a Cornhusker.
“Where else am I going to go with my brothers coaching and playing there,” said Fischer.
Fischer Provides a Spark
When Fischer arrived in Lincoln, the University of Nebraska wasn’t known for having a strong football program.
The Cornhuskers were quite a few decades removed from the Dana Bible days and it would be a few more years before Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne put Nebraska football on the map.
Freshmen were not eligible to play at the time so Fischer didn’t see his first action until his sophomore year in 1958.
Just as he did at Oakland High School, Fischer played several positions for the ‘Huskers.
In 1958, he was a starting halfback, a part-time quarterback, a defensive back, and played on special teams.
“When we played single wing, I was the tailback. When we moved into the T-formation, I played quarterback and that was a disaster,” Fischer quipped. “I couldn’t throw the football well.”
As a kick returner, Fischer averaged 33.6 yards per return and 15.4 yards on punt returns.
That season, he also had his first collegiate interception.
The following year, Nebraska continued to lose regularly until a Halloween showdown against 19th-ranked Oklahoma.
1959 Nebraska vs Oklahoma..smallest player in the starting line-up 5-9 166 lbs, Pat Fischer.
— Paul Jake Jacobsen (@HuskerTapes) April 18, 2014
The Sooners rarely lost, especially to the Cornhuskers.
But that day there was just enough magic in the air that Fischer and the ‘Huskers tripped up their conference rival 25-21.
“It was a thrilling game,” said Fischer. “The Nebraska fans tore down the goal post, we got a couple of days off and they closed the school to celebrate.”
Fischer was everywhere in 1959 and was second on the team in total offensive yards with 348 yards.
He also played a few downs at receiver and caught a touchdown.
Factoring in his return duties on special teams, Fischer led the Cornhuskers in all-purpose yardage (737).
In Fischer’s three years as a starter, Nebraska only won a combined 11 games.
He wasn’t the problem, however.
That season, in an attempt to provide more offense, Fischer (named team captain before the year) started at quarterback.
The results weren’t great, as he completed only nine of his passes for 161 yards, one touchdown, and an unsightly six picks.
Where Fischer thrived was as a runner and he plowed through defenders for 381 yards.
In addition to leading the program with five touchdowns, Fischer also led in total offense (542) and all-purpose yardage (953) for the third year in a row.
Top 5 NFL players from Nebraska -Will Shields, Bob Brown, Roger Craig, Pat Fischer, Mick Tingelhoff ( http://bit.ly/cBNWl )
— Huskers Gameday (@HuskersGameday) August 15, 2009
During a game against Oklahoma State in 1960, Fischer returned a punt 84 yards for a score.
That set a team record that would last for more than a decade.
In his final game as a Husker, Fischer helped Nebraska beat the Sooners for the second straight year, 17-14, at Oklahoma.
He was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 1974.
Late Round Draft Pick
Fischer’s exploits at Nebraska were legendary. Unfortunately, NFL teams weren’t exactly gushing over his talent.
A few pro personnel later admitted they liked Fischer’s versatility and toughness, but his size was a concern.
Almost as an afterthought, the St. Louis Cardinals drafted Fischer with the 232nd overall pick in the 17th round of the 1961 NFL Draft.
Happy birthday to former Cards All-Pro CB Pat Fischer who picked off 18 passes in '63/'64. Fischer was a 17th round draft choice out of Nebraska and played 18 seasons with the Cards and Redskins. Should be in the Hall of Fame. #BigRed1960s pic.twitter.com/EIylBmB3Jr
— St. Louis Football Cardinals (@BigRed_STL) January 2, 2021
He was also drafted by the Dallas Texans of the American Football League.
Fischer decided to try and make it in the NFL and go to the AFL if he was cut by the Cards.
After arriving at training camp, he was placed at cornerback to see what he could do.
In his first scrimmage, he picked off a pass and returned it 90 yards for a score.
The Cardinals coaches were impressed with what Fischer brought to the position and he made the team.
During his first two years, Fischer started 10 out of 24 games and spent a lot of time on special teams.
He would also collect three total interceptions.
Fischer was still a fringe player for the Cards in 1963 and it wasn’t certain that he would make the squad.
Finally given the opportunity, Fischer proved he belonged when he started every game and led the team with eight interceptions.
In 1964, the NFL world became even more acquainted with Fischer when he finished the year with 10 interceptions—good for second most in the NFL that year—and two picks for touchdowns, which was the most in the league.
That led to his first Pro Bowl selection and a selection as a first-team All-Pro.
Maybe *you* need a face mask on your helmet, but not Pat Fischer of the Cardinals. pic.twitter.com/cEHqqRlr1j
— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) October 14, 2016
He was also voted the team’s MVP.
Meanwhile, the Cards were making their way through a 9-3-2 regular season and a Playoff Bowl victory over the Green Bay Packers.
It was the first postseason appearance for the franchise since 1948.
During a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers that year, Fischer took a fumble to the house for the game-winning score.
“I didn’t do much,” he told the St. Louis Post Dispatch after the game. “I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time, caught the ball, and ran into the end zone.”
The 1965 season saw Fischer return to the Pro Bowl after grabbing three picks and a fumble recovery.
He was also named a second-team All-Pro.
It’s All About Leverage
Despite an uneven record, the Cards had a formidable secondary.
In addition to Fischer, St. Louis also had Larry Wilson at safety.
Wilson had become adept at the safety blitz, catching quarterbacks off-guard who weren’t expecting a defensive back in their faces.
Eventually, opposing quarterbacks got better at recognizing Wilson’s blitzes and exploited his absence in the secondary with a well-timed pass.
To counter, Chuck Drulis, the Cards’ defensive coordinator, had Fischer play “bump and run” with his man.
At the time, NFL rules permitted defensive backs to make contact with receivers the entire length of the field.
By 1965 it was no longer legal in the #NFL to grab a guy's facemask, but you could still horse-collar him, by God. Here's Pat Fischer, the #Cardinals' Pro Bowl CB, doing it to the #Steelers' WR Clendon Thomas. pic.twitter.com/MlkM02q1AM
— Dan Daly (@dandalyonsports) November 7, 2019
That suited Fischer’s game perfectly as he could use his size to bump receivers off their route and slow down the opponent’s timing in their passing game.
Fischer was also adept at using his size to tackle larger opponents.
Whenever a monstrous ball carrier came in his direction, Fischer simply lowered his frame, grabbed a leg, and drove through the player.
“Stay low, keep my head up and when I make contact, lift and take at least one of his legs away from him,” Fischer said in an NFL Films video about his “one leg up” tackling technique. “If I get him off the ground with one leg, I’m gonna win the war… because now he doesn’t have any power. What he has to have is both legs driving in order for him to run over me.”
Fischer Heads to Washington
In 1966, Fischer suffered from injuries that limited him to just seven games.
He also had an ongoing dispute with coach Charley Winner that was never resolved.
After starting every game in 1967 and grabbing four interceptions that included one for a touchdown, Fischer decided not to return to St. Louis.
His contract with the organization was up and Fischer didn’t want to return with Winner in charge.
Initially, he was going to retire and finish his degree at Nebraska.
Instead, Washington Redskins coach Otto Graham came calling.
Graham wanted Fischer to provide veteran leadership on his team and Fischer accepted.
For the next three years, the Redskins cycled through three different head coaches including the legendary Vince Lombardi.
37 days until the NFL, you guys. (Pat Fischer) pic.twitter.com/A5xWUB56sQ
— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) July 31, 2018
None of them could get Washington past seven wins.
Fischer did what he could, picking up two interceptions each year from 1968 through 1970.
He was voted to his third Pro Bowl after the ‘69 season and was also a first-team All-Pro.
George Allen and the ‘72 Redskins
In 1971, former LA Rams head coach George Allen was hired as Washington’s new coach.
He immediately instilled a winning formula into the franchise and willed the team to a 9-4-1 record and playoff berth.
The postseason was a rarity for Redskins fans.
In fact, the last time the organization had been in the playoffs was in 1945.
Fischer thrived under the change of leadership and had three interceptions for 103 return yards and a touchdown.
Washington continued to play well in 1972 and won 11 games for the first time in team history with a group of players who averaged 31 years of age.
“He (Allen) 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 X’s and O’s. 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.”
The “Over the Hill Gang” continued to surprise opponents as they marched through the playoffs, beating the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys in the first two rounds by a combined score of 42-6.
° 1972 NFC CHAMPIONSHIP °
Washington crushes the Cowboys at RFK, 26-3, for their first NFL/NFC title in 30 years.
Billy Kilmer hits Charley Taylor for 2 TDs, Curt Knight boots four FGs, and George Allen's "Over The Hill Gang" defense allows 8 first downs/169 total yds. pic.twitter.com/QJUvSuFvUq
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) January 1, 2022
In Super Bowl VII against the Miami Dolphins, the Redskins didn’t score until just two minutes remained in the game.
Miami did just enough against Fischer and the Washington defense to win the game 14-7 and become the first undefeated team in NFL history.
Fischer vs. Carmichael
As the 1970s progressed, Fischer began an annual tradition of going head-to-head with one of the biggest challenges of his career.
In 1971, the Philadelphia Eagles drafted Harold Carmichael from Southern University.
Carmichael was the tallest receiver in NFL history at 6’8”.
When he became a regular starter for the Eagles in 1973, Carmichael was consistently covered by Fischer.
Since the Eagles and Redskins were in the same conference, that meant fans were treated to Fischer versus Carmichael twice a year.
Pat Fischer turned 82 today…..Pat was one of the best Cornerbacks of his era and a pivotal member of George Allen's "Over the Hill Gang" pic.twitter.com/J0LUcL2CAM
— PolyesterPalace (@PolyesterPalace) January 3, 2022
Despite the height mismatch, Fischer always played Carmichael well.
However, Carmichael wasn’t the most difficult receiver Fischer defended.
That distinction belonged to “Bullet” Bob Hayes of the Cowboys.
Hayes had competed as a sprinter in the 1964 Olympics and brought that speed with him to the NFL.
When facing Hayes, Fischer abandoned the bump and run.
“I didn’t use the bump and run against Hayes,” said Fischer. “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.”
In 1975, Fischer was involved in one of the oddest calls in league history.
During the closing minutes of a game against his former team, Cardinals quarterback Jim Hart threw a quick pass to receiver Mel Gray in the end zone.
Fischer was covering Gray and hammered him just as the ball arrived.
Gray had the ball for a moment and then dropped it when Fischer made contact with him.
Surprisingly, what should have been ruled incomplete was eventually called a touchdown.
— St. Louis Football Cardinals (@BigRed_STL) January 30, 2017
The score tied the game and St. Louis would win in overtime.
The play has been forever called the “Phantom Catch.”
By 1976, all the years of collisions, bumping, and running were beginning to take their toll.
In ‘76, Fischer pulled down five interceptions for 38 return yards as Washington went to the playoffs again and lost in the Divisional round to Minnesota.
— Ken Gelman (@kengfunk) July 4, 2017
The following season, a nagging disc injury in his back limited Fischer to just three games.
For the first time since his rookie year, Fischer did not record an interception.
After the 1977 season ended, Fischer had surgery to try and repair the disc, but by then there was too much damage to the area to continue playing.
He reluctantly retired from the game he loved.
“If it wasn’t for that, I would have played until they took my helmet away from me,” said Fischer.
During his 17-year career, Fischer had a total of 56 interceptions for 941 return yards and four touchdowns.
He also had 19 fumble recoveries including one returned for a score.
Fischer was a three-time Pro Bowler, a two-time first-team All-Pro, and a two-time second-team All-Pro.
He also played in 213 games as a cornerback, which was an NFL record.
He would later become one of the 80 Greatest Redskins and would be added to the Washington Commanders Ring of Fame.
Life After Retirement
Once Fischer left football it seemed like he never took a day off.
For the next few decades, he worked in banking and real estate, and dabbled with the stock market.
His longtime interest in horses inspired him to get involved in raising and training horses for racing.
Despite the fact that he lost quite a bit of money racing horses, he enjoyed the thrill of competition.
“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,” Fischer said in 2008.
In the meantime, he enjoyed spending time with his wife and two children, Marty and Allison.
Happy 82nd Birthday to Pat Fischer!
St. Louis Cardinals (1961–1967)
Washington Redskins (1968–1977)
🏈 Games played = 213
🏈 Interceptions = 56
🏈 Interceptions yds = 941
🏈 TD = 4
⭐ 3× Pro Bowl (1964, 1965, 1969)
— JVAN (@VanderlansJim) January 2, 2022
Unfortunately, since 2014, Fischer has lived in an assisted living home where he is suffering from the effects of dementia.
He is currently 82 years old.
Although he may have lost his memory, Fischer is remembered by a legion of fans for his talents and for letting the world see that no matter your size, you should never give up on your dreams.