By JOEY MARTIN
Special to the LSWA
LSU sophomore Max Fugler stood silently under the Tiger Stadium goal post, head down and hands on hips on that hot, humid night of September 21, 1957. His Tiger team just lost its season-opener to Rice, 20-14.
Fugler remembers teammate Tommy Davis walking up to him and consoling him and asking if he was all right.
“You don’t understand.” Fugler said. “I’m not used to losing a game.”
Make that a total of four games over the previous five years.
Fugler’s Ferriday High football team finished 10-3 in 1952 in his freshman year, and lost only one game over the next three years. He and Frank Brocato were the lone Bulldogs to letter five years as both played as eighth-graders.
In Fugler’s sophomore season at Ferriday High, the Bulldogs lost their 1953 season-opener 20-19 to Westlake, a team that would go on to win the Class A state championship.
Ferriday, which won the Class B state title that year, went on a state record streak of not losing a game for 54 straight contests, following up the Class B state title with three straight Class A state championships.
“It seems like only yesterday, but I know it was more than 60 years ago,” Fugler said. “The birthdays do still come around. (Fugler will be 82 in August). Right now I’m just glad to be anywhere.”
Saturday, June 8, he’ll be in Natchitoches, taking his place among other LSU greats and some former Tiger teammates, along with his high school and college coaches, in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. The sold-out ceremony is carried live on Cox Sports Television. For information on the June 6-8 Induction Celebration, visit LaSportsHall.com or call 318-238-4255.
Fugler, Ferriday High’s first prep All-American, played on high school and college teams that combined to go 68-8-0.
Max also had the fortune of playing under Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame 2002 inductee Johnny Robertson, who took over as head coach at Ferriday in 1951.
“Coach Robertson was way ahead of his time,” Fugler said. “When he arrived it was a 360 degrees turnaround times five. And that’s nothing against the previous coaches. They credit Forrest Evashevski at Iowa with starting the wing T. We were running that in high school.”
Winning 54 games was an achievement unmatched for decades.
“Toward the middle of the run I began thinking about the streak,” Fugler said. “Every game we played was just as important as any other game. But we didn’t want the streak to end.”
Fugler’s championship collection did not end at Ferriday. In 1958, as a junior, Fugler played a major role in LSU winning its first national championship under coach Paul Dietzel, another Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame member.
Fugler earned LSU’s Iron Man Award in that championship season, leading the team in minutes played—more than 35 minutes a game, both ways—in the days of platoon football.
“I just loved to hit people and I never wanted to be at a game sitting on the bench,” he said.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Fugler had a lot of offers as a senior at Ferriday, some he didn’t know about until later.
“My mom had thrown a lot of them away because Abner Wimberly, who was an assistant coach at LSU, told her to,” Fugler said. “I was blessed to have a lot of offers.”
Fugler visited Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
“I really liked Darrell Royal when he was at Mississippi State, and Johnny Vaught at Ole Miss,” Fugler said. “But I was from Ferriday, so why would I go to Starkville or Oxford? I wanted my mother to be able to see me play. She had seen all my games up to that point. I also loved the oilfield and LSU had a great petroleum engineering program.”
Fugler played most of his career at center and linebacker. He also stayed busy on special teams.
“He loved being on punt returns because he liked being able to get a good block on somebody,” Robertson said.
Fugler also saw time as a fullback as a freshman at LSU because Doug Skinner of Minden was so good on the line he forced Fugler into the backfield. Skinner was left behind on a road trip as punishment midway through the season and went home, never to return. Fugler was moved back to the offensive line.
“We had to separate them because you can’t have two really good football players at the same position,” Dietzel said at the time of the switch. “Max was very versatile and played really well. I don’t think his ability lended itself at fullback as much as an offensive lineman.”
In his brief stint at fullback, Fugler scored a touchdown on a short run.
“I can say I scored a touchdown at LSU before Billy Cannon,” he said, grinning.
In a 62-0 romp over Tulane in the 1958 regular season finale, Fugler cut in front of the Tulane left end to intercept a Richie Petibon pass at the Wave 40 and returned it down to the 30. Eight plays later, Warren Rabb scored to put the Tigers up 12-0 early in the third quarter.
“That seemed to pick up the team’s spirits and the rest is history,” Fugler said.
Dietzel said Fugler was an outstanding linebacker.
“He had great speed and range,” Dietzel said. “When he got to a running back, he knew what to do. He was a fierce tackler and competitor.”
Fugler is best known at LSU for making all four tackles on a goal line stand against Ole Miss on Nov. 1, 1958 in a 14-0 Tiger win. It was five tackles if you count the fact Fugler tackled quarterback Bobby Franklin on one play when he pitched the ball to Charlie Flowers.
“Everybody asks about those plays,” Fugler said. “Coach McClendon (then defensive coach and later the Tigers’ head coach Charlie McClendon) had me calling defensive signals and we were in a seven-man front. He told me to stay where I was and keep doing what I was doing.”
Kent Lovelace gave Ole Miss first and goal at the LSU 2 on a running play.
On first down, Franklin carried the ball within a foot of the goal line. LSU was offsides on the play, but Ole Miss declined the penalty.
“I said, ‘Alleluia,'” Fugler said. “I didn’t want to give them another down. They had a fine offensive unit and they had to prove they could do it.”
On second down, Lovelace went off tackle. End Billy Hendrix, tackle Lynn LeBlanc, and Fugler stuffed him for no gain.
“I knew which way they were going by looking at the quarterback’s feet,” Fugler said.
Fugler added he and Hendrix had a scheme called music and lightning: if Fugler said “Music” it meant Hendrix was going hard from the outside and Fugler would take the middle, and if Fugler called out “Lightning” it meant Fugler was blitzing.
“If we didn’t say anything, then neither one of us would crash in,” he said.
On third-and-a-foot, Flowers tried the middle and was stopped just short of the line of scrimmage by Fugler, who was named National Lineman of the Week for his efforts against the Rebels that night.
On fourth down, Ole Miss opted not to try the field goal, but sent Lovelace off tackle where Cannon hit him first and Fugler dropped him for a one-yard loss.
“After we stopped them the final time I went to center and I was like, ‘What are we going to do now? We have the ball on the 1-foot line.'”
Fugler said he knew the 1958 team was good, but didn’t know it was that good.
“I think we owe a lot to Marty Broussard, who was the athletic trainer,” Fugler said. “We never went into a game not at full strength because we had no major injuries and all our minor injuries were over in a hurry.”
Fugler was named Look Magazine All-American and All-SEC.
“It was great to be an All-American, but that whole unit could have made it,” Fugler said.
Fugler believes LSU should have won two straight national titles.
In 1959, with Fugler now at a 217-pound playing weight, the Tigers went 9-1, their only loss to Tennessee, 14-13 in Knoxville.
“I am more disappointed with how we lost that game,” Fugler said. “We beat them everywhere but on the scoreboard. On the winning score, they were holding me and Billy Hendrix. The guy had his hands hooked in my pants. There was some serious home cooking. We would have been the first team to win the national championships back-to-back since Notre Dame.”
Third-ranked LSU lost to Ole Miss 21-0 in the Sugar Bowl.
Fugler said he voted against playing Ole Miss a second time.
“When you beat somebody 7-3 on a run like Cannon’s there has to be a little bit of luck involved,” he said. “Once you beat somebody that close, you better be happy about it.”
Fugler was the 10th pick in the eighth round, selected by the San Francisco 49ers as the 94th overall player taken in the 1960 NFL Draft. He aspired to play in the AFL, though.
“I knew I wanted to get into the oil business, so I wanted to play for the Dallas Texans, who later became the Kansas City Chiefs,” Fugler said. “(Oilman) Lamar Hunt owned them. I didn’t go there because they didn’t have an injury clause.”
That was a prudent choice. Fugler’s NFL career ended in his rookie year when he injured a knee while making a block against Cleveland.
“My foot was planted in the grass and I knew it was bad, but I didn’t think it was career ending,” Fugler said. “When you’re 22 years old you don’t think like that, but two days after that I knew it. Dr. Francis Cox came in and said he was sorry. I asked him what did he do, operate on the wrong leg? He told me I had torn two cartilages and the two ligaments separating them.”
The New Orleans Saints began their franchise in 1968, and Saints head coach Tom Fears called Fugler four times, offering him a contract.
“I told him, ‘Coach, I am crippled and don’t want to be crippled for life,’” Fugler said.
Fugler said he doesn’t spend time thinking of what might have been.
“I don’t worry about such things as burning bridges, because I don’t ever plan to retreat,” he said.
Between his junior and senior years at LSU, Fugler took a summer job with a Houston oil company. He then formed his own oil-service company, Gammaloy, Inc., which he operated for 31 years before selling it to Tom Hicks, owner of the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars.
Fugler now works for Omega West in Spring, Texas, his adopted hometown. A man who rarely left the field as a football player can’t accept taking time off from the daily grind, even in his later years.
“I’ll have all the time to sleep when I am dead,” he said. “I only take a day off when I am fishing.”