Ms. Fitz's Boys

Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Angus Lind

When more than 160 former Tulane University football players from all over the country gathered at the Wilson Athletic Center one recent Friday evening, they represented more than 730 who played for the Green Wave during the 35 years football secretary Lurlyn Fitzpatrick worked for 13 head coaches.

It was a night to honor Ms. Fitz, as she is known to all, with the announcement that the players who refer to themselves as "Ms. Fitz's Boys" plan to raise $1 million in her name with the formation of the Ms. Fitz Football Endowment Fund.

"We were 18-year-old kids walking into old Tulane Stadium, we were lonesome, missed our families, and there was this lady in her office who made us feel comfortable in a new environment," said Abbeville's Bobby Duhon, 1967 team quarterback and co-captain with safety Jim Jancik. "She typed everybody's term papers on an old-fashioned typewriter. She was like Mother Confessor, and if you got into trouble with one of the coaches, she'd go talk to him and tell him to give you another chance."

Duhon -- who became a stockbroker after his playing days with the New York Giants -- and the committee heading up the fundraising still have strong ties to this beloved motherly figure who is nearing 90.

"I can't remember yesterday, but she still has a mind like a steel trap. She remembers names, faces, things that happened while we were there, everything," said Duhon, who lives in Atlanta. "She listened to our problems and never expected anything from anyone."

Wide receiver Alton Alexis, who played for the Wave from 1976-79 and is also a committee member, said that after he left Tulane, Ms. Fitz was "the glue that kept every generation of players connected with updates on former players' whereabouts and their successes."

On the Tulane Athletics Web site (tulanegreenwave.cstv.com) there is a link under "Support the Wave" that provides information about the fund and Ms. Fitz, and, coming soon, oral histories and photos from the past. Running back and punter Lloyd Pye and wife, Amy, plan to put together a coffee table book with stories and photos, a copy of which will be given to each former player who participates in the fund drive.

"Some guys have been luckier in life, and if they can't contribute financially they can send in some memorabilia or stories and be just as big a part of this as anyone else," Duhon said.

The idea is for the principal capital in the fund to remain in perpetuity and the interest it earns to go to the Tulane football operating budget each year. Fitzpatrick, who remembers when Tulane's weight room was three iron barbells and about six iron weights, got involved with Tulane in 1964 when she went looking for a part-time job to occupy her time while her children went to school in her Uptown neighborhood. When the powers-that-be found out she could type almost 90 words a minutes, she was immediately hired . . . at $2.50 an hour. The head coach was Tommy O'Boyle and she set up shop in the office of assistant coach Jack Orsley, the recruiting coordinator, where the football offices were housed under the West Side seats of Tulane Stadium on Willow Street.

On the night of the endowment fund announcement, Ms. Fitz was thrilled that David Hebert, one of Tulane's best defensive backs, came all the way in from California to see her, as did Alton Alexis from Fort Worth, Texas, and his brother James Alexis, who also played here.

"They all said they wouldn't have done it for anyone else," said Ms. Fitz, who these days works at Holy Name of Jesus School. "It was the nicest thing; it was really very flattering. They made me feel great, and to see so many people I haven't seen in so long was special."

Jancik came in for the gathering from Atlanta, and Fitzpatrick recalled how rocky the beginning was for him at Tulane.

"Jim's father and sister had just died, he was from a small town in Texas, and he had second thoughts about coming, but his mom told him he couldn't pass up the opportunity. In his senior year, we had four straight home games and back then parents could stay a few days in this special housing for them at about $6 a night, but not for that long," she said.

"He asked me if his mom could stay at my house and I told him yes but I couldn't be a hostess because I had to work. It was so wonderful. She cooked, ironed my clothes, and when it was time for her to go, my kids said, 'Mrs. Jancik, please don't leave.' "

Fitzpatrick's favorite head coaches were Buddy Teevens ("such a gentleman"), and then Jim Pittman and Mack Brown.

"Jim would come in and put his feet up on my desk and just shoot the breeze, the kids loved Mack, and Buddy for Christmas one year gave me some scratch memo pads with 'Mrs. Fitz -- The Real Head Coach' printed on them," she said. She sees the latter every year when he comes in to work with the Manning Passing Academy and they go out to dinner.

"When I started, it was wonderful fun. It was so relaxed -- for half the time I was there -- and then it started turning into a business," she said. "It was still good, just different."

At halftime of the game with the University of Alabama Birmingham at the Superdome the weekend of the recent gathering, she walked out onto the playing field with "her boys" and was recognized.

"That was great -- just the boys and me," she said.

"There were so many wonderful years and wonderful memories. I enjoyed every minute I was there."