I just noticed on the Steelers’ official Twitter feed a birthday message to Frenchy Fuqua. And the mention of his name instantly took me back four decades.
It was either 1973 or 1974, after the Immaculate Reception (Fuqua had a fairly important role in the play) but before Pittsburgh’s first Super Bowl win. The Steelers’ traveling offseason basketball team came to town, playing a collection of local slappies at the then-Wheeling College (now Wheeling Jesuit University) field house situated a short walk across a footbridge from the neighborhood where I was raised.
I was either seven or eight when my dad took me see the game. Among the players was the man named John but known as Frenchy, who wore platform shoes with live goldfish in the see-through acrylic heels.
After the game, the players were mobbed by kids and parents who wanted the game program to be autographed, at a time when autographs were harvested not for profit but pride. My dad got us within range of Fuqua, who took the program and my dad’s pen and signed the program and handed it back and then kept signing other programs with the same pen.
And then for some reason what my dad said next has stuck in my mind, for either 39 or 40 years: “Mr. Fuqua! That’s my pen!”
My dad rarely ever said all that much, so for him to say those words to a non-NFL player would have been well out of character. For him to say it to the Frenchy Fuqua — in a very respectful but forceful way — showed me at a young age that there’s no reason to be afraid to say anything to anyone.
And, yes, Frenchy surrendered the pen.
So happy birthday, Mr. Fuqua. If I knew your address, I’d send you a whole box of PFT pens.