A few months later Fenerty underwent more tests. "We did the arteriograms, CAT scans and myelograms again. They were all normal," says neurologist Vincent Birbiglia. "The significance was that there was no underlying structural or vascular abnormality that would be likely to rupture again. I didn't think Gill was at any greater risk of having this occur than any other player."
So Fenerty decided to resume his football career. "I'm not stupid," he says. "If the doctors felt there was a realistic chance of this happening again, I would have hung it up right there. But the game has given me so many opportunities, like paying for my education and offering me the chance to see other countries, I just didn't want to quit before I had to."
Fenerty, who is the second of Frank and Eileen Fenerty's three children, grew up in New Orleans. Frank, an attorney who believed in the importance of a good education, enrolled Gill at Jesuit High School, where he took an accelerated curriculum and played football. He pursued other extracurricular activities, too. Fenerty wasn't highly recruited, and he accepted a scholarship offer from nearby LSU in 1981. "Gill was a good player, but he wasn't what you would call a national recruit," says LSU recruiting coordinator Sam Nader. "He was promising. He played on special teams in his first game as a true freshman."
But a short time after that opening game, against Alabama, Fenerty dropped out of school. "I didn't feel like a student at LSU," he says. "Football was stressed much more than the academics. I remember touring the campus on the day that I left, and I was thinking. Man. there's so much here that I haven't seen. I've always known what's best for me. and LSU just wasn't it."
Fenerty returned home and took a job in a machine shop. That winter he enrolled at the University of New Orleans and got in touch with some 20 collegiate football programs. Holy Cross seemed genuinely interested, and after making a visit to its Worcester, Mass., campus, he was smitten. "It was exactly what I was looking for," he says. "It's a place where football is secondary to academics."
The New Orleans Saints selected Fenerty in the seventh round of the '86 draft, ignoring rumors that he might have a medical problem. The Saints had also taken running backs Dalton Hilliard and Rueben Mayes. "I didn't really see where I fit into their plans." says Fenerty. "I also didn't think I was ready to compete in the NFL. So I decided to sit out a year."
Shortly after deciding not to sign with the Saints, he was sought out by Keith Clark, a coach for the Bolzano Jets of the American Italian Football Association. "I saw this as an ideal way to ease back into football." says Fenerty.
He didn't exactly ease back, racking up 610 yards on 64 carries in just half a season in Italy. Feeling confident and healthy. Fenerty decided to keep on playing football. He returned to the States in hopes of joining an NFL team in '87, but the USFL had suspended operations a year earlier, and the NFL was awash with new talent. So he accepted an offer from the Argonauts.
These days Toronto is as happy with Fenerty as he is with them. While his stats aren't always spectacular, Fenerty has a way of controlling plays. Earlier this season, in the first quarter of a game against Ottawa, he made a typical Fenerty run, twisting and squirming for five yards and then carrying four Rough Rider defensemen for another seven. Later he made a one-handed, over-the-shoulder TD catch to tie the score. "He's great for the CFL," says Toronto coach Bob O'Billovich. "Every place we play the fans come out to see him."
Since his first day with Toronto, the Argonauts have known that Fenerty is special. At training camp during his rookie year, the coaches set up a traditional gantlet drill, with four defensive players standing single file about 10 yards apart, between two rows of pylons. A ball is tossed to a running back, who tries to make his way through the tacklers without being brought down.