"Gill went through the first time and nobody touched him." says O'Billovich. "He did it again the second time. The third time he barely got tripped up, by the last man. I remember turning to one of our coaches and saying, 'Cedric [Minter] is going to have a real tough time keeping his job.' "
In Fenerty's first CFL game, against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Jason Colero, the Argonauts" ball boy. was discharging his duties on the Bomber sideline. He remembers the Winnipeg defensive players leaving the field, after an early Toronto offensive series, shaking their heads. "They were saying. 'He sure doesn't run like anyone we've seen,' " says Colero.
Because the CFL plays on a wider field than the NFL (65 yards versus 53?) and allows only three downs in which to make a first down, Canadian pro football is more open than its American counterpart. Fast backs with soft hands are especially valuable. "Gill is a very elusive runner," says O'Billovich. "He can stop and start so quickly that he makes people miss in the open field."
Over the past three seasons Fenerty has consistently confounded opponents. He finished second in the league in rushing in both 1987 and '88, though last year he missed five games because of a broken leg. Last season he also caught 51 passes for 443 yards. And while individual honors are not his main goals—he's a front-runner for the league's MVP award—they will provide ammunition when his contract expires at the end of this season.
"What happens after the season is only speculation," says his agent, Ralph Cindrich. "It's our position that the Saints don't own his rights, that he could enter the NFL as a free agent. It used to be a joke when I'd talk to NFL general managers about Gill the Thrill. Now they say, 'Yeah, we've had our eyes on that guy." "
"Coming out of college we thought he could play in the NFL," says New England Patriots director of player development Dick Steinberg. "But then he had the injury, and our medical people thought he was a risk. I've seen him up there, though. He's very aggressive. He could make it here."
Fenerty is happy with the Argonauts, for now. "There are a lot of variables to examine in the off-season," he says. "It's always been a dream of mine to play in the NFL, but at this point I'm content to play for the highest bidder."
If the NFL does place a call, Fenerty may not have to go far to answer it. Recently, Toronto defensive lineman Blaine Schmidt bought into a cellular-phone company and sold a fancy little shoulder model to Fenerty, "I'm not sure if it's working," says Fenerty, adjusting the strap against his collarbone. "I haven't had too many calls."
When the phone finally does ring, CFL fans hope the best offer comes from their league. Next season might prove dreary if the Thrill is gone.