Gill Fenerty can't get to his car. He is standing in front of a parking gate at the SkyDome, a set of keys dangling from his right index finger. "Look, this section is closed to the public," says a security guard. Fenerty, a running back with the Toronto Argonauts, isn't exactly the public.
"It's right over there," says Fenerty, pointing toward his white Audi GT
"Sorry, you'll have to walk around." says the guard. "Only authorized personnel are allowed."
Fenerty, who's six feet, 200 pounds, shrugs and turns away, starting the long walk that will bring him to his car. "It happens all the time," says Fenerty, pushing a pair of tortoiseshell glasses back onto the bridge of his nose. "I guess I look more like an accountant than a football player. But as long as I'm doing my job on the field. I don't care about being a celebrity."
Fenerty is doing his job well enough to be known around the Canadian Football League by his school nickname. Gill the Thrill. After playing in 13 games of the league's 18-game season (he missed two because of a strained hamstring), he was third in the CFL in rushing (1.031 yards) and led in carries (200) and touchdowns (10 rushing, one receiving). He also helped the Argos clinch a spot in the league playoffs, which begin on Nov. 12. In spite of all these accomplishments, a great deal of the attention Fenerty has received relates to an incident that he would just as soon forget.
Fenerty, 26, was a standout running back at Holy Cross from 1983 to '85. He is the school's alltime leading rusher (3,670 yards), and he holds all but one of the Crusaders' career rushing records. The one he's missing, touchdowns scored, is held by Gordie Lockbaum, who had 28 to Fenerty's 26.
"Gordie wasn't as quick as Gill," says Holy Cross coach Mark Duffner, who was the Crusaders' defensive coordinator while Fenerty was in school. "They both had great hands, could read defenses, see holes, and could block like a son of a buck. Gill was just quicker. He was so explosive."
But late in the second quarter of Holy Cross's game with Boston University in Fenerty's senior year, he took several hard shots to the head. "It felt like an air hose blowing pressure into my skull," he says. "It was unreal. After a few minutes, though, the pain left."
Fenerty finished the half. In the locker room, though, the pain returned. Fenerty became violently ill and nearly collapsed. He was taken to a hospital, and a battery of tests showed there was blood in Fenerty's spinal fluid. Doctors think the hits caused a blood vessel near his brain to tear.
"He was in such pain he couldn't even talk," says Chuck Doyle, Fenerty's friend and a blocking back at Holy Cross, who now sells real estate in Nashua, N.H. "He was almost in tears. I think at that point ever playing football again was the least of his concerns."