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"It was 'Why, why, why, why?' " says Plank. "Gary would want to know why we had to get up for breakfast at seven when practice wasn't till 9:30. 'Why do we keep our contracts secret from one another?' 'Why do we do this and not that?' It was always a logical attack and always clearly and effectively expressed. But it was deeper thinking than most guys could handle. You know how football players are."
When Fencik came to the Bears as a rookie free agent in 1976, he arrived with questions and as a question mark. A 10th-round pick who'd been cut by Miami in September after rupturing a lung, he was ready to start an executive training program at a New York bank. But the Bears, his beloved home team, matched Miami's two-year contract—$24,000 and $29,000, take it or leave it. Fencik thought about it. He had no clout, no size, no nothing. He'd been a record-setting, All-Ivy wide receiver at Yale, but he had no future at that position in the NFL. His only hope was at safety, and the Bears didn't need safeties.
"I wanted some incentive clauses," he says. "I had the clauses in my original Miami contract. I deserved them." Amazingly, he got several.
Fencik's father, John, now the area principal of School District 220 in the Chicago suburbs, marvels at his oldest son's grit. "Gary is a very complex person," he says. "He is ambidextrous, for example. He throws lefthanded, writes righthanded, eats with either hand. In high school he liked defense in basketball more than offense, and he didn't care much about football at all. And you never had to tell him to study."
Fencik's three brothers and two sisters are totally unlike him. "I don't really know what to say about Gary," says his mom, Adeline, an outspoken, energetic woman who is a computer operator at the District 220 office. "Our natures are probably most alike, so we try not to cross each other. But he was just a skinny kid growing up, and, lord no, I never thought he would be a professional football player."
Adeline Fencik recalls that Gary threw an occasional tantrum, dropping to the floor and thrashing, when he was very young; later he just fell to his knees and wailed. When she had had enough of these displays, Adeline would stick his steamy head under the cold-water faucet and let that jolt him back to order, sort of the way a flanker crackback gets Gary's attention now.
"His determination was always there," she says. "I remember one time when he was 11 or 12 and he wasn't the first one chosen in a neighborhood baseball game. He came home very upset. He was furious. He started practicing by himself in the backyard. It got dark, and he kept practicing. John and I peeked at him out of the bedroom window and sort of snickered to ourselves. He always wanted to be first. And he always thought hard about things. When he said something was a certain way, he usually was right."
Though not always discreet.
There was, for instance, defensive end Mike Hartenstine's birthday party last year, which Fencik attended with the members of the defensive line. Immaculately dressed in tennis whites and tennis shoes ("I have to admit I looked pretty good that night," says Fencik), he had a few drinks and then felt compelled to make a statement of logic.
"If I were bigger," he pronounced, "I'd beat the s——out of you guys."