INSPIRATION AND SADNESS
As the NFL season kicks off this weekend, the league's most compelling story may be that of 29-year-old John Fourcade of the New Orleans Saints, who has finally earned a berth as a starting quarterback. Fourcade is powerful testimony to perseverance. Over the past eight years he has been released or traded nine times by teams in the NFL, USFL, CFL and Arena Football League. Never was he deemed good enough to be a regular starter. Among the 21 quarterbacks who played ahead of him or were kept when he was cut were such nonmarquee athletes as Joe Barnes, Danny Barrett, John Congemi, Roy DeWalt, Whit Taylor and Joe Paopao.
Fourcade probably wouldn't have continued his seemingly hopeless odyssey if not for the steadfast encouragement of his girlfriend, model Kristine Frischhertz, whom he met during the Saints' training camp in 1986. The following year, when Fourcade hit what he calls his career low point—he was cut by the CFL Toronto Argonauts after the coaches told him that, at age 26, he was too old—she persuaded him to stick with the sport. "Kristine told me, 'You better not quit,' " Fourcade recalls. "She knew I still wanted to play, and she was really behind me."
Fourcade, who had shown his talent at the University of Mississippi, where he eclipsed many of Archie Manning's school records, finally got a break in September 1987, when New Orleans signed him as its replacement quarterback during the NFL players' strike. With Fourcade calling signals, the Saints went 2-1 during the strike. Afterward, he was kept on as the team's third-string quarterback. He moved up to become Bobby Hebert's backup last season and, when Hebert slumped, started the last three games. Fourcade went 3-0, two of the wins coming over the playoff-bound Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles, and earned a two-year, $900,000 contract. With Hebert now sitting at home, having vowed never to play again for the Saints, Fourcade is firmly in place as the No. 1 quarterback as the Saints go into their season opener on Monday night against the Super Bowl-champion San Francisco 49ers.
The tragedy of the Fourcade story is that Frischhertz did not live to share his success. Last month she felt a mass behind her sternum and entered a New Orleans area hospital to have it checked. Doctors found the mass to be a large malignant tumor near her heart. On Aug. 24, they operated to try to remove the tumor, but Frischhertz, 24, died following the surgery. The doctors told Fourcade that the tumor had been largely inoperable, and that even under the best of circumstances Frischhertz would probably have lived only six more months.
"It's so hard—really, really hard—going home, seeing her face in all the pictures I have around the house," Fourcade says. "The good thing is I'm busy with football. If I wasn't, I don't know what I'd do." Fourcade has dedicated his season to her, and will wear her initials, KCF, on the towel that hangs from his belt during games.
The night before Kristine died, Fourcade sent her parents out of the hospital room, and they discussed their plans to get married soon. Early the next morning, he called to wish her well in the operation. "Her last words to me were, 'Be tough. Hang in there,' " says Fourcade. "I'm going to try. I know she'll be watching."
In a story in the May 12, 1986 issue, SI quoted sources close to the Edmonton Oilers as saying that as many as five players on the team were cocaine users. The Oiler front office denied that team members had abused drugs, and NHL president John Ziegler, claiming there was no evidence of drug use on the Oilers, refused to look into SI's allegations.
Last week the Edmonton Journal reported that Oiler goaltender Grant Fuhr had used cocaine for seven years before entering a drug-rehabilitation center last summer. Fuhr admitted to the newspaper that he had abused a "substance"—he wouldn't say what—since 1983 or '84. Oiler president and general manager Glen Sather and Fuhr's former wife, Corrine, both told the Journal that the substance was cocaine. Corrine told the paper that when dating Grant in 1983, she had seen him snort cocaine, and that during their six years of marriage, she had found the drug hidden in his clothes. She said that drug dealers had called their home, sometimes threatening to physically harm Grant if he didn't pay them for drugs he had apparently bought from them.