"I'd lose control of my foot. Stumble. I remember saying: 'If I can just get off the field without someone helping me, it'll be the conclusion of this romance.' " -- Pat Fischer
"The change (from NFL player to private life) is dramatic. Too dramatic for most . . . I'm finding things only now (eight years after retiring from the Redskins) that are stimulating and exciting, that I can concentrate on." -- Pat Fischer
"I take credit for starting the bump-and-run. And I also was one of the first (in the NFL) to play out his option." -- Pat Fischer
"Economically, if you look at horse racing, it's a bankrupt industry. I knew that. I've always known it. And I thought I could beat those odds . . . It was Fischer's Folly." -- Pat Fischer
By now, you surely realize that one does not walk into Pat Fischer's life and expect a casual answer to: "How's it been going?"
Well, it's hopeful now, after about seven years of thinking horses would be a satisfying substitute for the humans who had acted unkindly shortly after his retirement from the Redskins.
Everybody probably should get at least one prolonged blow to the ego by middle age; Fischer's came, quite unexpectedly to keen Redskins watchers, after 17 years of feisty brilliance that ought to get him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Fischer has been nominated for that honor this year and will grace the Hall when voters realize that his impact on the NFL is even greater than being tied for 10th place in career interceptions with 56.
Fischer devised the bump-and-run tactic common to cornerbacks for more than a decade. He did it with the mid-'60s Cardinals as a way of frustrating receivers so that another newfangled idea could be executed more easily:
The safety blitz.
Safeties throw themselves toward quarterbacks' heads with regularity these days; 20 years ago, what Larry Wilson did was as dazzling as a 300-pounder lining up in the backfield.
And a whole lot more clever.
To cover for the space Wilson left vacated in the secondary, St. Louis cornerbacks had to stay closer and longer than usual with receivers. The only way for the 5-foot-9 Fischer to do that was to meet the wideout at the line of scrimmage and bump him off a tightly timed pattern.
"It took offenses three to five years to adjust," Fischer said.
To NFL management, the notion of playing out the option year of a contract and becoming a free agent was even more unsettling than Wilson's daring dashes had been to quarterbacks.
The owners did not take so long to adjust. To stop what Fischer and Dave Parks began, the owners mandated that the teams that signed free agents must compensate the teams that lost them.
It cost the Redskins second- and third-round draft choices to sign "free agent" Fischer in 1968. The price the Saints paid the 49ers for Parks was even stiffer: a recent first-round draftee (defensive end Kevin Hardy) and a first-round draft choice.
For the most part, NFL owners have been acting in unobstructed collusion against free agents for nearly 18 years. Only in the last several months have slow-witted baseball moguls copied the maneuver.
As an innovator on the field and as an enlightened mangler of backward thought off it, Fischer belongs in the Hall. You cannot write a meaningful history of the NFL in the '60s without him being mentioned prominently.
Beyond that, Fischer lasted 17 years at the most vulnerable position in his sport. At 5-9, he embarrassed receivers half a foot taller. At 170 pounds, he routinely rattled full-speed fullbacks behind the line.
If they never mentioned it to his face, many in the NFL thought of Fischer in the way that Adolph Rupp thought of one of his basketball players: "Son, you're just a Shetland pony in a stud-horse parade."
All of this means that Fischer should have prepared for the end of football quite some time before it actually came. He did, his reading matter in training-camp dining halls usually including two disparate tout sheets: the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Racing Form.
"When do you know when to quit if you want to quit at the top?" he said. "If you go four or five years, there's nothing to prevent you from 11 or 12. By then, you're a career soldier. But I don't know how anyone could have given (retirement) more thought.
"Look at how many times I was in the position: 'This is going to be my last year.' Starting with the 10th year, there was no reason to think otherwise. The calendar tells me my career should be ending. I don't care how good I feel."
Fischer left the Redskins after his second back operation, and then rather quickly left his anticipated new career in banking. When he walked out the door at Redskin Park for the final time as a player, other doors that routinely swung open for him also closed.
"There's no doubt that label 'Redskin' becomes a significant part of how you've lived," he said. "I could have gone out any night of the week, as a Redskin, to speak. Talk about a thrill. To be recognized, to be introduced, to hear people applaud.
"I've never been invited as a speaker since. Whether the community does it or you do it yourself, or there's a combination, it's like going into the woods and saying to yourself: 'No one's going to come find me.'
"You find yourself drifting mentally. I did. You don't know where to place values. Without that (Redskins) label, relationships -- personal and with companies -- fade. It happens more than we'd be willing to admit."
Fischer withdrew, to another passion: horses.
"I wanted to be a great trainer," he said. "I studied. I scheduled and owned. I thought I could beat the game; I couldn't. The experts I met were on the other side of the deal. I was not embraced by experts."
This lasted about seven years. A problem that did not seem so in the early good times was winning: He was successful enough to get the false impression that he could beat the races as grandly as he had the NFL.
"I started sliding when I hit 22 horses," he said of a stable that reached 55. "Rather than sticking with five or so horses, I kept expanding. What made me think I could win with somebody else's problems?
"But the thrill of watching your horse win, or perform well, which gives you the suspicion that that son-of-a-gun is going to win, matches anything I've ever done."
Still . . .
"I never made enough money in any one year to support the operation I was managing (on a leased farm in Leesburg). It got to the point where I couldn't write a race where any of my horses could win. They either were hurt or sick or I could not get them up to racing."
About three years ago, he realized, "determination had become foolish stubborness." Except for two horses, the painful liquidation process has ended.
"I haven't alienated anyone," he said of his creditors.
Fischer is back managing money, in an office a couple of punts from the White House. If your piggy bank doesn't exceed $200,000, don't come calling.
Looking back on life after football, he says, "I haven't reached any conclusions. Except that those things that give you the strength that allowed you to play had better carry over into the business world or you're in for a disappointment. You'd better hear 'The Star-Spangled Banner' each morning.
"And until you can establish and rationally confirm that those (post-NFL) relationships are good, you have very little chance (for a successful adjustment). I'm doing things now that are fun. I'm seeking that out."