New Orleans Saints Flashback, Where Are They Now? Gill Fenerty
Gill Fenerty, aka “Gill the Thrill”, grew up playing football in New Orleans, dreaming of playing for his hometown Saints one day. After a football journey from Massachusetts to Italy to Canada, Fenerty eventually played for the home team.
Fenerty prepped at Jesuit high school, graduating in 1982. He wasn’t the only professional athlete in his class. Major League Baseball great Will Clark, a 6 time All-Star and Gold Glove winner finished in ’82 as well.
Fenerty, a 6-foot, 205-pound running back, accepted a scholarship from LSU, playing on special teams in his first game as a true freshmen. However, he dropped out of LSU, citing the lack of importance on academics.
“I didn’t feel like a student at LSU,” Fenerty told Sports Illustrated in 1989. “Football was stressed much more than the academics. I remember touring the campus on the day that I left, and I was thinking. Man, there’s so much here that I haven’t seen. I’ve always known what’s best for me and LSU just wasn’t it.”
After working briefly at a machine shop, Fenerty attended UNO. Shortly thereafter, he left the Crescent City for the cold Northeast, attending another Jesuit school, playing collegiately for Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. Fenerty didn’t just play running back, he dominated, setting every rushing record in school history (with the exception of rushing TDs), finishing with 3,680 yards and 26 touchdowns in 3 seasons. His best game came in 1983 against Columbia University when he rushed 18 times for 337 yards and 6 touchdowns. Holy Cross won that day by 59 points.
After a stellar college career, Fenerty thought his dream may be realized as the New Orleans Saints drafted him in the 7th round (173rd overall) of the 1986 NFL draft. However, in the same draft, the Saints selected running backs Dalton Hilliard in the 2nd round, Rueben Mayes in the 3rd, and Barry Word in the 3rd. With a logjam at running back, Fenerty didn’t sign the offer sheet, electing to instead begin his professional career over 5,000 miles away…in Italy.
Fenerty wasn’t quite ready for the NFL by his own admission, so he traveled to Italy, playing running back in the spring of ’86 for the Bolzano Jets of the American Italian Football Association. In only half of one season, he wracked up 610 yards rushing.
From Italy, Fenerty crossed the pond for more football opportunities. With the USFL suddenly gone (suspended operations in ’86), Gill headed to Canada after signing an offer sheet with the Toronto Argonauts. Much like he did at Jesuit, Holy Cross, and Bolzano, Fenerty made an immediate impact, scoring 15 touchdowns his first season and earning plenty of accolades as a rookie.
In three seasons with the Argonauts, Fenerty rushed for 3,094 yards, setting a single-season Argonaut record with 1,247 yards rushing in 1989 (it stood for 12 years).
After a lengthy football journey around the world, Fenerty’s play in Canada grabbed the attention of Saints President/General Manager Jim Finks (New Orleans still owned the rights to Fenerty), who offered Gill a bigger offer sheet. Fenerty signed, returning to his hometown to play for the team he grew up watching.
Despite a deep pool of Saints running backs that included Hilliard, Mayes, and Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, Fenerty was too smart and crafty to keep off the field.
Finding a role on special teams as a kick returner, Fenerty quickly worked his way into the running back rotation, playing primarily on third downs. Arguably his biggest game as a Saint came in a Week 14 road win over the Los Angeles Rams. As Hilliard and Mayes dealt with injuries, coach Jim Mora didn’t hesitate to call Fenerty’s number. Fenerty answered the call with a 60-yard, 4th quarter touchdown run (pictured above), helping the Saints top the Rams 24-20, keeping their postseason hopes alive.
“It feels great, but it feels even better that we won,” Finnerty said to the L.A.Times after the win. “Maybe when the season is over I’ll look back and enjoy it, but we’re still in the (playoff) hunt, and this win couldn’t have come at a better time, so that feels even better.”
When the 1990 season was over, Fenerty had 355 yards rushing (2 TDs), 209 yards receiving, and 572 return yards. For the former running back of the Bolzano Jets, 1,136 all-purpose yards for an NFL playoff team wasn’t half bad, though hardly surprising for anyone that followed Fenerty’s journey.
Speaking of Fenerty’s kick return abilities, how many of you remember playing as Fenerty in Tecmo Super Bowl? The man is one of the premiere returners in TSB history (even if they spelt his first name wrong).
Fenerty enjoyed one more solid season before retiring. In his final NFL season of 1991, Fenerty was more involved in the Saints offense, helping New Orleans win their first ever division title in their 25th year of existence.
Gill wasn’t as involved in the return game, but saw an increase in carries and receptions, finishing the season with 712 yards from scrimmage, 5 touchdowns, 139 carries, 26 catches, and this pretty 54 yard run against the Minnesota Vikings.
Gill actually put on his cleats one more time, coming out of retirement briefly, returning to the Canadian league…but in Louisiana. Fenerty joined the CFL expansion Shreveport Pirates in 1994. It was short lived, as the Pirates only lasted two years, (Fenerty only played in ’94) and have the unflattering distinction of being the worst CFL American franchise.
When Fenerty was thriving in the CFL in Toronto during the 80s, sports illustrated wrote a cover story on him. One of his first quote in the story reads, “I guess I look more like an accountant than a football player.”
In addition to being a world class football player, Fenerty wasn’t bad at predicting the future either. Today, he works as an accountant in the Atlanta area, (Check out Fenerty’s LinkedIn profile here), serving as the Tax Partner at Babush, Neiman, Kornman & Johnson, LLP.
Due to die-hard Saints fans, as well as Tecmo Super Bowlers, Fenerty will always be a fan favorite. Despite playing only two seasons with the Saints, his inspiring football journey has left a mark on many. With fans remembering his playing career, his story can inspire many more for years to come.