Q&A with EHS Great Pat Hughes

Pat Hughes reflects on how he landed at Boston University, and other aspects of his football career


By Julian E.J. Sorapuru

Pat Hughes was chosen as a linebacker on the Globe’s All-Time All-Scholastic football team. As part of the project, he discussed his football life with us. Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: You were highly recruited out of high school, so how’d you end up playing football at Boston University?

PH: I got a scholarship offer to Ohio State and I went out to see the campus. Woody Hayes picked me up at the airport. That was like walking with God in Columbus, Ohio. He takes me from the airport to the 50 yard line of the field, and his pitch was, “Pat, look around. If you come to school here, there’ll be 63,000 people cheering for you. And those other 2,000 sons of [expletive], we don’t care about.” So I signed a letter of intent to go there.

Paul Dietzel was the coach at West Point at the time, and he was sending letters to my father, who was a Marine, saying, “Wouldn’t it be great to have your son a member of The Long Gray Line?” Next thing I know, my father called Woody Hayes and told him that I wasn’t coming to school there. I couldn’t get the appointment to West Point that year, so I ended up going to Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania. That didn’t sit well with me. They made me a tight end, that’s how bad they were.

So one night, let’s say two and a half or three months in, I said to my roommate Jim Curtice, “You know what? I’m done with this.” He says, “What do you mean by that?” I said, “I’m leaving, I’m going to figure out how to get home.” So he said, “Well, I’m coming with you.” We didn’t have enough money, but I had an Omega watch that my then-girlfriend and my wife today of 54 years, Carol, got me when she went to Europe with her family. It was just this beautiful watch made in Switzerland. We pawned the watch in Philadelphia. We got enough money for Jimmy to get a plane ticket back to California. I got a train ticket. Before I left, I had a conversation with the adjutant general at Valley Forge and the general said, “What seems to be the problem with you, son?” And I said, “Well, sir, I don’t have a problem, but the reality is this isn’t the real army and you’re not a real general. And I don’t do make believe.” Well, he kind of flipped out at that point.

When I arrived at the train station in Boston, Carol was there to pick me up. She said, “Everybody’s looking for you. This is not good.” I said, “Well, just take me home and I’ll work my way through it.” My father was just crushed, disappointed, asking “What are you going to do now?” Vietnam was clicking on all cylinders at that point. The draft was reinstated and people were going left and right. I get a letter from that adjutant general, along with a request for a pre-induction physical, because I was being drafted. And he said, “Who’s not a real general now?”

I didn’t want to get drafted so I went to Holy Cross, UMass, and Boston College, which were all trying to recruit me a year ago, and now they said, “Well, you’ve got to try out for our team, we don’t know if you’d make it.” Meanwhile, Carol was a junior at Boston University at the time, she went to the athletic director, Warren Schmakel, she said “You know that kid from Everett, Pat Hughes? I think if you’d call him he’d come to school here.” He said “Who the hell are you?” She said, “I’m a junior here and we’re dating.” So they came to the house and said, “We couldn’t give you a scholarship. You’d have to do a half a year of prep school because the timing isn’t right, and you’ll have to commute.” I said, “That’s fine, but you need to write a letter to the draft and tell them I’m attending Boston University, and to reclassify me from 1A to 4S.” That’s how I ended up at BU.

Q: If my research is correct, you never made the playoffs as a pro. How did that sit with you?

PH: I’d give my right arm to play 60 minutes, winner take all. I only came close twice. Other than that it was like, 2-12, 4-10. It was hard. The idea of getting a chance to play in the playoffs would have been fabulous. But, it was the best job ever because there was no [expletive]. You could either play or you couldn’t and I enjoyed that opportunity to put my talents against other people’s talents and see who comes out on top.

Q: What’s something — it could be a story, a stat, a realization, whatever — from your career that people might not know?

PH: I think we were playing Chicago, and one of the wide receivers was coming to put a crack-back block on me. In those days, they could hit the outside linebackers anywhere from the head to the ankles, so the knees were a target for the wide receivers. And so I saw a colored jersey coming my way and threw my hand out. Well, he flinched and turned his head and my thumb went into the ear hole of his helmet and literally just broke. I didn’t know whether I should cry or not, and if somebody would see me crying. I laid on the ground for a couple of minutes trying to figure out, Is it okay to cry? I held in my tears because I didn’t want my teammates shaming me. So that was my great dilemma in 10 years in the NFL.