Danny Jiggetts Returns to Harvard

Cracker Jack

Danny Jiggetts '76 returned to Harvard last night, and he is doing just fine, thank you.

He was the same old Danny Jiggetts. Big--oh, yes, above all else he always seemed so big--pleasant, carrying himself in the stately manner he always did, and symbolic of the now-tarnished excellence of Harvard sports.

A little slicker, maybe, a little quicker at turning a phrase or slipping in a joke, but pretty much the same old Danny Jiggetts.

He spoke and answered questions before a crowd of 35 at the Eliot Senior Common Room last night, talking about life at Harvard and in the NFL.

For those of you who aren't football freaks or seniors, Jiggetts was a hulking (6-5, 260) offensive tackle and team captain on the 1975 Harvard Ivy League Championship team, a second-team All-American selection drafted by the Chicago Bears and still playing for them.

For me, though, he was an idol returning home. As a freshman comping for the Crimson in the fall of 1975, I had been amazed by this massive man. He had seemed almost supernatural in his athletic abilities as a football and track-and-field competitor, yet he was always humble, always polite, always willing to talk at length to an ill-informed reporter (like me, for example).

Classics

The teams he played on were great in those days. In his junior year, the gridders drove the length of the field in the closing seconds to shock Yale and tie for the Ivy title. In his senior year, they beat the Elis at the Yale Bowl to win it outright. On track, he threw the discus, the shot, the hammer and the 35-lb. weight. The field contingent of the track team, in the Jiggetts days, was simply devastating. You just couldn't beat 'em.

Above all, though, Danny Jiggetts was of athlete--so rare around here these days--who participated in sports for the thrill of it, for the enjoyment derived simply from participating. He did not seek out press coverage, and he didn't covet it. The fact that he got a lot of ink came not from his bloated ego but because he just happened to be very, very good.

Today, coaches call The Crimson telling us whose picture to run and how big to play the story. Athletes come in and demand big, uncritical stories, and they refuse to talk to reporters if their name hasn't been in the paper enough. What happened to competing simply for the joy of it? What happened to Danny Jiggetts?

*****

Well, what's happened to Danny Jiggetts is that Chicago drafted him in the sixth round ("I hadn't gotten a call all day, so I was heading out to Jack's with my roommates, when the phone rang") and he's been playing on the second string there ever since.

Meanwhile

Off the field, the Long Island native has been an even bigger success--helping kids through the Job Corps, attending the University of Chicago business school and working at the First National Bank in the off-season and serving as the Bears' player representative even though he's a second-line player.

"Yeah," Jiggetts said at E-House, "the NFL's been pretty good for me."

Mostly, though, Jiggetts charmed last night's audience with stories.

Like the one about Rudy Sorey, the lineman he roomed with rookie year who has gone on to be an NFL star: "People told him he was a joke rookie year, that he'd never make it in the NFL. He'd gone to Boys' High in Brooklyn and then to the University of Illinois, where he majored in being cool. But he's done pretty well now."

Or about Doug Plank, the head-hunting Bears safety: "I remember one time at our training camp at Wake Forest when I kept hearing this banging. I walked over to where I heard it and saw Doug banging his head against the wall. 'What are you doing?' I asked him, and he just said, 'I'm trying to get my equilibrium back.'"

Or about Darryl Stingley: "It's hard. I worked out with Darryl and Vince Evans all last summer, and I know Jack [Tatum] personally. We've given Darryl twice the usual annual benefits for a crippling injury, raising it to $24,000, but there's no way you can compensate for half of of someone's life being lost."

Walter

Or about Walter Payton: "Walter's a very close friend and a great guy, but you realize after a while that he's pretty crazy. We were on a cruise one time when Walter grabbed some guy by the leg and started barking--you know, like he was a dog. The guy nearly fell overboard."

Or about the "Honey Bears," Chicago's cheerleaders: "Yeah, not too many of us go out with the Honey Bears, actually. Now if you'd asked me that question a year ago. I might have been able to tell you something," he said, smiling now and turning toward me, "but I see that someone's writing this down over there."

Or about an encounter with a 6-ft. 10-in., 320-lb. defensive lineman: "At first I tried to muscle him with my upper body, but he threw me back about three yards--and that's not easy to do. So then I said, let me put this Harvard education to work. Use some leverage, cut out his legs. The whole time he was yelling at me, telling me he was gonna bite my neck off and stuff. I didn't care."

So whether it's leverage on a defensive lineman, working out the details of the players' contract with the owners' lawyers, or just shooting the breeze with a bunch of kids at Eliot House, Danny Jiggetts has indeed "put his Harvard education to work."

And he hasn't changed all that much. He's older, wiser, sharper in front of a crowd. But he still follows the Crimson diligently--he ribbed senior guard Mac DeCamp last night about several bets he'd lost this year to teammates like Yale's Gary Fencik. And he's still involved in athletics at Harvard, attending a Visiting Committee meeting yesterday and complaining about the continuing lack of blacks in the program. Most of all, he's still the same smiling, gentlemanly, classy guy.

The same old Danny Jiggetts. Doing fine.