November 16, 2006

Ferrughelli battled handicaps to star

Ex-Alouette led CFL in rushing yardage

By Ian MacDonald,
Montreal Gazette

Steve Ferrughelli is asked which one of “his” football teams – the Alouettes or the Rutgers Scarlet Knights – he most wants to win this weekend.

The 56-year-old self-employed West Island home renovator wiggled out of the dilemma by saying he’ll cheer for the Scarlet Knights at Cincinnati Saturday and the Als against the Lions in Sunday’s Grey Cup game.

Positive thinking? That’s the story of his life. Handicapped by speech impairment and hearing disorders because of sensory neural damage during birth, Ferrughelli had to fight for good results from an early age.

“I was sent to vocational school because it was felt I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the kids in regular school,” Ferrughelli said when asked about those early days. He couldn’t pronounce his name until he was in third grade.

Ferrughelli wasn’t happy. He wanted more out of school. And there was no sports program at vocational school.

The young man came up with a plan. He drew up a statement for his parents to sign that said if he earned straight A’s in every subject. He’d be allowed to apply to the school of his choice for his final two years of high school.

Ferrughelli lived up to his end of the deal. He went to Belleville High School in Belleville, N.J. His football career was stalled by a ruptured kidney, but under supervision, he built up his body and as a senior, rushed for more than 1,400 yards. He received 14 college scholarship offers.

Marv Levy, then an assistant with the NFL Washington Redskins, had spotted Ferrughelli at high school and followed his career at Rutgers. Ferrughelli was not drafted, but tried out with the Redskins in ’72 and was kept on the taxi squad.

Ferrughelli was traded to the New Orleans Saints. Levy became head coach of the Alouettes for the ’73 season and knew that Ferrughelli might be available. He was let go by the Saints and joined the Als with six games to play.

In 1974, Ferrughelli led the Eastern Conference in rushing with 1,134 yards. He was the top rusher in the Grey Cup, as the Als beat Edmonton 20-7 at Vancouver. He was the team’s top rusher again the next year, when the Alouettes lost 9-8 to Edmonton in the Grey Cup at Calgary.

Ferrughelli was caught in an import/Canadian ratio tangle in 1976, when Montreal needed a defensive back and were able to acquire a Canadian first stringer from Edmonton in exchange for him. Released the next year, Ferrughelli made inquiries at all CFL teams, without success.

“I’m satisfied with the career here (CFL), although I did feel I had more football in me,” Ferrughelli said. “But life goes on. You turn the page.”

Ferrughelli worked for several years at Sir Winston Churchill Pub.

He has been working for himself in the home-renovation business for 20 years. He lived in St. Bruno for several years, but has been established in Rigaud for 15 years.

Ferrughelli still enjoys football, but said: “I find it more enjoyable in front of a TV set than I do at the game.

“I look for specifics and I’d rather be comfortable at home with a six pack than in a crowd, where I can’t understand what’s being said anyway. “

Ferrughelli counts the Grey Cup ring he won in 1974 as a prized souvenir from his playing career, but not his favourite.

“There were only 40 rings handed out after the 100th anniversary game between Rutgers and Princeton in 1969,” Ferrughelli said. “That 100 engraved on there is special.

“I hope (Rutgers) do well Saturday. But I’ll watch the Alouettes closely. I particularly enjoy watching players like Anthony Calvillo and Ben Cahoon. Those are exceptional players and they play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”