Mike Fanuzzi: Most Valuable Player of Year
by JUDY SHEARER "I
I would have given anything to have won that Tennessee game so we could have gone to the Liberty Bowl," said Mike Fanuzzi, quarterback of the 1974 UK football team.
The loss to the Volunteers capped the most personally satisfying year of his football career at UK. The Cats had their first winning season in 9 years, and a large part of that success was due to Mike Fanuzzi.
The Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey native had been playing organized football, always at quarterback, since the sixth grade.
A 1970 graduate of Hasbrouck Heights High School, Fanuzzi was All-State in football and baseball, and he scored over 1000 points in basketball. He was selected New Jersey's Most Outstanding Scholastic Athlete his senior year.
In his high school, comprised of 1000 students, Mike was president of the Student Council his senior year and class president his freshman, junior and senior years.
He graduated from UK in May of 1975 as a business major.
"I came to UK by accident," said Fanuzzi. Encouraged by his father to sign with
Princeton, Mike's first thoughts were of attending either a Big Ten or an Ivy League School.
The only reason he came to visit UK's campus in the spring of 1970 was to see Pete Maravich, then of LSU, play basketball against the Cats in Memorial Coliseum.
"But I liked the people and area. I knew the SEC would be a good, competitive conference to play in," he said.
His choices finally narrowed to Princeton and Kentucky, Mike chose UK over the Ivy League school because, "football was just so much a part of my life. I liked Coach Ray. Govenor Chandler helped to recruit me. He, more than anybody, convinced me that Kentucky would go to the top and I could be a part of it."
In the next five years Fanuzzi was at UK, he saw a trememdous change in the football program. "I saw such a cycle. It's nowhere near the same now as it was when I came."
As a result of a knee operation in the fall of
1971, Mike was redshirted for a year. "Working to get that knee back in shape is the hardest I can ever remember working at anything in my life it seems as if other things came more naturally to me, but not this."
The biggest change in the football program was the coming of Coach Fran Curci and his staff in the spring of 1973.
Fanuzzi said of Curci, "Besides the new stadium, the attitude of the players changed almost overnight. We went from a losing to a winning frame of mind. We went out there expecting to win instead of knowing we'd get embarrassed. It made a difference. Coach Curci instilled that in us."
Fanuzzi's erratic but at times brillant passing and his consistently effective running attack sparked the Cats to a 6-5 record in 1974.
Mike remembered the Florida game as his most satisfying. The game was telecast to a regional audience, as was the Vanderbilt game the week before.
"They were both ranked and going to bowls, and we thought that was unfair," said Fanuzzi. "I guess you could say we wanted to prove ourselves.
"Anyway, we wiped them both off the field. I think those two games sort of electrified the people of Kentucky. It showed we were big time we were for real."
Mike's memories of the Tennessee game the following Saturday in Knoxville were not so clear. Midway in the first half, UK lost its starting quarterback to the locker room because of a mild concussion.
The recipient of the Freshman Leadership Award his rookie year, Mike went on to be selected Most Valuable Player for the homecoming games both his junior and senior years. He also received the ABC-TV Scholarship Award for the Vanderbilt and Florida games in the 1974 season.
Also during his senior year, Fanuzzi was chosen second team All-SEC and MVP of the UK team.
Mike predicted that UK will go to a major bowl game within the next few years. But he conceded that the Cats play one of the toughest schedules in the nation in 1975.
"Anything can happen. But even if the record is not as good, the team will have progressed another stage, and that will pay off for them in the end."
In July, Fanuzzi reported to the pro football camp of the New York Giants, whom he signed with in March.
As far as he goes as a football player, Kentucky won't be far from Mike's heart, "I wish I was a freshman again, coming here under these conditions. It's a great opportunity for a kid." ^