CINCINNATI, Ohio – The Sunday night was like many other Sunday nights at the home of David Fulcher in Cincinnati as he and his wife were watching a National Football League playoff game earlier this year knowing a major announcement had been planned for the next day.
Suddenly the cat was let out of the bag when Jim Nantz ignored media embargo requests and congratulated his CBS broadcast partner Tony Romo on his election into the College Football Hall of Fame on national television.
The newly elected members had been notified in the days leading up to the planned formal announcement by hall officials the next day.
“We were sitting there watching the game and when we heard what (Nantz) said my wife and I just glanced at one another and smiled,” Fulcher said.
It was the culmination of an emotional weekend for Fulcher and his family.
When the doorbell at the home rang on two days earlier Fulcher thought another package was being delivered for his wife via Amazon. Instead, it was a UPS delivery addressed to Fulcher that informed him of his selection into the Hall of Fame.
Fulcher will be inducted, along with Romo, on Dec. 7 in Atlanta. Other players who will also be enshrined that day include Harris Barton (North Carolina), Carson Palmer (Southern Cal), Darren Sproles (Kansas State) and Aaron Taylor (Notre Dame). Former coaches Rudy Hubbard (Florida A&M) and Bob Stoops (Oklahoma) will also be enshrined that same day.
FREMONT HIGH SCHOOL
Fulcher grew up in south Los Angeles and attended Fremont High School where he was a standout athlete.
He excelled in football and baseball while competing for the Pathfinders, who have produced a long line of outstanding athletes since the school opened its doors in 1924.
Ricky Bell, a former standout player in the National Football League and a College Football Hall of Famer, also graduated from the school.
Bobby Doerr, a member of baseball’s hall of fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., also graduated from Fremont, as did Gene Mauch, Bob Watson and Chet Lemon, three other recognizable names in major league baseball history.
Mauch managed the Minnesota Twins and Philadelphia Phillies and Watson spent seasons in the major leagues. Lemon, meanwhile, was one of the most versatile players of the 1970s with the Chicago White Sox.
Two of Fulcher’s baseball teammates at Fremont went on to brilliant careers of their own in Major League Baseball. Eric Davis enjoyed seasons with the Cincinnati Reds while Darryl Strawberry spent seasons with the New York Mets before ending his career with the crosstown New York Yankees.
Fulcher, meanwhile, was drafted by the Atlanta Braves, but opted to sign with Arizona State to play college football.
He had also considered staying at home in Los Angeles and playing for either Southern Cal or UCLA. Both of those schools wanted Fulcher to play defensive back. The Sun Devils offered him a chance to play wide receiver, the position he excelled at while playing for the Pathfinders.
His time as a collegiate pass catcher was short lived as ASU coaches saw something special in the new Sun Devil and moved him to defensive back full time just a few days after fall camp opened in 1983.
“I wasn’t too happy about (the move),” Fulcher said, “it meant I had to hit people.”
The disappointment quickly turned into something Fulcher found to his liking.
“Once I started hitting people, I started liking it,” he said.
In one game against New Mexico State in he tackled an Aggie wide receiver so hard the player laid on the ground for several minutes before getting up and proclaiming that he felt he had been “hit by a rock.”
Fulcher’s ASU teammates gave him the nickname “The Rock” nearly a decade before some other college football player began his road to stardom in professional wrestling with the same nickname.
Fulcher wound up understanding the move by his coaches to put him on defense.
“It turned out to be for the best,” he said. “Sometimes you have to look at a player and put in a position to best succeed … and ASU did just that for me.”
After Arizona State finished 8-4 in 1985 under first-year coach John Cooper, the six-foot, three-inch Fulcher declared for the NFL Draft after Cooper had declared his intentions to move Fulcher to inside linebacker.
“I didn’t believe that was the best move for me,” Fulcher said.
. He had a change of heart and petitioned to have his collegiate eligibility restored two days before the draft and return to Tempe to play one more season with the Sun Devils.
The petition was denied and without the benefit of a combine or workout with any NFL teams, Fulcher found himself waiting to see where he would land in the draft.
Often refereed to as a “safety in a linebacker’s body,” Fulcher quickly established himself as one of the nation’s top defensive players. He recorded a total of 53 tackles, three interceptions, six sack and six pass breakups – all in just his first four games in a Sun Devil uniform.
In just his second collegiate game he tallied 15 tackles and returned an interception 40 yards in a 26-26 tie against UCLA in his return home to Los Angeles. ASU would go on to finish 6-4-1 that season.
Fulcher recorded at least 100 total tackles each of the next two seasons to become one of the top tacklers in ASU football history.
When his career ended in Tempe he had 293 total tackles and 12 interceptions to his credit. Half of those interceptions came in his final season as ASU advanced to the Holiday Bowl before losing to Arkansas 18-17 in what turned out to be Fulcher’s final collegiate game.
Edward Beaudet, a high school football standout in Mesa, Ariz. during Fulcher’s time at ASU and a longtime Sun Devil superfan, tried to model his own career after watching Fulcher on many autumn afternoons in Tempe.
“The guy just seemed to be all over the field,” Beaudet said. “Wherever the ball was, Fulcher was certainly nearby and he hit people like no one else.
“He was someone who you could certainly learn from simply by watching the way in which he went about his business,” Beaudet added.
Fulcher was selected in the third round of the 1986 Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Many NFL observers thought the Bengals would move Fulcher to inside linebacker. But defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau decided to take advantage of Fulcher’s size and speed in the secondary by creating the zone blitz.
And just like in his college career, he wasted little time in establishing himself as one of the top defensive backs in the National Football League.
In 1988, his third season as a pro, Fulcher recorded five interceptions and earned the first of trips to the Pro Bowl.
Fulcher and the Bengals finished 12-4 during the regular season and advanced to the Super Bowl where the former Sun Devil recorded several key tackles, one sack and forced a fumble that Cincinnati recovered.
The 49ers would score with 34 seconds left in the game on a pass from Joe Montana to to slip past Cincinnati 20-16.
Fulcher later said the game was the memorable of his NFL career.
“It was the time they called my name during the introductions … walking out of the tunnel at Joe Robbie Stadium and making sure in did not trip on the turf and fall down.
The following year Fulcher tallied eight interceptions, at the time the second-highest single-season total by a Bengals player. He also tied a franchise record with three interceptions in a single game. Cincinnati finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs, but Fulcher was named to the Pro Bowl for the second straight season.
He made it three straight Pro Bowl appearances in 1990 after intercepting four passes, forcing three fumbles and recording 53 solo tackles as Cincinnati finished 9-7 during the regular season. He would intercept passes in each of the Bengals’ two playoff games that season.
It would be the last winning season for Fulcher while playing in Cincinnati. The Bengals would finish below .500 in each of the next 15 seasons.
In 1991 Fulcher led Cincinnati with 68 total tackles. He also forced four fumbles (recovering three of those) and intercepting four passes. He ended his time with the Bengals following the 1992 season in which he had three interceptions and recovering five fumbles.
He returned home to Los Angeles after signing as a free agent with the Raiders. Injuries limited his playing time and appeared in just three games with the Raiders.
Fulcher retired after the season with 31 interceptions, all as a Bengal, which are the third most in franchise history behind Ken Riley and Louis Breeden. He also tallied 10 forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries in his eight-year professional career.
In 2017 Fulcher was ranked sixth on a list of all-time great Bengals.
“I was actually behind Jim Breech and thought, ‘man, I’m behind a kicker.’ “But to be top 10 is a really big honor.”
AFTER THE NFL
Fulcher coached a fledgling program at Cincinnati Christian High School (2011-15) after his return to the Queen City following his playing career.
“I was starting a program at CCHS and we maybe had 20 guys,” he explained. “Despite having so few players we still managed to be one win away from the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. That was no small accomplishment in the Cincinnati area, which is a hotbed for high school football talent.”
He later became the first coach in the history of Cincinnati Christian University in 2016. The team went 0-22 during his tenure.
Fulcher and his wife, Judy, have operated MANA (Mentoring Against Negative Actions), a non-profit organization that works with incarcerated individuals to gain worthwhile skills that can be put to use after their release as they change the direction of their life choices.
“I think everyone who has a negative past, wants to leave it in the past,” he explained. “If the go to seek employment and get turned down they go right back to their past.”
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.