Article written by Dan Shonka, Ourlads NFL Scouting Services
Former NFL scout with the Minnesota Vikings and National Football Scouting
I first met John (June 6, 1961-December 12, 2008) when he made a school visit at New Mexico Highlands in 1984 where I was the head football coach. We became fast friends since John had played for the Boilermakers and I used to work for Jim Young at Purdue. The tall redhead with a well-manicured handlebar mustache phoned me the day prior to his arrival during two-a-days and asked me what time we were practicing, and I said we’ll be going out at 5:00 AM. Big Irish was there at 4:00 AM sharp to go over our prospects. Nobody worked harder than John Fitzpatrick. When he made his school calls he was pressed, starched, and buttoned down from head to toe. He wore a bone-colored wool cowboy hat, a classic Wrangler cowboy cut twill shirt with a spread collar, western spade flap pockets, and three snap Western cuffs. He tucked his shirt into a pair of pressed straight leg Pro Rodeo Wrangler jeans. A Longhorn Cowhide leather belt with a huge Longhorn design buckle held up his britches. His pant legs were tucked into his Tony Lamas Bullhide cowboy boots. His attire rarely changed over the years.
Five years later Fitz recommended me to Harry Buffington at National Football Scouting and we worked together until he joined the Vikings. There are numerous administrators, coaches, and scouts that got their “break” in the NFL thanks to John’s recommendation. He never expected a thank you. Fitz only recommended people that he knew had a blue collar work ethic and people who would be loyal to the team or the “brand” as he would call it. John not only helped stock the league with “football people” but he received a public “thank you” from a ball boy he had previously coached at training camp – Larry Fitzgerald, the all-pro receiver from the Cardinals, complimented John at the Combine when he was coming out for the 2004 Draft. In front of numerous writers and media, Fitzgerald declared “I just had lunch with longtime Viking scout John Fitzpatrick, and I was telling him the drill he taught me, how to catch off the Jugs machine, that’s something I still do to this day. And I learned that at 12 or 13 years old.”
John was the first film director at National Football Scouting, duplicating hundreds of the tapes and films that the colleges mailed in for player personnel evaluation. Fitz, in turn, had to “dupe” each film or tape and then mail out copies to every one of Nationals’ twenty team members. Many a night John slept on the couch in the film room just to make deadlines. NFL Films took over the responsibility in the late 1980s.
John felt at home on the Western range as he did on the football field and in the film room. He loved the Wild West and was passionate about it. Instead of riding a horse, he rode his Harley-Davidson Sportster all over the Western and Southern United States. When not riding his Harley he drove his standard shift pickup from college to college with his Blue Heeler, Crookster, riding shotgun. John was legendary in setting endurance records driving from one college town to another just to make sure he was at the school on time for a pro timing and workout day. He only flew in an airplane when it was physically impossible to drive the trip.
All NFL scouts working in the Southern and Western states had John on speed dial for the best local eating establishments in their area. Fitz knew them all – Barbecue, Italian, Seafood, Mexican, Tex-Mex, etc. Many times he personally knew the chefs at the restaurants. John was a highly respected scout by his peers in the NFL and took pride in doing his ordinary job extraordinarily well. He earned the trust of coaches in his area. Fitz left no stone unturned and was meticulous on his background checks, evaluation, and writing his reports. If a general manager wanted to know how far back a prospect could stand from the urinal and hit the deodorant block with his stream, John would have the measurement to a quarter of an inch.
John loved the Indy Racing League (most notable the Indy 500) and also was a huge Formula 1 racing fan. Fitz could play anything on the violin from a concerto by Bach to Charlie Daniel’s “Orange Blossom Special.” His musical talent went largely unnoticed outside the state of Indiana, but was a thing of beauty. John’s sincere love for dogs and horses alike, man’s two best friends, was as genuine as the love that he demonstrated towards his own fellow man. During the summer down time, Big Red would guide white water rafting tours down the Rio Grande River. He spoke fluent Spanish and could communicate in a variety of dialects. The Viking nickname represents an aggressive person with the will to win. If you look up Viking in the dictionary, John’s photo should be next to the definition. He was as rough as a corn cob and direct as a laser beam, but would give you the shirt off his back. John Fitzpatrick was intelligent, perceptive, intense, determined, loyal, imperfect, a practical joker, humorous, and at times as obstinate as the horses he broke on his Texas ranch.
Rest in peace dear friend.
Dan Shonka, General Manager and National Scout, Ourlads Scouting Services