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BU’s greatest athlete gets his own documentary

Film about Harry Agganis premieres this spring

Quarterback Harry Agganis (SED'54) (left) also played defensive back with skill and athleticism, as this Oregon wide receiver discovered during a 35-6 BU victory at Fenway Park in 1951. Photo by BU Photo Services

BU football and baseball hero Harry Agganis is a legend among Boston sports fans, but in other parts of the country, his name is not exactly a household word. That disparity may change this spring, with the release of a film about the extraordinary life of the "Golden Greek."

 Dream Alley Pictures, a Boston-based film company, recently wrapped up interviews for their story about Agganis, who was batting  .313  for the 1955 Red Sox when he died of a massive pulmonary embolism at age 25.

“From the start, we wanted to make a documentary of theatrical quality,” says Jennifer Heffernan, Dream Alley’s founder and the executive producer of the film. Heffernan enlisted directors Jim Jermanok and Yale Strom. Jermanok’s recent film Passionata, about Portuguese immigrants in New Bedford, received two thumbs up from Ebert and Roper. Strom directed the acclaimed documentary The Last Klezmer, about Polish musician Leopold Kozlowski.

The Agganis family commissioned the project and hopes it might spur a feature film. “The documentary may help build awareness in Hollywood, and there is a chance that studios will take an interest,” says Heffernan. “His story truly resonates today.”

The Lynn, Mass., native was recruited in 1948 by 75 colleges, including Notre Dame, but he chose BU so he could be near his mother, who had been widowed two years earlier. An All-American quarterback, Agganis also played defense and handled kicking duties, breaking University records for passing yardage, touchdown passes, interceptions, and punting yardage. He put BU’s football program on the national map, drawing 40,000 fans to Fenway Park when the Terriers hosted Maryland in 1949.

He turned down a lucrative offer to play football as the number one draft choice of the Cleveland Browns and signed with the Red Sox. On the day he graduated from BU, he hit a game-winning home run against the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park before heading up Commonwealth Avenue to receive his diploma.

Agganis was known as a great competitor, but he always put his family, friends, and church first. When the Red Sox were on the road, he would always find a Greek Orthodox church in every city where they played.

On May 16, 1955, Agganis was diagnosed with pneumonia in his right lung and was hospitalized. He returned to the Red Sox on June 2 and collected two hits against Chicago, but failed to stretch a double into a sure triple, sitting on second base in exhaustion. It was the last game of his life. Suffering from pneumonia and phlebitis in the right leg, he was hospitalized again. He died on June 27 after a blood clot traveled to his lung. A bronze statue of Agganis (SED’54) stands in front of the Boston University arena that bears his name.

“This documentary isn’t about his sports stats,” says Heffernan. “It’s more about Harry Agganis the man — how he carried himself and how he handled his fame. I think the film is going to inspire many people.”