Ode to Husky Stadium was a labor of love
Posted by Don Shelton
Husky Stadium spoke to me.
In a phone call to Don James. Lunch with Jim Lambright. An email to Lincoln Kennedy. For a month, the ghosts of 91 years of college football came calling. And I listened.
The place where Washington football has been played since 1920 staged its final game Saturday before a $250 million, 22-month renovation began. But before Oregon beat the Huskies and demolition began, The Seattle Times wanted to give the old place a proper sendoff.
We decided to say goodbye by giving voice to some of the icons who played, coached, worked and cheered there over the years as part of a Sunday project. Our package also included photos, video, story, historical timeline, readers' memories and polls. But we felt that letting some of the people who made Husky Stadium special tell us -- in their own words -- what it meant to them would be a special epithet.
I was the lucky guy who got to talk to most of them. Over the past month. I posed two questions: 1) What does Husky Stadium mean to you? 2) What's your most memorable moment?
Then I sat down and drew up a list of a dozen or so icons of Husky football. You can guess most of the names. James and Lambright were on the short list. So were Hugh McElhenny, Rick Redman, Sonny Sixkiller, Warren Moon and Joe Steele. I also decided I wanted to go beyond players and coaches and talk to others who were essential to Husky Stadium. So I added Robb Weller, a yell leader who some (falsely, apparently) credit with inventing the wave in 1981, and Gertrude Peoples, the longtime academic adviser. I also added Bruce King and Bob Rondeau, a couple of broadcasters who brought Husky football to life for decades.
Then I called. And called. And emailed. And texted. And called some more.
As sports editor, I'm paid to edit stories, go to meetings and make sure we make budget, among other things. Once upon a time, I was paid to cover Husky football for a couple of different newspapers, and later I was paid to go to games and help assign stories and gather quotes for The Seattle Times. Over more than 30 years, I saw Moon, Steele and Steve Emtman play. I asked James and Lambright questions.
I was there when Steve Pelluer beat Michigan with a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion back in 1983. I also was there when USC's Todd Marinovich said, "All I saw was purple," after Emtman and Lambo's defense left him dazed and humbled.
So, in a sense, this was a blast from my past. As I spoke to some of the legends of Husky football I suppose I was reliving some of those glory days right along with them. And saying goodbye (at least for a while) to the place where so many of those memories were made.
One by one, my calls were returned and my emails were answered. What struck me as I typed up the comments was the almost reverential tone with which people think of Husky Stadium. They spoke as if the place had a special magic that went beyond wins and losses. The unparalleled view, the deafening crowd noise, the mysterious tunnel and the precarious press box kept coming up. Certain plays and games also were mentioned again and again. The Warren Moon-to-Spider Gaines miracle reception against WSU in 1975. The Don McKeta screen pass-and-dash against Oregon in 1960.
Placed end to end, the words wove a complete picture of Husky Stadium, an image that I never really fully understood before.
One name would lead to another. I called opposing coaches like Jim Walden and Rich Brooks. I asked Ron Crockett, a former UW student and prominent booster who helped make the renovation possible, to contribute his thoughts.
There was always someone else to call. And almost everyone got back to me.
Congressman Norm Dicks? Too much bureacratic red tape, I thought. But I got him and couldn't get him off the phone.
Lou Gellerman, the longtime voice of Husky Stadium? No way, I was told by several people, who said he was recovering from a stroke. Somehow I got him on the phone, too, and he never sounded better.
Mark Emmert, the former UW president who is now the president of the NCAA? Had to be too busy, right? He answered my email almost immediately.
If I couldn't reach someone, I enlisted others on our crack sports staff. Bob Condotta tracked down longtime press-box usher George Hickman, among others. Bud Withers relayed quotes from Dennis Erickson. Danny O'Neil brought back comments from Pete Carroll.
Of course, it wasn't really any of us who got them to talk. It was Husky Stadium.
There were two highlights for me. I was able to talk for the first time to two icons of football now in their 80s: Hugh McElhenny and Keith Jackson.
McElhenny, the halfback enshrined in the college and pro football halls of fame, was a must. But UW officials had lost touch after he moved to the Las Vegas area and didn't know how to reach him. After an email to one of our ace news researchers, Miyoko Wolf, I had his cellphone number within 15 minutes.
"How did you get my number?" McElhenny asked when I called.
We talked for 20 minutes.
Jackson was easy. I reached the great ABC broadcaster, who called some Husky football games early in his career, on the first try. And his melodic voice was just like I remembered it when he was painting word pictures of sunsets at the Rose Bowl.
We talked for 15 minutes.
The hardest to reach was Emtman. The great Husky defensive lineman is busy with his construction company in the Spokane area. The few times he answered, he asked me to call him back later. I wasn't going to argue with a guy that big. A couple of dozen calls later, he finally gave me the interview and later agreed to do a live chat for an hour.
The list kept growing. Bob Schloredt, Marques Tuiasosopo, Brock Huard, Hugh Millen, Aaron Williams, Ryan Leaf, Mike Lude, Chuck Nelson, Lawyer Milloy, Scott Woodward.
A few people eluded me. Running back Napoleon Kaufman, basketball star Nate Robinson (who played a year of Husky football), quarterback Billy Joe Hobert, USC's Marinovich didn't call back or didn't get our messages.
Finally, I had to give up. I already had gathered more than we could possibly cram into the newspaper, so the rest went online. In all, I talked to 41 people, about 30 more than I intended.
A few people didn't get a call, and I'm kicking myself. I never thought of Ron Holmes, the great Husky pass rusher who died at age 48 a few days before that last game at old Husky Stadium.
I can't believe I didn't call McKeta, who took a short pass to the promised land 51 years ago. He's 77 and lives in Sequim.
And what about Damon Huard? And Jacque Robinson. Oh, and there's Junior Coffey, Greg Lewis and Bob Sapp.
Guess we'll have to save those for the grand reopening in 2013.
If you'd like to write a Take 2 post, email Sports Editor Don Shelton at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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