I’m hoping to start a regular feature in this space catching up with Huskies of the past (and occasionally even getting a few of these in the paper).
And I’ll start with a player who I surmised a few weeks ago might have been the last kicker in Washington history to kick straight-on.
“Maybe the last in the country,” said Steve Robbins, when I caught up to him recently via phone. As he did before he became a Husky in 1974, he lives in Wenatchee, running a garage door business that he started about 20 years ago. Two children, a son and a daughter, have graduated from high school and are charting their own paths, much as Robbins did when he arrived at Washington almost three decades ago.
He was also an offensive and defensive linemen as well as a record-setting kicker for Wenatchee High teams that were powerhouses in the early 1970s, winning state titles in 1970, 1971 and 1972 before losing in the first state title game in 1973 (here’s some history here in an obituary on former coach Lee Bofto).
At Washington, however, Robbins concentrated on kicking, and when he left he was the school’s career leader in field goals with 37 and point after touchdowns with 114. He kicked three PATs and two field goals as the Huskies beat Michigan 27-20 in the 1978 Rose Bowl, concluding a season that jumpstarted the Don James Era.
He also is tied for a single-game record that may be hard to top, kicking nine PATs in 1974 when the Huskies beat Oregon 66-0.
That was Jim Owens’ final year as coach, with James taking over in 1975.
Robbins says James approached him about switching to a soccer-style approach, which at the time was beginning to take over the game, and now is done by everyone. Robbins, however, said he had to have his ankle taped and locked to be able to kick and that he couldn’t make it work soccer-style. And kicking straight-on, he held the job through the first three years of the James era.
“I was pretty successful accuracy-wise, the way I was doing it,” he said. “The soccer-style thing didn’t work out very well. I just couldn’t do it.”
Interestingly, he said he might have ended up at WSU except then-Cougar coach Jim Sweeney preferred soccer-style kickers, having had success with Jan Stenerud at Montana State in the 1960s, one of the first to carry that style into the NFL.
“I actually wanted to go to WSU, which is kind of stupid,” he says with a laugh.
His kicks in the Rose Bowl helped provide the winning margin in what will always be one of the biggest victories in school history — he had field goals of 28 and 30 yards.
He laments that he almost had another as the Huskies were just past midfield as the first half wound down. But in an attempt to get a few more yards, Warren Moon threw an interception.
“It would have been a 54-yard kick and I was kicking 56 before the game and I was looking forward to it,” he said. “It was funny, we had a timeout just before that and coach James told Warren ‘make sure you don’t throw an interception because Steve can make this one.’ And it was funny because Warren didn’t go to coach after that. Instead, he walked over to me and said ‘hey man, I’m sorry.’ It was pretty neat.”
Aside from the Rose Bowl, one of his most famous kicks may have been a point after that gave Washington a 28-27 win in the 1975 Apple Cup. UW trailed 27-14 with 3:01 left before scoring two improbable TDs, the last on a 78-yard pass from Moon to Spider Gaines that was tipped by a Cougar player.
Some Cougar players and coaches have long contended that Robbins’ PAT that followed might not have been good, which by the rules of the day would have left the game in a tie.
“I’ll tell you what Don James told me right after I got to the sidelines — as far as you know they called it good,” Robbins said. “They called it good.”
After his UW career, Robbins played semi-pro football in Northern California for a while. He said he hoped the NFL might call but that “they were looking for a lot more length than accuracy.”
And after moving around a bit more, he eventually settled back in Wenatchee, where his name still rings more than a few bells.
“Oh yeah, a lot of people bring that up when they call and say ‘are you the Steve Robbins that played for the Huskies?”’ he said. “Yeah, that’s me. A long time ago.”