October 22, 2013 at 11:00 AM
What Don James meant to me: A former sportswriter remembers
By Dick Rockne
Dick Rockne was a sports reporter for The Seattle Times, where he worked from 1971 to 2000. He covered Washington during both the Jim Owens and Don James eras and also wrote a book on Husky football, “Bow Down to Washington.” He is retired and lives in Edmonds.
Much has been written and said about the influences Don James had on peoples’ lives during his 18 memorable years as Washington football coach. Many players, assistant coaches, athletic department administrators and staffers during that time have shared anecdotes about what James meant to them.
So what did James mean to me? As a Seattle Times sportswriter who covered nearly every James-coached team from his arrival in Seattle in 1975 through 1992, I appreciated his cooperation, candidness and frankness. I remember his thoroughness about everything, from the way he and his assistants recruited to how game plans were developed and adhered to.
But more than all that, I will remember how Don James, because of his success, altered my family’s lifestyle. And bank account.
Husky football became Priority 1 during the holiday season for my wife, Charlotte, and three sons – Joe, Andy and Matt. Oh, yeah. And me.
It all began in December 1977, when a Husky appearance in the 1978 Rose Bowl became a possibility. All it would take would be a USC victory over UCLA after the Huskies had done all they could by winning six of their last seven games.
If the Huskies were Rose Bowl-bound, it would mean that I would accompany the team to Southern California and not be home at Christmas time. So I suggested to Charlotte that she and the boys – Joe was 12, Andy 9 and Matt 6 – should come down after school was out to spend a week staying with friends in San Diego before joining me at Newport Beach for Disneyland and the Rose Bowl.
To say the idea was universally accepted would be an understatement.
I knew it would be an expensive trip, but after covering the last four Jim Owens-coached teams, all bowl-less, I figured this might be a once-in-a-child’s-lifetime experience.
And then USC made it happen by beating UCLA, 29-27.
I didn’t know it at the time, but what that trip established was a family tradition. After the Huskies’ clinched their next Rose Bowl appearance (1981) dinner-time conversation centered around departure days and on what day we would celebrate Christmas, not whether the family would stay at home while dad went to work for 10 days in Southern California. Noooo way.
Before it all ended, on New Year’s Day in 1993, the family spent the Christmas holidays with the Huskies at nine bowl games – six Rose, an Orange and two Freedoms. In part because our youngest son, Matt, was playing soccer on Saturdays, the first five Husky games he saw in person were three Rose Bowls, an Orange Bowl and a Freedom Bowl.
In a Facebook entry, Matt, now an English teacher and softball coach at Lynnwood High School, thanked the man responsible for the way he shared so many memorable holidays with his brothers, mother and father. He wrote:
“Thanks for amazing childhood memories … Anaheim Marriott and Rose Bowls, Christmas Eve dinners, the Omni in Florida for the Orange Bowl … dominating my Saturdays with family and friends. Wouldn’t have spent them any other way. RIP Dawgfather.”
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