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Thanks for the memories
Rich Linde, 24 January 2011

In boxing, the heavyweight with the knockout punch grabs the headlines. Same for the long hitter on the PGA tour. How about the little guy who can slam dunk a basketball in sensational fashion? Former Husky Nate Robinson comes to mind.

Hugh McElhenny could take it the house as spectacularly as any Husky I've ever seen. I remember being glued intently to my vacuum tube radio, listening to the description of "Hurricane Hugh" racing the opening kickoff back 97 yards for a touchdown against the Golden Gophers at Minneapolis in the second game of the 1949 season. His lightening gallop shocked the partisan crowd, electrified Husky fans and forever etched his name in Husky history..

Napolean Kauffman, with his piston-churning legs, was another breath-taking performer. Add NIP to my other U-Dub favorites, along with Don Heinrich (the Arm); triple-threat, one-eyed quarterback Bob Schloredt; passing sensation Sonny Sixkiller (Six); Rose Bowl hero Warren Moon; the Warrior, Marques Tuiasosopo; and lately, the Prez from REV, Chris Polk.

But my favorite Husky of all --  and I have been a UW football fan since I was 8 years old and a native of Seattle -- is Jake Locker

In my opinion, Locker is the most gifted athlete ever to play quarterback for the Huskies. I'm talking about sheer athleticism, not trips to the Rose Bowl.

Jake could do it with his feet and with his arm; to me, he was Washington's version of Stanford's John Elway.

Along with the creaky wooden floors of Denny Hall down to the perfumed labs in Bagley Hall, Husky heroes travel with me for evermore.

Where the heck is Ferndale?

“He’s a tad under six-foot-three, weighs about 222 pounds, and for you weightlifters in the room, cleans 320 pounds, benches 330 pounds and is the second or third fastest on our team, probably running a 4.5 40 or under. I’m probably being a little conservative, but I don’t want the true numbers to get out," former coach Tyrone Willingham told a room full of us Husky fans and alums at the Rancho Las Palmas Hotel in Palm Springs, which hosted the eighteenth annual “Dawg Days in the Desert,” in March 2007.

The next day at breakfast, Willingham walked into the patio area and talked about his prized recruit with school president Mark Emmert (photo above) and his wife DeLaine. Since my wife and I were seated right next to them, we couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. Emmert told him that he’d given a good talk. Willingham told them that the juniors and seniors on the team were already looking to Locker for leadership, his young quarterback being a natural leader.

After he left the Emmert’s table, we chatted with the upbeat, goateed Willingham, who told us that Locker’s presence had helped with recruiting that year, saying that he’d signed two gifted wide receivers, one from Colorado and one from Los Angeles.

The warm desert sun smiled on Ty that morning; little did he know of the storminess that lay ahead.

Character counts

The night before, a radiant Willingham spoke of Locker's recent relationship with a young boy, 6, who had an inoperable brain tumor. After receiving a call from the boy’s mother, Locker hosted the family at Husky Stadium earlier in the month, playing catch with the boy and running races with him.

And Locker has given back to the community many times over.

At Washington, Jake played in two different systems, played through injury -- yet, steadily improved his throwing mechanics -- and turned down a chance to go to the NFL so he could lead his teammates to a bowl game this past season.

In keeping with his dedication and loyalty to the team, Jake twice won the Guy Flaherty Most Inspirational Award (2009, 2010), the UW's oldest and most prestigious team honor.

Certainly, playing his last four games with a broken rib should be inspiring enough for anyone having trouble just answering the alarm in the morning.

In an era of disappointing NFL quarterbacks and one golf pro, in particular -- Brett Favre, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, and Tiger Woods -- Locker will lend an impeccable set of character traits to the NFL quarterback position and the American professional sports scene, in general.

Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis, who is coaching the North team in the Senior Bowl, had this too say. "His (Locker's) personality is such that he'll be a good leader. You could see him sticking around the NFL for a while just based on his personality over the 36 hours that we've been around him.

"I like his disposition, how he carries himself and everything that way. I think he's probably been a great leader and you can kind of see that in him."

Add to leadership skills: honesty, integrity, loyalty, sincerity, humbleness, dedication, self-sacrificing, compassionate, hardworking, and the list goes on.

Jake would make a terrible politician. ;-)

The numbers

Locker set a school record for total touchdowns (accounted for) with 82 -- 53 passing and 29 rushing. He holds the school record for career rushing yards by a quarterback (1,856) and the single season record (986, 2007). Locker is second to Cody Pickett in career passing yards (7,583; 2007-2010).

In his last 14 games as a starter, which date back to WSU and Cal in 2009, Locker went 9-5 overall and 7-3 in the Pac-10. Throw out the two Nebraska games and Locker has a pass-completion percentage of 60.52% for the other 12 encounters. And this without a tight end to dump it off to and having to play behind six different incarnations of an injury-illness-plagued offensive line.

I take issue with those who say Jake has an accuracy problem and has had a mediocre year, mainly because he didn't win the Heisman Trophy. This year, he hardly had the supporting cast that media darling Cam Newton had at Auburn -- and, as an aside, Newton carries some questionable baggage, as does another "eastern-mafia" hero, Terrelle Prior at Ohio State.

Here's what former NFL QB Ken O'Brien says about Jake and his supporting cast: "After looking at the film, to be kind about it, Jake was the integral part of their offense. In my opinion, they didn't have the talent to do a lot of the things they would've liked to have done schematically, so I think a lot fell on Jake's shoulders to make plays."

The best memory of all

“I think this team has a chance to go to a bowl game,” Locker told the New York Times last April. “It’s up to us.”

It wasn't easy. Down 3-6, with three games to go, the Huskies needed to win their last three games to become bowl eligible. First came a hard fought victory over UCLA at Seattle, followed at Berkeley by last-play win over Cal that ended the Bears' bowl hopes.

And then the Apple Cup and WSU, on what would be an icy "cow pasture" in the minds of Husky fans. All of Pullman wanted to be a part of Locker's humiliation -- Locker being touted as a Heisman candidate.  What a dolt Locker was for giving up millions of NFL dollars to stay another year, the story line would read. WSU fans knew the Seattle Times, with its Pullman bias, would rub a Cougar victory into the faces of Husky fans and Locker aficionados for years to come. Cougars feast on letters printed in the Times written by angry Husky fans complaining of its double standard in covering WSU and UW football.

The Huskies and Jake had put it all on the line. In the Sports World, time seldom has bigger moments.

But the gritty Huskies prevailed in Pullman, where disgruntled, angry fans threw ice balls at them, even at an injured Husky being carted off the field, in a cowardly display of self-humiliation.

And then an ensuing invitation to the Holiday Bowl followed.

In Locker's last game as a Husky, a gutty nucleus of inspired players came together against prohibitive favorite Nebraska to win it for him, in what was Washington's first bowl victory in 10 years and its first bowl appearance since 2002.

It's a memory Locker will cherish for the rest of his days. You can't put an NFL-sized price tag on it.

And history will have its say about Locker's loyalty to his teammates and their allegiance to him, in their last season together as self-sacrificing comrades.

It took Mike Stoops five years to turn a 2-10 Arizona program into a winning one and Jim Harbaugh three years to turn around a 1-11 Stanford team.

Steve Sarkisian took just two years to right a sinking ship, with Willingham thrown overboard and lost at sea. But newly captained Sark had a courageous Boatswain's Mate at the helm and a crew of loyal shipmates who ably manned the tattered riggings.

Over the years, we Dawg fans have swarmed in droves to see our legends: the King, the Arm, the one-eyed QB, Six, Nip, Warren, the Warrior, and now, Montlake Jake.  

For me, though ... I will always remember Jake for his friendly smile at Picture Day, for all of his intangibles, and for making Husky football fun to watch again during a time when Washington football had seen its darkest days.

So long, Jake, but not forgotten.

----------

Notes:

Eastern mafia -- the slanted east coast media and their spin.

The Prez from REV -- A take off on James Polk, the eleventh president of the United States. RB Chris Polk played for Redlands East Valley (called REV) high school which is located in Riverside County, California, which, along with San Bernardino County, make up what is called the "Inland Empire."

Ferndale -- Born in Bellingham, Washington, Locker grew up in Ferndale, which is in the northwest part of the state.

The other 12 games: Discounting the Nebraska stats in his last 14 games, Locker completed 210 of 347 passes for 2,582 yards, 20 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. His passing efficiency rating for those 12 games is 136.86, which includes a completion percentage of 60.52%. The Cornhuskers finished third in the FBS in passing efficiency defense. Against the Blackshirts, Locker wisely threw a lot of balls away because of the tight coverage on his receivers.

Pullman bias -- Google "Scoreboard, Baby" and think double standard.

Sinking ship -- The Huskies went 0-12 in 2008, which led to the jettisoning of Willingham and hiring of Sarkisian.

Marvin Lewis and Ken O'Brien quotes -- Taken from Bob Condotta's blog (The Seattle Times)
 

Richard Linde can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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