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His longest yard
By: Richard Linde, Updated 2 December 2003

Fans knew there was something seriously wrong. There were rumors flying about. Then an article in the Oregonian of Portland confirmed the rumors, bringing tears to fans’ eyes. Former UW quarterback Taylor Barton has been whittled down to 159 pounds by a disease that required two operations.

He suffered for almost two years with a disease that began in the fall of 2001. His family, Washington's coaches, and team doctors knew about it, but mostly Taylor kept it to himself. After a period of time, his immune system was weakened by the medication used to control the disease, and he was continually dehydrated and weakened because of the loss of bodily fluids and blood.

Suffering from ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease, Barton had his colon removed to keep it from perforating last August.

And then another operation was required to break up the scar tissue from the original operation. He spent Thanksgiving in the hospital, fighting nausea and an infection that pushed his temperature to 104.5, according to The Oregonian.

Another operation will be necessary to reconnect his digestive system.

Since October, he has carried around a large bag full of liquid nutrients, which are pumped into his bloodstream around the clock.

The fear of infection is omnipresent because of the medication, taken in the progressive stage of the disease, that has weakened his immune system.

When Barton fully recovers, Coach Mike Riley of Oregon State has offered him a graduate assistant’s job. Riley tried to recruit Barton in 1997; however, Barton signed with Colorado, in what turned out to be a bizarre recruiting incident and a long-term relationship with Rick Neuheisel.

He was recruited widely. In his senior year at Beaverton High, Barton threw 56 TD passes and passed for 4,027 yards, both of which are Oregon records. Also, he threw 24 touchdown passes in the playoffs. 

Barton’s connection to Rick Neuheisel began in January 1998, when Barton took a recruiting trip to Colorado, accompanied by a reporter and photographer from The Oregonian.

A story that included a photo of Barton, Neuheisel and two Colorado assistant coaches was published prematurely in The Oregonian two days before signing day, an NCAA rules violation. Apparently, this story prompted the NCAA to review Colorado recruiting practices, the review occurring one year after the story's publication, coincidentally at the time Neuheisel left Colorado for Washington.

In 1999, when Washington discovered that Rick Neuheisel and his coaching staff had violated the quiet-day visitation rule, it penalized itself. Part of the penalty involved Colorado players. After he left Colorado, Neuheisel talked to Barton on the phone one day, wished him well and said goodbye to several other players who were standing nearby. Colorado accused Washington of tampering, and the Huskies promised not to recruit Colorado players as part of its self-imposed sanctions. 

After playing at Colorado in 1998 and 1999, Barton transferred to the City College of San Francisco, where he was the team's offensive most valuable player during the 2000 season.

But his heart lay with Rick Neuheisel, who was at Washington. Barton, who is as cerebral as Neuheisel, had a certain rapport with him unmatched by other coaches.

It took a long letter written by Barton to University president Richard McCormick to turn the tide, and Washington backed off from its original stance that prohibited the recruiting of former Colorado players. The UW turned the matter over to the Pac-10 compliance committee. Ironically, the Oregon athletic director, a member of that committee, recommended the giving up of two scholarships, which paved the way for Barton to enter Washington as a Junior, with two years of eligibility remaining. [Linde].

At Washington, he mastered the playbook with ease, and threw with accuracy in practices. Like Neuheisel at UCLA, Barton was born to be a coach, that's where his future lay. The toughness of Cody Pickett wouldn't render Taylor any significant playing time, most fans thought, and Cody was one year behind him in school.

As it turned out, the two scholarships were well spent. The payback occurred on October 6, 2001, in an historic game against USC.  

Cody’s down. It’s bad. His right shoulder and arm hanging limp, Pickett leaves the playing field with the Huskies behind 14-7 late in the second quarter.

“Now playing quarterback for Washington, number 12, Taylor Barton,” Lou Gellerman announces, his words bellowing throughout the stadium, its fans disquieted. 

Obviously nervous and out of synch with his center Kyle Benn, Barton fumbles three center exchanges after taking over for Pickett. After the break, the coaching staff eases Barton into the game by letting him run two plays from the shotgun. Barton runs the ball twice, the agony of the last hit, paradoxically, easing his nerves.

Taylor has a magnificent second half, throwing for 197 yards, completing 11 out of 20 passes, with no interceptions. With the scored tied at 24, he engineers a 49-yard-10-play drive, which takes the Huskies to the Trojan 15. Now it is John Anderson’s turn to excel and he boots a 32-yard field goal to win the game with just 3 seconds remaining.

And then the following week, the game against UCLA, Barton plays with courage and dedication, passing for 340 yards and one touchdown, going 23-44-1 on a hot, blistering day at the Rose Bowl -- which, ironically, sits on an alluvial fan called the Arroyo Seco (literally, "dry stream.") That stream of adrenaline that an athlete calls on in the midst of mayhem went dry for the rest of the Huskies that day.

Without a running game to keep the defense honest, Barton is as helpless as runner lugged with weights in Pamplona. He is  bulled to the ground 21 times, gets up each time, but doesn't let the lingering pain derail his concentration. After the game, he’s taken to the hospital, suffering from a concussion, a sprained foot and dehydration.

Caught on television, with a certain reminiscence of the "Longest Yard," DE Dave Ball goes one-on-one with Barton, hammering him to the ground after a pick. A week later, Ball apologizes for the thoughtless incident and Taylor accepts his apology.
 

Barton played in 5 games during the 2001 season. He passed for 647 yards, completing 44 of 86 passes with 5 touchdowns and 2 picks.

On Picture Day, in August of 2002, I wished Taylor luck, saying I hoped that he would get to play against UCLA in November. Joking about the prior game with UCLA, he asked me if I’d seen the movie, “The longest yard.” I laughed, along with nearby fans. He seemed in good spirits then and was not showing the effects of the disease that ravaged his body. It was only when I returned home that I noticed the picture I had taken of him the year before was remarkably different from my current one.

Barton said some coaches and trainers and a couple of teammates had an idea of what was going on, "but I don't think they knew the extent. The doctors told me I looked a lot better than I physically was." [Condotta].

A month later, Barton checked himself into a hospital in Portland, went on a liquid diet to quiet his colon and took higher doses of Prednisone, a medication used to treat colitis.

During the 2002 season, Barton threw 8 passes, completed 7 for 42 yards, and played in 5 games. Amazingly, he was able to practice with the two's all season, and was Pickett's backup if the unforeseen should have occurred.

As luck would have it, a broken finger on his right hand kept him from playing against Purdue in the Sun Bowl, a game in which Neuheisel had promised him significant playing time.

None months later, whittled to a shell of himself, as he carried a football-sized bag of nutrients, fans and old friends of his barely recognized him on the street.

Could he have once played collegiate football, some may have wondered?

At the time of this writing, Barton is recovering from an infection and is confined to a hospital in Portland. Off and on, he has spent more that 50 days in the hospital since the disease was diagnosed in March of 2002.

"I'll get there. I didn't come this far to stop now," Barton says.

With USC on a roll these days and Washington in turmoil, for some time in the future, Taylor Barton, may be the last quarterback to have led the Huskies to a victory over the Trojans.

Hopefully, his name won't just be an answer to a trivia question, especially if life gives him the break he deserves. He has too much to impart, so much to give to other people.

Taylor battled his way into the UW, captured our hearts, and is now fighting for recovery, in this his longest yard. He's worth 85 scholarships in anyone’s heart and on anyone’s team, the most you can have.

--------------

Note: This article can be found in the History Section of this site and will be updated as needed. The photo of Barton, above, was taken late August at Picture Day 2001.

References:

[Linde]. Linde, Richard, "To Hell and back twice: The Taylor Barton Story," www.4.malamute.com.

Goe, Ken, “Red badge of courage,” The Oregonian, November 30, 2003.

[Condotta]. Condotta, Bob, "Former UW backup QB Barton fighting serious medical conditions, The Seattle Times, 2 December 2003.

Richard Linde (a.k.a., Malamute) can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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