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His longest yard
By: Richard Linde,
Updated 2 December 2003
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,"
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.
[Linde]. Linde, Richard, "To Hell
and back twice: The Taylor Barton Story,"
Goe, Ken, “Red badge of courage,” The Oregonian, November
[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