I HADN’T TALKED with my old teammate Jeff Files in a long time. And when I picked up the phone to call the old Cougar cornerback I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to say, because life just kicked Jeff and his family in the face. He has Lou Gehrig’s disease.
This guy who did everything right -- worked hard, studied hard, married a great gal, built a successful dental practice in Redmond, raised two nice kids -- has been done wrong. So wrong.
Like Steve Gleason
and, earlier, Dede Moore
, this old Cougar ballplayer is battling ALS. There is no cure -- at least not yet. There is only managing each day as it comes.
It was great to hear Jeff’s voice when he picked up the phone.
He’s always been on the soft spoken side, and remains so today. But I was reminded more of another trait of his: perfectionism.
Jeff doesn’t do anything half way. He does everything in an excellent way, whether it’s parenting, medical school, or starting at corner in the Pac-10 for two seasons even though you possess speed best measured with a sun dial.
Despite a ho-hum 40 time, Jeff always seemed to play fast. That was because he used his head. The guy is wicked smart, and used that to advantage. He took great angles, learned the intricacies of true cover skills, and never -- and I mean never -- made a mental mistake. He also helped our secondary disguise coverages so well that during our 1981 Holiday Bowl season we led the nation in pass defense, and he intercepted four passes.
We would often make corrections on the fly and adjust coverages all game long. You’d be hard-pressed to show me a college secondary doing that today. Of course, it didn’t hurt that our four starters were all seniors -- Jeff, me, Nate Bradley
and John West
-- and that guys the caliber of Joe Taylor
, Rod Retherford
, Pete Shaw
and Mark Blocker
were backing us up.
Jeff (pictured above with Jim Walden
circa 1980) loved playing. The camaraderie, the strategy, and the hard work all drew him to the game. Yet he was majoring in kinesiology and medical school was his destiny. Balancing the demands of big-time college football with the demands of pre-med coursework is a mammoth undertaking. But Jeff did it, almost seamlessly.
All of which is a round-about of saying that Jeff never found a hurdle he couldn’t figure out how to clear. Or work hard enough to clear.
And now ALS has served up something he has no control over. Quite frankly, he’s really pissed off about that. Giving up his dental practice was one thing. But what keeps him awake at night is worrying about the toll of the ordeal on his wife Lisa and their two kids, both of whom are students at WSU.
When I told Jeff that Coach Walden and I thought we could piggyback onto Cougfan.com’s annual Karlynn “Maw" Howard Memorial Tailgate at CenturyLink Field to hold an informal reunion of old Cougar teammates from the late '70s/early '80s, Jeff was so grateful. He said he’d be there as long as his condition permitted, and mentioned that he has every intention of also getting to Pullman this fall.
So we’re going full steam ahead on turning CF.C’s August 28 tailgater before the Rutgers game in Seattle into a Cougar football reunion honoring Jeff Files. CF.C readers, former Cougar ballplayers, and well-wishers of every stripe are invited. Among the old Cougar luminaries who already have said they plan to be there are Coach Walden, Ricky Turner, Clete Casper, Matt Elisara, Pat Lynch, Mike Walker, Ed Tingstad, Ed Blount, Kerry Porter, Scott Pelluer and Charlie Flager. The list goes on.
The game kicks off at 7 p.m., which means the tailgate will commence around 3 pm. It’ll be in the north parking lot of the Clink. So mark your calendars.
It’s rally time, Coug fans.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Paul Sorensen played safety for the Cougars from 1980-81, earning first-team All-America honors as a senior. He then spent two seasons in the NFL on the Bengals' and 49ers' practice squads and later played in the USFL. From 1985-98 he was the color commentator on radio broadcasts of Cougar football and later held a similar role on Eastern Washington University broadcasts. Also a long-time assistant coach in the Greater Spokane League, he's been writing periodically for CF.C since 1999. His columns here are labeled SLAP! The acronym stands for Sorensen Looks At the Program. The word also aptly describes the way Paul played safety and the way he does color commentary: in-your-face, nothing held back.
JEFF FILES AND HIS FAMILY.