The thrill of rediscovering Chuck Peck

FOR A COUGAR-CRAZED kid growing up in Spokane, there was perhaps no better gift of fate than an older brother working in the sports information department at Washington State. It may be hard to fathom the joy of getting a personally inscribed photo from Chuck Peck. But believe me, it was good stuff then. And it becomes even greater stuff when you can't find it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Back in September 1972, I was entering fifth grade and my brother Steve, one of the all-time great big brothers, was enrolling at WSU. A talented writer with a great work ethic, he promptly landed a part-time job in the SIDs office, which eventually led to a stint in the Spokesman-Review's sports department. Consequently, my life as a youthful Cougar fan would become nothing less than magical.

There was a trip to the press box for the WSU-UCLA football game in '73 ... A seat next to the scorer's table at the WSU-Gonzaga hoops game in '75 ... A visit to the Cougar locker room after the '76 Apple Cup ... A ringside view of Warren Powers' inspirational post-game team meeting after defeating Cal in '77 ... Media guides galore ... A football that the Joe Danelo had booted in practice ... A handshake with legendary Harry Missildine, the gravely voiced columnist whose greeting was succinct: "Hello dher, brodda."

Without this front-row exposure to the Cougar way, Cougfan.com surely would not be here today.

The most tangible reminder of those wonder years was the array of autographs Steve amassed for me. Up to then, my collection of signatures consisted of a lone, though stellar, exhibit: Cougar running back Bernard Jackson.

As the '70s unfolded, I soon had a crimson shrine in my room. Black-and-white photos of great Cougs -- all inscribed "To Greg" -- adorned one wall. There was Peck, Danelo, Ty Paine, Tom Poe and Steve Ostermann.

There also were scraps of paper with autographs from most of those guys, plus the likes of John Sciarra, Sonny Sixkiller, famed OSU coach Dee Andros and sportscaster Dick Enberg.


PART OF THE COLLECTION.

Over time, these treasures were misfiled, misplaced or just plain lost. In the late 1980s, while living on the East Coast, I decided to inventory the best mementos of my youth whenever I made a visit back home. Baseball cards, photos, etc. That got me hot on the trail of my old Cougar autographs.

Numerous recon missions to my folks' basement and garage proved fruitless. The only treasure that turned up over years of looking was a WSU-UCLA basketball program signed by John Wooden.

Wooden was great. Alas, his signature just doesn't rate with a photo on which you're dubbed a "Cougar buddy" by none other than strong-armed quarterback Charlie "Chuck" Peck.

In recent years I'd pretty much given up hope that my crimson collection would turn up.

So I'm in Spokane recently helping Dad pack up for what he says is his last house move before the big trip to Holy Cross Cemetery. It's hour 32 of the 33-hour packing-athon when Dad asks if I've gone through the small filing cabinet on wheels.

"Haven't seen it the entire weekend," I tell him. "In fact, I haven't seen it in years."

Check the closet in the office, he says.

"I've gone through there already," I tell him. "Just old clothes and ancient camera gear."

The file should be behind the clothes, he says.

Sure enough, hidden from sight behind two rows of hanging clothes is the old cabinet on wheels.

Inside are various mementos from high school and early college. In the middle of it all is an unmarked folder. I open it.

Staring me in the face is none other than Chuck Peck. The Pride of Ballard is back!

The smile on this 46-year-old face must have rivaled the one that greeted Chuck when he first arrived in 1972. None of the other old photos was there, but all the signed pieces of paper -- Bernard Jackson, Ty Paine, et. al. -- were.

There was even an autograph from the guy who played the Hamburgler in those old McDonald's commercials. I forgot I had that one.

People talk about life's simple pleasures. Finding something you've given up for lost is a thrill.

You know that feeling when you find a $10 bill in the pocket of a coat you haven't worn in months? Take that feeling and multiply it by 100.

Sports generally, but Cougar sports in particular, have a way of creating instant highlight reels in your head. It's akin to having your own version of ESPN Classics that turns on randomly.

That old photo of Chuck Peck had my mind replaying the audacious audible he called (a long bomb to the endzone) during mop up time of the Cougars' 27-10 Apple Cup win of 1972. From there I flashed to a Missildine column -- "Peck's fan club grows" -- after Chuck led the Cougs to a 42-6 halftime lead and 52-26 victory over Washington in the 1973 Apple Cup.

And as I write these words, the classics channel of my mind is tuning in again. This time it's the WSU win over Stanford in 1972 –- the first Cougar football game CF.C co-founder John Witter and I ever watched in person. I think of it because I remember doing a double-take after the Cougs' last TD of the afternoon, when Peck (the holder) and Danelo (the kicker) switched places for the extra point. Peck made the kick -- but ended up in the doghouse. Turns out he told Danelo as they were jogging out for the PAT that Coach Sweeney said they could swap spots. Sweeney, of course, had authorized no such move.

Ah, those crimson memories. Whether you're 11-years-old in 1972 or 46 in 2008, there really is nothing quite like ‘em to put an unexpected smile on your face.

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS COLUMN, YOU'LL ALSO WANT TO READ TWO RELATED PIECES FROM THE CF.C ARCHIVES ...

Sports writing with a Missil: pithy, concise is about the life and crimson times of columnist Harry Missildine.

Searching for Bernard Jackson is about a fateful quest to find the star of the 1971 Cougar football team.


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