Huskies Strong Safety Curtis Williams (25)
Those impressions took a 180-degree turn however, the moment I stepped foot inside the football stadium. You just couldn't help but have higher expectations for the place. The bleachers were old and run down, looking like they'd been there for a century. Meanwhile, gulls swarmed in overhead, further evidence that the place was a dump. I just remember thinking how hard it was to believe that a Super Bowl was once played in that building.
As kickoff approached, the already rainy conditions became worse. It got so bad that, as a cameraman down on the field, I remember worrying that my shoes would come off. The field was like a big suction cup. Walking past Manu Tuiasosopo, in attendance that day to watch his son Marques play, I recall the former lineman asking me if I had a poncho. I'm a slender guy, and all I can remember thinking is that the only thing Manu could use my poncho for was as a hat.
Finally, mercifully, the game began as the rain continued to pour down from the heavens. The stadium was nearly empty, save for the large contingent of fans wearing purple in one corner of the endzone. Between the goal posts, there was nobody. It felt more like a big high school game than anything college related.
Honestly, I don't remember much about the game. I know the Huskies went to work as they often had that year with Tui behind center, and actually pulled ahead to a comfortable margin, which didn't come easy during that 2000 season. All that is a blur due to what played out after halftime.
I remember standing between the 30 and 40 yard lines with my camera in my hands as Stanford crept closer to the Huskies goal line. I can still see the handoff to Kerry Carter, and watching Curtis Williams do what he always did, running up to support the run. He was at full speed doing what he'd done many times before, only this time he led with his head.
The sound of the collision is something I'll never be able to get out of my head as long as I live. Curtis was a badass, and intimidator out there, and I can still remember vividly the sound of his helmet hitting. I remember thinking, "Wow, that was a collision!" It was like a train hitting a wall head on. I've never heard a sound like that.
Curtis didn't get up.
Doing what I do, being down on the field, you get used to seeing medics and doctors come out on the field. Usually the players get up and walk off or are assisted off the field. This time was different.
I saw Anthony Kelley and Hakim Akbar motioning frantically for the doctors to come out on the field. Being there that day, as the small crowd grew even quieter, you knew something was bad, but you still just didn't know how bad. I remember just waiting for Curtis to get up. After a few minutes when a guy doesn't get up, you realize it's serious.
Anthony Kelley just went nuts, screaming, "Curtis don't you stop, Curtis don't give up, Curtis keep fighting." Pharms was doing all he could to get Anthony away but he wasn't having much luck. Hakim Akbar was screaming too.
I remember seeing AK's eyes. It was a rage, it was a fear.
Bobby Hauck and Rick Neuheisel tried to huddle the players on the sidelines and get their heads back in the game, but the players were all looking back out at Curtis. I remember hearing the guys yelling out to Curtis, "We love you!"
I was in the endzone when the ambulance showed up and you just knew it wasn't good, but you still just tried to think that he was going to be fine. The players on the sidelines were still yelling and screaming, some knelt down and prayed. It was an eerie feeling.
Then, unfairly, the Huskies had to somehow try to put it all out of their minds and continue the game, all while fearing the worst for one of their defensive leaders. Emotionally spent, Washington allowed Stanford to make a miraculous comeback, recovering a number of onside kicks along the way.
And though Tui ultimately orchestrated one of the best drives in a Husky history – a three-play drive that spanned the length of the field and ended in a game-winning touchdown by Justin Robbins in the rain – it was as if nobody cared.
PALO ALTO, Calif. - Oct. 28, 2000, Husky wide receiver Justin Robbins (80) runs into the endzone to complete a last-gasp 17 second drive to win the game.
(© Max Waugh/MaxWaugh.com)
All the thoughts, all the questions after the game centered on one person and one person only – No. 25, Curtis Williams. The celebration was short. There were a few interviews but not many. Bobby Hauck and Rick Neuheisel quickly left to the hospital to check up on Curtis.
As the days dragged on, it was hard to hear that Curtis wasn't going to walk again. We did what we could at Dawgman.com. We stayed in touch with David, Curtis' brother, who is just an absolute saint. We then saw Curtis at the Rose Bowl. Our web site had the opportunity to raise money for the C-Dub foundation, and raised $28,000 for him at the recruiting banquet that year, which helped cover some of his expenses. His younger brother, Paul, was a wide receiver recruit who was offered a scholarship by Neuheisel, but he thought it'd be better to stay home and go to Fresno State and be close to Curtis down there.
A while after the banquet, on a Sunday night at about 10:30, somebody knocked on my door. If you knew where my house was, you'd know it wasn't the easiest place to find, so it made it especially unusual. I opened the door and outside was a bag sitting on the front door step, but nobody was there. I took it inside, and I was a little bit afraid to open it, but inside was a box and a note. The box contained a Rose Bowl watch and the note said, "I want to thank you for everything you did for Curtis." It was unsigned.
It was strange because I had this Rose Bowl watch, which anyone would die to own, but it just didn't seem right to have. I didn't go through the practices and the pain and agony to deserve it. I wore it once, but it was too weird so I never wore it again.
The hard part was when we heard that Curtis died. It was just a shock, it really was. Curtis had been through hell and back. He'd been recruited at runningback, moved to safety, pretty much kicked off the team, then came back. He was so close to not playing again, and Neuheisel brought him back.
At Curtis' funeral, it was just something to be there. I didn't go to cover it, I went to be there. There was just something pulling me there. I remember packing everything and heading down, and at the last minute, I don't know why, I remember packing the Rose Bowl watch.
Afterwards, seeing Anthony Vontoure, it was the last time I saw him, he just had this weird look in his eyes. I asked if he was okay, and he said he was, but I didn't believe him. That was the last time I saw Anthony.
At the grave site, I met Paul for the first time, a tall, skinny kid. I'll never forget the look on his face. There were tears rolling down from his eyes. I went back to my bag and got the Rose Bowl watch out and gave it to Paul. I thought he was the one who needed to have it. I never felt right having the watch, and I still to this day have no idea who gave it to me. I told him I felt I was just holding it for him, and I gave it to him.
It's weird to think about it, how Curtis actually died playing for the Huskies. Recently, the University of Washington painted his number on the field on the Husky sideline. I think he deserves more.
Curtis deserves to have a statue down at the UW. I know it'd get arguments from a lot of people that there are plenty of others who deserve to be there – people like Gil Dobie, Don James, Hugh McElhenny, Chuck Carroll, George Wilson, Roland Kirkby or Steve Emtman - but Curtis died being a Dawg. Who else is that true of?
There are currently big cement blocks in front of Husky Stadium that work as safety measures, keeping people from backing trucks up and doing anything unlawful. Why not replace those ugly cement blocks with statues of Husky legends , starting with Curtis Williams? A statue of Curtis should be there, just like C-Dub was there for the Huskies.