Rock and Roll Dawgs

OK. It may be a stretch, but stand back ‘cause we're going to reach big time on this article. This is a hybrid article based on the premise that Washington Husky football and some of the greatest rock and roll acts in the history of music are directly correlated. WARNING: THIS ARTICLE IS NOT MEANT FOR THE MUSICALLY CHALLENGED.

Let's take a look at the early days of Husky football and rock and roll, shall we? When you look back at the annuls of Washington gridiron history, a compelling case can be made that perhaps the first "big name" football player to ever don the Purple and Gold was George Wilson.

Wilson won the Guy Flaherty most inspirational medal for his heroics in the 1925 season, the same year he was named an Associated Press and Collier's Magazine All-American. It was the first such award anointed to a Washington Husky in school history. He ran for 134 yards and threw for two touchdowns against Alabama in the Rose Bowl, was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951 and the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1991. Wilson was a true pioneer of Husky Football and put them on the collegiate football map. No one will ever wear #33 again for Washington, as it was retired in Wilson's honor.

Elvis Presley (AP)

The artist that was the most influential in putting rock and roll on the map and making it a viable product was undoubtedly Elvis Presley. Elvis walked into the now-famous Sun Studios in Memphis in the early 50's and had Sam Phillips record him while he was on lunch break from his truck-driving gig. Phillips was able to capture the magic that was Elvis, and soon audiences of all races and colors were listening to Presley. He ascended to the top of the music world, combining elements of country and rhythm and blues as no one before him ever had. A true pioneer.

Wilson would die poverty-stricken and penniless while Presley would die way to young at the age of 42 from a drug-abuse-fueled heart attack. Both left indelible marks in their worlds. The music world will never forget what Presley did in carving out the path that rock and roll would play in popular music, and Husky fans should never forget what George Wilson did for Husky football.

As the 40's drew to an end, Washington was lucky enough to secure their first big recruiting coup in California when the handsome Hugh McElhenny decided to attend school up north in Seattle. McElhenny turned the college football world on its ear, being named an All-American by the Associated Press and the Newspaper Enterprise Association in 1951. He set a Washington scoring record with 233 points in his career as a Husky. He scored 125 points in 1951, which stood as a school record for 45 years. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1970. Hurricane Hugh, Hurrying Hugh, The King . . . he had many monikers but what he is to Husky fans is probably the greatest running back in school history. In the rock and roll world, my equivalent to Washington's King would not be Elvis (although they did share the same nickname), it would be John Lennon, the poet laureate, song-writing genius that fronted The Beatles.

The Beatles with Ed Sullivan (AP)

Where Presley began to carve the path in music that others would follow, Lennon ran down it with such fervor and purpose that he and his band mates captured the imagination of an entire generation. The Beatles made it huge in Germany and England largely based on their early club performances and relentless touring, but it wasn't until Lennon and James (Paul) McCartney began writing and recording their own songs that the world took notice. With no less than five songs in the top 10, they were number one in America before their plane ever touched the ground in New York for the first time. Two performances on The Ed Sullivan Show cemented their place in the American youth and forever changed the way music was recorded, written, and marketed.

McElhenny took the path that Wilson had blazed before him at Washington and took it to another level entirely. He was the first big-time back to play for Washington that wasn't from the state. The Beatles were the first foreign band to own America's growing rock and roll scene, led in those early days by the visionary John Lennon, who was following in the footsteps of Presley and Holly.

If McElhenny was John Lennon, then Don Heinrich was Paul McCartney for the Huskies. When McElhenny left after 1951, Heinrich picked right up and became one of the greatest quarterbacks in collegiate history, ensuring that the Huskies wouldn't fall into obscurity after The King left. Heinrich's 1846 passing yards in 1952 and 60.6-completion percentage were unheard of back then, just as writing and recording your own music weren't done in the early 1960s. If Beatlemania swept the world in 1965, The King and The Arm swept Husky fans into delirium in the early 1950s.

Staying in the 1950s a moment, it is worth noting that Buddy Holly and his band, "The Crickets," were the very first white act to be booked to play in the famous Apollo Theatre. Of course, the management of the Theatre had no clue that Holly was white but, after taking the stage to a shocking silence from the audience, he had them dancing in the aisles shortly after breaking into "Peggy Sue." It was a landmark in music, and Holly is also largely credited for popularizing the four-man band lineup that features two guitars, bass, and drums.

It's more difficult to pinpoint a black artist that was the most influential in breaking the racial barriers, but a good argument could be made for Richard Penniman (also known as, "Little Richard"). The Beatles took great notice of what Little Richard was doing in the United States and they even copied his trademark "whoooo" and had a big hit with a cover of Penniman's "Long Tall Sally."

In Husky football, one of the all-time great Huskies that was able to successfully change the way people looked at racial issues in football was quarterback Warren Moon. Moon replaced the popular Chris Rowland as the Husky signal caller and was loudly booed by fans when things went wrong. Moon endured the boos and racial remarks, but stuck it out, with the full backing of Coach Don James. He went on to lead the Huskies to the Rose Bowl in 1978, their first such appearance since 1964. It was an incredibly tough time for Moon but he persevered and opened many doors that had been closed up to that point. He played over two decades of professional football in both the CFL and NFL and was inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame in 1984.

One of the most influential bands in the mid to late 1960's was The Yardbirds. With such powerhouse guitarists as Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, it's a wonder that they didn't achieve the stardom nor have the impact that their successors would. The biggest move in this band's history was when Clapton left the group and was replaced by a young guitarist named Jimmy Page. The Yardbirds broke up but Page quickly reformed the band with a new line up featuring Robert Plant on lead vocals, John Paul Jones on bass, and John "Bonzo" Bonham as its larger than life drummer. "The New Yardbirds" changed their moniker to Led Zeppelin, a name adopted after The Who's legendary drummer Keith Moon heard them and announced that they would ‘sink like a lead balloon.'

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page (AP)

No one had heard a band sound quite like Led Zeppelin and, by the time manager Bill Graham and the band had perfected their sound and stage show, that band went on to become one of the greatest rock and roll acts in history. No one has heard a sound like them since.

Now let's look at the 1989 Washington Huskies defense. Hot quarterbacks left and right were shelling them and, finally, after ASU's Paul Justin lit them up for over 400 yards, it was time for a change. Dana Hall replaced William Doctor at corner and the entire defense was scrapped and changed in one week. The 46-attack defense was born and unleashed on Oregon State, who didn't know what had hit them. Neither did Emmitt Smith, who removed himself from the game as Washington was trouncing Florida in the Freedom Bowl to end that season, showing the world how defense would be played for the next several years.

Jim Lambright taught the principles of a defense derived by Buddy Ryan's Chicago Bears' defense and it turned the college football world on its ear. Washington made a commitment to attacking the offense as opposed to reacting to what they saw, and the results were incredible. No one had seen a defense quite like it. They used leverage from the ends while putting a big, strong guy in the middle that no one could block.

That defense is what would go on to lead the Huskies to a national championship in 1991. Dana Hall would be the Jimmy Page of that team, as it was his move from corner to starting safety that allowed Lambright and Coach Don James to install the defense in such a way to where it wouldn't get toasted. If Hall was Jimmy Page, then Steve Emtman was John "Bonzo" Bonham. Bonzo was so daring he often played the drums without sticks, using his bare hands. He also had the quickest right foot in the history of drumming. Emtman had perhaps the quickest first step of anyone that played defensive line in college football. Where Bonzo could carry a drumbeat by just using his right foot on a bass drum, Emtman could occupy three offensive linemen at once and still make the play. He was named All-American by just about every service possible, won both the Outland and Lombardi Award trophies, and was the first overall pick in the 1991 NFL draft. His influence over college offensive game plans was legendary and not unlike Led Zeppelin's influence on music.

John Paul Jones was an incredible behind-the-scenes musician, capturing the most difficult keyboard parts and bass lines for Led Zeppelin, virtually receiving no credit. The guy on the 1991 team that played that role to perfection was offensive tackle Suipele Malamala. While linemate Lincoln Kennedy had the outgoing personality that attracted the attention (and all-American honors in 1992), Malamala just went about his business, which was to bury opposing defensive linemen and linebackers alike.

WR Mario Bailey (Allsport)

Robert Plant was the charismatic front man and also wrote incredibly soulful and beautiful music. While Plant penned one of rock and roll's most famous songs, "Stairway To Heaven," his voice was so different from anyone else's in music that many wondered what on earth they were hearing. Washington's 1991 team had All-American wide receiver Mario Bailey as their front man. Bailey was too small and not fast enough to be an impact receiver, but someone forgot to tell him that as he kept getting open and burning defenses for huge gains. He was named All-American by both the Associated Press and United Press International in the season the Huskies won the National Title. He finished his career with over 2000 yards in receiving and 17 touchdowns. He had 126 yards on just six receptions in his final Rose Bowl performance. Bailey didn't have the typical receiver speed or build, Plant didn't have the typical crooner's voice. Yet, both men accomplished great things.

So, there you have it. The parallels between rock and roll legends and Washington Husky football legends.

I warned you . . . it was a reach. Top Stories