From the Midwest, he persuaded over 100 promising athletes to leave their ethnic neighborhoods and board a train for Seattle. These young men came to play football for the Huskies-- and were known along the west coast as Washington's "Strauss Boys". Five of them eventually developed into All-Americans; guys with unique Polish names like Max Starcevich, Vik Markov, Rudy Mucha and Ray Frankowski.
In a recent interview with Dawgman.com, former Husky linebacker #56 Joe Krakoski (1980-1984) was asked if he had heard of the Strauss Boys.
"No, I have never heard of them," he said. "That's interesting… But my family was originally from the Chicago area. Who knows, maybe I'm a distant relative to one of the Strauss Boys. There were probably a few of them swinging a pick in a coal mine. My Dad would tell stories of the Poles in the mines and when the whistle would blow after the shafts had gone down (collapsed). They would have to go down there to dig them out to see who was still alive… It was certainly a different time."
Joe Krakoski's Dad played football in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins. But Joe's upbringing wasn't what you might expect.
"Obviously my childhood was full of football," he said. "Ken Herock was my godfather. And guys like Ben Davidson and Jim Otto were around, and we associated with them as one would with an extended family. You'd think that my father would be the one to encourage me to play football, but it was actually the opposite. My Dad made me start later—he knew the toll that football would take upon the body after many years. But I had a lot of testosterone flowing through me, and according to my Mom I was like a bull in a china shop. So she wanted me to play football. My Dad was saying, Don't be in such a hurry, but my Mom encouraged me to sign up to play Pop Warner."
Joe spent his high school years in Fremont, California and played for Mission San Jose.
"Coming out of high school, I knew nothing about Washington, but when I went on my recruiting trip, it stood out. The campus was beautiful and I was in awe of the architecture. It was an easy decision, really. I remember the guy that recruited me from Oregon State had such horrible breath. It was right after a game, I had played both ways and was exhausted and just wanted to hit the showers, you know? And this guy is in my face telling me how great it would be to go to Oregon State… His garlic breath is killing me and I'm thinking, No way am I going to your school!."
Krakoski laughed again. "This is how I ruled people out, right? If people only knew what goes through a recruit's mind. I remember the guy from Washington State who visited me at my high school. He met with me during lunch period. He goes on this 30-40 minute presentation about how fantastic WSU is and all the great things they are going to do, and I'm sitting there hungry with my lunch inside a brown bag. When the bell rang, I still hadn't eaten my lunch. But this guy didn't care about that. He just wanted to tell me how great WSU was. So that ruled them out!"
When Washington set their recruiting sights upon Krakoski, they had a straight-forward approach that he found appealing.
"My Dad had wanted me to go to Cal-Berkeley, even though he didn't say anything," said Joe. "But Washington stood out. Don James sat in my folk's house, and said that if I came to Washington I would always have an opportunity to finish my education if something happened to me in football. I also knew the competition there would be great. The coaches didn't tell me Joe you're the Greatest! Instead, I remember (Defensive Coordinator) Jim Lambright holding up a sign that showed the depth chart. He showed the listing of all the great players, and then he pointed at the bottom of it and looked at me and said You know where you are? Here's where you are, DEAD LAST. Then he held up a second chart that showed the 40-yard dash times for the linebackers, and he said Do you see how fast these guys are? And I looked at him and said, But coach, I'm faster than all those guys. And Lambright just looked at me and just replied, Oh?"
Krakoski pauses to chuckle at the memory, and then explained, "I had run a 10-flat 100 meters in high school, so I was pretty fast. Not too bad for a white guy, huh?"
Joe Krakoski went on to become a decorated linebacker at Washington. His Dad came up to see four or five games a year. In Joe's career, the Huskies played in two Aloha Bowls, a Rose Bowl and an Orange Bowl. He relishes in talking about his old teammates, including Tim Meamber, Jim Rogers, Joe Kelly, Jacque Robinson, Ken Driscoll, among many others. He laughs at the memory of carpooling with his friend and ferocious-hitting safety Vince Albritton on a long road trip back home to the Bay Area.
"I'm driving and go to drop Vince off. He doesn't say anything, but we're going deeper and deeper into the Hood. It's becoming clear that it's an area that doesn't respond well to Caucasians. As he's getting out the car, he turns to me and says Joe, lock the door, turn the car around and get outta here!"
Joe Krakoski also delights in telling a story from the 1981 game against USC, which the Huskies won 13-3.
"I was involved with a play that day the likes of which I haven't seen before or since", he said. "USC was punting and we've got a punt block on. Lambright called for every position to go into a bull rush. If you get halfway to the punter and he kicks it, you're supposed to turn around and head back down field and set up a wall for the return. So me and about five other guys have turned around and are running together down the field to set up a wall for Ray Horton. Ray runs under the ball and stands there and catches the ball. But he stands there motionless like he had signaled for a fair catch, but he hadn't! The USC guys let up and start jogging. Ray's there for a 3-count, then suddenly starts running…
"And here we come charging down the field… POW! POW! POW! POW! POW! Four or five USC guys went down simultaneously. Ray returned the punt for 20-25 yards. Later on, Lambright was going back and forth with the film showing the USC guys getting clobbered over and over. We knocked the crap out of them. Lambright was yelling how much he loved that."
Krakoski's Husky career was to conclude in the 1985 Orange Bowl when Washington upset Oklahoma 28-17. In one of the greatest triumphs in Husky history, Krakoski was forced to stand on the sidelines. Five days earlier, he had torn up his knee in a "live" practice that some players angrily questioned the necessity for amongst themselves.
In 2003, former Husky All-American safety Tim Peoples spoke to Dawgman.com about his old teammate Joe Krakoski.
"I know that Oklahoma scored 17 points in that game, but I am convinced that if Joe had played in that game, we would have shut them out. We had a freshman (David Rill) playing in his spot. I know that missing that game really tore Joe up… And I can tell you that Joe Krakoski was one bad (expletive)."
Says Krakoski: "At the time I was really ready to shine in the Orange Bowl. But then I got hurt. I thought it was the end of my career. Later on Houston drafted me in the 6th round. I played in the NFL for two years but got hurt again-- more problems with the knee."
"But actually I look at getting injured before the Orange Bowl as a saving grace. It saved me from several years of wear and tear on my body from the NFL. And after I got hurt and my football career was over, Don James kept his word. I returned to the University of Washington and finished my degree and they paid for it."
When asked about his favorite moments in the NFL, Krakoski talked about playing special teams for the Washington Redskins.
"We were playing the Dallas Cowboys and they kick off to us. From my playing days with the Huskies, I was taught to keep hitting until the whistle blew. On this one play after I made my block the play was still going so I turned looking for someone else to hit. As I am about to block another guy, he suddenly grabs me— and it's Vince Albritton, who was playing for the Dallas Cowboys. We're grabbing each other and smiling and he goes What are you doing! We had a Husky moment there on the field. He goes Joe! How ya doin'?"
These days, Joe Krakoski is living Reston, Virginia, where he is a Director of Business Development at a company called CNSI. "I also have a 12-year old daughter named Kaela," he said. "She loves to cheerlead and wear Husky hats and watch the games when they're on back here...
"And she also loves the fact that her Dad was a Husky."
Derek Johnson is a freelance writer and can be reached at email@example.com.
Joe Krakoski: Modern Day "Strauss Boy"
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