Goodbye . . . until next season

I am taking a hiatus from writing for It has been five years since that two-day stretch that I was first hired by Darrin Donnelly of the old Pigskin Post, followed by Dave Samek offering me a chance to write for Now seems like as good a time as any to tell the tale of how I came aboard.

It was prior to a home game in 1997 that my Dad and I walked into the College Inn in the U-District. We were meeting some people there for a pre-game meal. There was a writer who had come up from Los Angeles to see the game. I had met him briefly once before and thought he was a cool guy. Through a message board and emails he and I had become light acquaintances and I was looking forward to talking further with him.

As we sat down at the large table, my Dad was on my left, and seated to my right was some guy named Dave Samek. He ran a website I knew little about called On the other side of him was Moni, who admitted at the table that she had a crush on Husky QB Marques Tuiasosopo. On the other side of her was the writer from California, who regaled the table with a bottomless pit of football anecdotes and tidbits.

For the next frustrating hour, it seemed like every time I tried to talk to the writer, Dave Samek kept cutting me off. Afterwards I felt like an opportunity to get to know the writer better had been lost.

In August 1999 I was with friends in Montreal sitting in a nearly empty Olympic Stadium watching the Expos. There were two elderly guys in front of us ignoring the game but arguing about politics in French. My cell phone suddenly rang and it was my friend Pat Thrapp calling from back home. In the middle of the conversation Pat mentioned that he had spoken with Dave Samek. He said that he told Samek a little of my background and that he should consider bringing me on board as a writer. He said that I was a walking encyclopedia of Husky History.

I thanked Pat but told him that my previous experience with Samek hadn't been a pleasant one. Pat said, "No! Dave's a good guy. It's food for thought. Anyway…"

A year later I had just been hired by the Pigskin Post, when I had an exchange of emails with Dave Samek. He offered me a chance to write for and I happily accepted. In time, I found Dave to be far more gracious and cool than I originally experienced at the College Inn. I am also forever grateful to him for providing me a venue to write about my favorite topic—Husky football. I have had fun. It's also been a real blessing that Dave has provided me with 98% freedom to pursue whatever topics I have desired. It is a neurotic part of my nature that I work best and am happiest without having too many rules and constraints put upon me.

In addition to Dave, I would also like to thank Chris Fetters, Race Bannon, Dick Baird, Moni, Max, Scott, Rico, Joe Kaiser and Henry Han. Finally, as 90% of my dealings with are with Kim Grinolds, I would like to thank Kim for his graciousness and professionalism. Kim's a cool guy, always pays me promptly, and from time to time smoothes things out with the UW athletic dept when I rock the boat.

From five years of writing for, there have been several indelible occurrences. I remember my first article that was called "And a Gridiron Runs Through it." It was about my Dad and how the only thing he and I had in common while I was growing up was Husky football. When it was published, I received an outpouring of emails. Up until that time I had published several articles and pieces of fiction, but I had never before directly experienced the receipt of my writing like that. The readers' voices were shockingly real. That was a realization for me.

It was also a realization for me when I wrote an article for the Pigskin Post in 2001 called "Oregon has legitimate Reason to Loathe Rick Neuheisel." The article detailed how Neuheisel (while at Colorado) ran a fake punt on Oregon while leading 31-6 late in the fourth quarter of the 1996 Cotton Bowl. Following that piece, I received giddy emails from Duck fans, but an outpouring of furious emails from Husky fans. They told me that I had betrayed the University of Washington, that I must publicly apologize to Rick Neuheisel, and there was one guy saying that if he ever crossed paths with me he was going to punch me out. I will admit to smirking a couple years later as some of these same critics were seething about Neuheisel on message boards and in emails to me, as the team's performances grew weaker on the field, and Neuheisel progressively shamed himself off the field.

I'll never forget when my time came to an end with the Pigskin Post in mid-season of 2003. It had in recent months been bought out by I was growing frustrated because I still hadn't been paid by the new owners. They had also recently demanded that I quit writing for because they received several complaints from other Pac-10 fans claiming that I was biased toward Washington. I politely refused to quit writing for, and they backed off. One day soon after I was kicking back upon a hotel bed in Lake Tahoe, Nevada with a copy of the Sporting News. I opened it up and saw my words and research in an article under the byline of one of my editors.

I never wrote another word for them.

I remember the stormy night in 2003 that the power went out in my apartment right when Lincoln Kennedy was starting to talk about his frustrations regarding the sanctions period from a decade before. I stumbled and flailed through my darkened apartment like a drunken Ray Charles trying to find my cell phone, candles and matches. I called Lincoln back and conducted the rest of the interview by candlelight.

I remember the annoyed and motionless stare that former Husky coach Jim Lambright gave me while I was joyously bear-hugging him in the back of the end zone as the Huskies scored a late touchdown to beat the Cougars in 2003. And I remember after that game, standing alongside Seattle P-I columnist Art Thiel in the interview room, as we interviewed Husky wide receiver Reggie Williams. I had grown up reading Art's columns, so I was thinking to myself, `is this cool or what?' Subsequently, on a couple of occasions I have turned to Art for advice in handling delicate situations and he has graciously provided me his thoughts born of years of experience.

I remember standing in an empty and dimly-lit Don James Center on July 20, 2004 at 7:59 AM, waiting for former Husky coach Don James to arrive for an interview. This interview would result in "The Roses of Wrath." In his years as a coach, the legend of his punctuality almost rivaled that of his successes on the field. I experienced this punctuality first-hand. I will never forget glancing down at my watch at precisely the time it registered 8:00 AM, and just then hearing the door open up behind me as Don and Carol walked in.

I remember interviewing former Husky defensive tackle Dennis Brown in a Bellevue Starbucks. I had the flu something awful but was trying not to show it. Two hours into the interview I thought I was going to pass out but I knew that I had culled enough vital information to flesh out his story. I brought the discussion to a close and shook his hand. Dennis had a smile upon his face as he exclaimed, "Aw c'mon man! We're just getting started. You don't have any staying power!"

I remember an interview I conducted just three weeks ago with Husky basketball player Brandon Roy. We were the only people in Hec Ed Pavilion, and all of the lights were off. The arena was shrouded in darkness, except for the scoreboard that hangs suspended over the court. The glowing effect it cast off was cool. We spoke for an hour—and the first ten minutes were about the movie "The Godfather." It turns out that Brandon and I have both seen it over fifty times. I asked him what his favorite scene was. He said it was when the Corleone brothers are together trying to figure out how to deal with and avenge their father's shooting. Young Michael Corleone stuns everyone in the room by announcing that he will be the one to meet with Sollozzo and the corrupt police captain and kill them both. Brandon said he liked it how Michael asserted himself and stepped up to assume a leadership position and help guide the Corleone family out of trouble.

In closing, I want to say thank you to all the Husky fans who have written over the years. I want to give a special shout-out to `Bil Dawg' who provided me with some writing advice two years ago that I have tried to apply with each article since. Finally, I also want to thank that writer from the fortuitous meeting at the College Inn in 1997. As time went on, he became a valued friend and remains one to this day (When you read in my articles of "my friend from another Pac-10 school", this is the guy.) I also want to thank the small contingent of fans from other schools who have written me regularly. Husky coach Tyrone Willingham is right when he says that football is man's greatest game—and the way it can link people together from various regions around the country provides a special kind of camaraderie.

My plan is to return to before next football season. In the meantime, I've got some other things I want to do. I will continue to write a monthly column in Sports Washington magazine.
Derek can be reached at Top Stories