An American Idiot in Paris

The girl was among a group of college students I was traveling with. She and I had spent the evening across town at an underground jazz club called Le Caveau de la Huchette. In the quiet darkness, we walked along the Seine River toward our hotel. It was in the wee hours of a morning in September of 1992. We went up to my third-story room, just a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. To combat the humidity, I poured each of us a plastic cup of lukewarm Orangina.

She had flowing blonde hair and tanned arms. She wore a fragrance that hinted of lavender. Her bleary blue eyes indicated that she was more than a little drunk. I was a twenty-one year old idiot. She was puzzled by why I suddenly seemed absent-minded. So she tried to turn the tide in the best way she knew how. She began nibbling on my neck and slowly hoisted her sundress, to expose part of her thigh. I asked her if she would like to take a walk.

"A walk?" she asked, with astonishment in her voice. "Why take a walk now? We just took a walk."

"Hey, walks are romantic," I said, rubbing her shoulder. "What do you say?"

She scrunched up her eyebrows. "I say that you will have plenty of time for Husky football when you get back home."

"Kickoff is in less than thirty minutes," I said. "I will never forgive myself if I don't try to find a sports bar with a satellite dish."

"Derek!" she said. "You're in Paris! The City of Love and all that. And it's like three o'clock in the morning. Do you realize how ridiculous you sound?"

I started putting on my shoes. "If we were playing Toledo or somebody like that, I would let it go. But we're playing Arizona State. It's the season-opener and we're defending our National Championship. I will never forgive myself if I don't try. I'll make it up to you, OK? We can mess around after the game. Hey, wanna come search with me?"

"No, I don't," she snapped, and got up from the bed and left the room.

I wandered those dark and desolate cobblestone streets of Paris for an hour and a half. I passed closed cafes, closed flower shops, closed boulangeries and illuminated monuments. But nary a sports bar with a satellite dish. I looked at my watch and winced. It killed me to know that the game was now underway.

At about that moment, on the other side of the world in Tempe, Arizona, the Huskies broke huddle. QB Billy Joe Hobert strutted up to the line, called out signals, and took the snap. He ran an option to the right side, nicely timing a pitch to the trailing Napoleon Kaufman. Fullback Matt   Jones was leading the way around the corner. The fleet-footed Kaufman cut inside of Jones's solid block, and like a lightning bolt he spanned 63 yards with an astonishing sprint to the end zone. Kaufman discarded the football and started in with one of his Compton Quake dances. A nearby referee tossed a penalty flag in Kaufman's direction. As the Seattle Times' Blaine Newnham wrote: "Kaufman was so excited about his burst that the Huskies were penalized for taunting. Except there were no Sun Devils in sight to taunt."

Three series later, Washington led 14-0 and Mark Brunell entered the game at quarterback. The ball sat at the Husky 20-yard line. The option was called again, this time going left. Kaufman accepted the pitch and raced around end and down the sideline. As he approached the ASU 40-yard line, he mistakenly cut toward the middle of the field. This enabled Sun Devil defensive back Kevin Minniefield to make an ankle tackle of Kaufman at the 10-yard line. "I just went to the inside, when I should have stayed where I was," Kaufman said.

One play later, fullback Darius Turner took an inside handoff and bulldozed up the middle. As Turner fell toward the turf, he stretched the ball across the goal line, and the line judge jutted his arms into the air. This touchdown put the Huskies up 21-0.

The first scrimmage play of the second half demonstrated that the '92 Husky defense was not equal to the year before. ASU running back Mario Bates shot up the middle almost untouched for an 80-yard touchdown. Bates would amass 214 rushing yards on the day. It wasn't enough, however, as Washington beat Arizona State 31-7. It was the Huskies' fifteenth straight win, and eleventh consecutive road victory. Napoleon Kaufman carried the ball just 6 times, gaining 159 yards and scoring a touchdown. But in the aftermath, Coach Don James described the game as "really ragged." James was downright somber while reflecting upon his team's penalties, porous rushing defense and struggles with the passing game. "We do not resemble a team that is ranked #2 in the nation," he said. "There are an awful lot of football teams we could have played tonight and lost to."

Three days later, my thirteen-hour flight ended as our plane touched down at Sea-Tac airport. I had no idea if the Huskies won or lost. Perhaps it was the fact that I hadn't shaved in several days and was wearing sunglasses on the plane (trying to be tough and cool like jazz musician Sidney Bechet), but airport security detained me for an hour. When I was finally released, my traveling companions were gone, but Dad was there waiting for me. We exchanged a hearty handshake and pats on the back, while I noticed a grin frozen upon his face.

Before I could ask, he unfurled a copy of the Seattle Times. In big letters, the headline read: NAPOLEON MARCHES ON TEMPE. I felt happiness and relief.

About a year later, late at night in a Seattle-area supermarket, I ran into that girl from the Paris hotel room. She smiled at the moment of recognition, but was also averting her eyes. I was friendly. "How are you?" I asked. "How's the love life?"

"Good," she said with an affirming nod.

"That's good," I said.

"I'm living with someone," she said.

"Sounds serious," I said.

"We're actually engaged, you might say."

"Wow! Really? Congratulations!"

"Thank you," she said.

"You're a good catch," I insisted.

"Thank you," she said again.

"And what's the lucky guy's name?"

"Patricia," she practically whispered, with a wink.
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories