A visit with former Husky Tyrone Rodgers

When Tyrone Rodgers – aka "T-Rodge" - was being recruited coming out of high school 20 years ago, he felt paralyzed by indecision. The most important moment of his young life hung in the balance, but he couldn't choose amongst three schools. So he came up a simple solution; draw a name from a hat.

"Washington was one of my top three choices," said Rodgers recently with a laugh. "My choices were Oklahoma, Arizona State and Washington. When it came down to it, I couldn't make a decision—so I literally pulled it out of a hat. I chose Oklahoma."

But a funny thing happened after two years in Norman, Oklahoma.

"Oklahoma went on probation," he said. "The reason I went out there was to play in bowl games and be on TV and to play for Barry Switzer. So they go on probation, and Barry suddenly said he was retiring. So there it was—no Barry Switzer, no bowl games and no TV. Once he announced he was leaving, I left too."

So Rodgers got in contact with Washington, and soon after arrived in Seattle to redshirt the 1989 season. He says he felt comfortable as soon as he arrived.

"It was like a family," he said. "As soon as I was there, it was `Welcome home.' I didn't know the guys, but they were like, `Hey, what's up Tyrone?' It made me feel welcome."

The comparison to family has been uttered many times by former Huskies who played in that era. With that in mind, Rodgers was asked about a handful of former teammates who made his time at Washington so memorable. We started with Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award winner Steve Emtman.

"Hmm, playing alongside Steve Emtman," said Rodgers. "He was always going 100%. I never had to look to my left and say `Hey, are you ready play?' I may have had to occasionally look around to other places, but never to him. He was always geeked up and ready to go. But we also had negative moments with Steve Emtman. We had one year where he personally made (team physician) Dr. Bramwell a lot of money. Steve single-handedly messed my knee up, Mark Brunell's knee up, and James Clifford's. Not intentionally, of course—let's be clear. But it was from him going all out in practice." Then with a laugh, he added, "Of the three, I was the first victim!"

When asked about linebacker Chico Fraley, Rodgers was succinct.

"Chico Fraley was light in the ass and came at you like a train," he said. "He was a Chihuahua who thought he was a pit bull. He was always coming to LAY YOU OUT. He was going to hit, hit and hit some more. That sums up Chico Fraley."

When asked about linebacker Donald Jones, Rodgers' voice grew reverent. He and Jones are close friends to this day.

"Don never smiled," said Rodgers. "He was always the same, no matter what. He always had the same look on his face, and we didn't know if he was mad or what. About the only time I ever saw him mad was when he jumped offside twice in one game. In the middle of a game, we got into the huddle and he started going off and yelling-- and we moved the huddle away from him a bit as if to say-- `Hey Don, settle down man!' We were saying that we had wanted to get him mad, but now we weren't so sure!

"But let me tell you something else about Don," he said. "As players, we were all away from our mothers and fathers and going to college. There were girls around and alcohol and everything else. We wanted to experience everything. But Don had that Christian background. He believed in doing everything the right way. If a wrong kind of bug jumped on Don, he always pushed it off. He was always correct and respectful. You know, in college, you're always trying to get other guys to drink and whatnot. But with Don, we didn't even try to persuade him to do anything. He was so respectful and decent. And we wanted him to stay that way, because he was always the rock. He was the poster boy of letting you know that if you eat right, sleep right and say your prayers, this is how you will look. Don was built like a Greek God-- chiseled, lifting the world, and he never got hurt and never got sick. If his knee hurt, he would shake it off and go back out there. He never missed any time. He was a rock."

Another linebacker and the patriarch of the defense was Dave Hoffmann. Rodgers was asked if he was close friends with the man known as "The Hammer."

"Oh God, yes… I loved the Hoffmann!" said Rodgers with a hearty laugh. "His favorite wrestler was Hulk Hogan. Same with (teammate) James Clifford. Dave would get into character during practice, and it would be unbelievable. It would drive us crazy. We would tell the guy—‘Calm down a little, will you?' In practice and scrimmages, he would get into Hogan's character, and he would be yelling (in a crazed, turbo-testosterone voice) ‘IT'S 3RD and TWO! WATCHA GONNA DO-- WHEN IT'S THIRD AND TWO?!!' He would be jabbering play after play after play. It would never stop! And then Clifford would join him, and they would both be in character, doing Hulk Hogan. We hoped for a goal line situation, so the offense could just TRY to run over those guys. They were something!"

As we moved our attention to the secondary, Rodgers was asked his favorite moment relating to flamboyant cornerback Walter Bailey.

"I've got a favorite memory from Walter Bailey," said Rodgers with another laugh. "We had played Oregon and were watching film of it the following week. We were blowing them out. During one play, Walter had his back turned to the line of scrimmage and is dancing before the snap. Well, the ball gets snapped and he turns around in time to see the receiver go right past him on a post route. He catches up to the receiver and knocks the ball down. Play over! Then he jumps up and starts dancing again. It was unbelievable! The coaches really got on him. But we players thought it was hysterical. Walter just had so much talent and loved life so much. He was in the moment."

Aside from Terrance Powe, wide receiver Curtis Gaspard was Rodgers' closest friend on the team. "Curtis is another person I look at as a rock," said Rodgers. "He walked on. He earned his way. He became a go-to receiver. He never stopped improving. He is an example of how in life it's not where you start, but where you end up. He has continued that to this very day, being extremely successful both in business and in life."

Toward the end of the interview, Rodgers expressed amazement of how his former Coach Don James was able to survey the practices from a tower along Husky Stadium's south sideline.

"Coach James oversaw everything on that field," he said. "I don't care where you were at on the field. If you made a little mistake, you better believe that he saw it."

And was there ever a time that Rodgers managed to get away with something that eluded Coach James' attention?

"Nah, I can't do that!" said Rodgers with a final laugh. "Even to this day, Coach James still has that persona. If I disclose anything in this interview, he'll come down to L.A. and make me do calisthenics or something."
Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnsonbooks@comcast.net

His website is www.derekjohnsonbooks.com

Dawgman.com Top Stories