One Moment Changes Everything for Rogers

Before becoming one of the most decorated football stars in UW history, Reggie Rogers was floundering. Not at football, but as a forward on Marv Harshman's Husky basketball team. Rogers was wasting away on the bench, and the happenings at Husky Stadium were far from his mind.

"At the time it was a really bad situation for me," said Rogers recently to "During my first season at U-Dub, I was all-everything. Then when I came back from San Diego they told me that Chris Welp was going to start in my place for one game, but it didn't mean nothin'. Well, I never got my spot back. So that kind of wore on and I wound up at the end of the bench."

In Reggie Rogers' life, there have been many twists of fate. Some have been blessings, and some have been devastating. This particular time, fate was smiling upon him and his 6'6" 250-lb athletic frame.

"One day there was an article in the paper," said Rogers. "The reporter quoted me as saying that Don James had a spot for me on the team. That was news to me! I had never said that, or thought it. But a student came up and told me about the article. So I just walked up to Coach James's office, and he was like, `yes, I've got a spot for you.'

Reggie's brother was the late Don Rogers—at the time a star with the Cleveland Browns, following an All-American career at UCLA. The advice that Reggie got from his sibling rendered a profound influence on the fortunes of Husky football.

"Coach James wanted me to be a tight end," said Rogers. "This was before my brother Don had passed. I said there was no way that I was going to run out there (for a pass) and turn around and let someone like Don come up and hit me. I hadn't played football since my junior year in high school. Coach James asked me where I wanted to play, so I said how about inside linebacker?

"It was tough at first," said Rogers. "On the first day at practice, everybody was laughing at me. I had a pad everywhere you can think of. And when I would get hit, I would run to the sideline and get a pad and put it there too. I didn't think I was going to be able to do it. It looked like I was going to be a big ‘ol bust. I think the coaches were thinking that too. They had given me the same number (#51) as Dan Eernissee and locker #100 or whatever. So I called up my brother Don over the weekend and explained what was happening. He described to me how to hit and what I was supposed to do. That cleared everything up. That next Monday, I went back out there and blew everybody out of the water. I just started comin' with it. After that, (UW linebacker) Ron Hadley got hurt and I started coming into my own. I became the starting linebacker and there was no looking back after that."

Rogers may have begun excelling, but his inexperience showed. He was way behind his fellow linebackers in comprehending the playbook. Looking for assistance, Reggie relied upon a fellow defender.

"Well that was basically my first time playing football," he said. "I discovered quickly that a football play might change three times before the word HIKE! I didn't know the game. That first year I relied on Fred Small to tell me what to do. The call would be made in the huddle, and every time I would look at Fred and say what do I do? He would say REGGIE, RUN OVER TO THAT SIDE AND HIT THAT GUY! The play would be changing so much and I didn't understand what was happening. That's why after Fred and Ron Holmes left in 1984, (the coaches) switched me to defensive end. Because I just liked to rush the quarterback. I didn't like to cover backs coming out of the backfield and I never could drop back into coverage in the right place. I just didn't know everything that was entailed in playing that position."

In speaking of the 1984 team that went 11-1 and won the Orange Bowl over Oklahoma, Rogers describes both the toughness and closeness of the defense.

"You would never find a group of guys that was as close as that defense," he said. "We were incredibly close and there were some TOUGH guys on that team. And throughout my career at Washington, what I liked best was that our walk-ons were just as important as the starters. There was respect all the way around."

Rogers was asked about the climatic moment of that '84 season—when linebacker Joe Kelly intercepted an Oklahoma pass that had been tipped by UW defensive tackle Ron Holmes late in the game.

"That broke their back!" said Rogers. "For me, as a football player, I remember that whole season like it was yesterday. I have that Orange Bowl on video and I watch it to this day. I was out there playing, but I was also a fan too, if that makes sense. When Joe Kelly and Ron Holmes did something, I was a fan of them.

"Same thing with safety Jimmy Rodgers," he continued. "We all knew if a ball carrier managed to get into our secondary, Jimmy was going to come up and hit the guy so hard that he would hurt himself. People don't understand how tough that dude was. He played an entire season with a broken arm. And he ran around like he was trying to break the other one!"

Rogers was asked about All Pac-10 linebacker and team captain Tim Meamber. "Tim Meamber would come into the huddle shaking his head and looking crazy," said Rogers. "Timmy had total control of that huddle. There was no power trip from anybody. Timmy was in command, he would call the play in the huddle, and then he would look at me as if to say, REGGIE, ALL THAT BASKETBALL STUFF DON'T MEAN A THING OUT HERE! YOU CANNOT GO THE WRONG WAY ON THIS PLAY! He wouldn't say it, but he would give me a look that would communicate all that. Then I would turn to Fred Small and say, `Meamber's going to kill me if I go the wrong way. Where do I go?'"

Rogers howls with laughter in recalling a story from when the Huskies were playing USC in Los Angeles that same year.

"Once when we went to USC, Fred was strong side and I was weak side," said Rogers. "On one play, we break huddle and he suddenly tells me to go over to the strong side. I didn't understand why, but I did it. I lined up across from USC's tight end, and I had never before seen a human being that black! He had a black mouthpiece and black gums, everything black. Well they said HIKE, and this guy hit me in the head so hard that I was seeing green stars, yellow moons, everything!

"I (staggered) back to the huddle and told Fred-- MAN, YOU ARE CRAZY! YOU GO BACK OVER THERE AND MESS WITH THAT GUY! Fred started laughing. He just wanted me to have a taste of what he had been dealing with over there."

Following the 1985 Orange Bowl Championship, UW never achieved that same success in Rogers' junior and senior seasons. The '85 Huskies went 7-5, while the '86 squad went 8-3-1. But Rogers had switched to defensive end, becoming a pass-rushing terror and first team All-American. In his senior year, the Huskies blasted Ohio State 40-7 and BYU 52-21. In particular, the BYU game was a bloodletting. The Washington defense registered 9 quarterback sacks, including Rogers' demolition of Steve Lindsley in the end zone for a safety. Husky Stadium rocked like the Denali earthquake.

By the time the 1987 NFL Draft rolled around, Rogers was a hot commodity. He ended up being the 7th selection of the first round, courtesy of the Detroit Lions. Aside from Steve Emtman's #1 selection in the 1992 NFL Draft, Rogers remains the highest-drafted Husky of all time.

The story of Reggie Rogers also has a dark side. No discussion about him can transpire without referencing the series of troubles and tragedies emanating from the mid-to-late 1980s. There were two primary events in particular. In the summer of 1986, his brother Don died the day before he was to be married. By then Don was a star with the Cleveland Browns, and widely considered a clean-living type. But he had ingested cocaine and died from cardiac arrest, when a hemorrhage filled his lungs with blood. He was found clinging to life in a bedroom of the home he had bought for his Mom.

"For me, Don dying was like the day they nailed Jesus on the cross," says Reggie. "I couldn't believe it. What people don't understand is that Don left (for UCLA) when I was in the tenth grade. So while we were talking on the phone all the time, it's not the same as living with someone and being with them every day. I had no idea what he was going through or what he was doing. It shocked me just as much as everyone else. What upset me was that after he died it threw me into a spotlight of where I was. But people didn't understand that what happens at Washington and what happens in the whole LA scene are two totally different things. I have never tested positive for drugs in my life."

In October 1988, while with the Detroit Lions, Reggie Rogers had just returned from Sacramento, where his father had suffered a massive heart attack. That night while driving in Pontiac, Rogers collided with another vehicle in an intersection. The accident killed three teenagers and left Rogers with a broken neck and partially amputated thumb. Rogers was hospitalized and later charged, arrested and convicted for involuntary manslaughter.

He served a year in jail, before making a failed comeback in the NFL. "In fact, please print this — and I don't get any money from this," he said. "But please let people know that there is a book out there called One Moment Changes Everything. It's got Donald on the cover. It's about Donald and me. The front part of the book is a little science fiction on the way I was raised. But the last 300pages will show me in a whole different light. Who I am, what I stand for, the proof around that auto accident that shows that it wasn't my fault, despite what everyone thinks. Like I said, I don't make no money off the sale of the book. But it shows who I am as a person, OK?

Some twenty years later, life is a lot more settled and steady for Reggie Rogers.

"I've been through some tough times," he said. "But right now I'm in school and I graduate in March. I got my kids Reggie and Regina playing basketball. Regina is at UCLA and Reggie is at a small college in Centralia. They're both straight-A students. I'm married, with other kids coming up. In fact, my seven-year old daughter has a birthday today.

"Right now," he says with a pause, "life is OK with Reg."
For more info on One Moment Changes Everything, click here
Derek Johnson can be reached at

His website is Top Stories