Finally, I was second in line. Talking with Robinson was a skinny, middle-aged guy with a mustache. This guy kept yammering on endlessly (or so it seemed to me), and I was absolutely dying for my turn. Finally, enough was enough.
So I got this guy's attention, then shot him a look, which said, "Haven't you talked enough already"?
As the mustached guy stepped aside, I proceeded forward and said "hey!" Jacque Robinson had a furrowed brow as I handed him my autograph book. I had it open to the particular page that I wished for him to sign. Just as he was about to pen his signature, he did a double take, then looked over at me curiously.
"It looks like you've already got my autograph."
I nodded self-assuredly. " I know Mr. Robinson… That was from last year."
He shook his head and sighed deeply, before recommencing to sign my book. He followed that up with polite small talk, and then was onto the next fan behind me.
You could definitely say that I was a huge fan of his.
But the real story started on November 7, 1981. On that day Washington was shutout by UCLA 31-0, and Don James was frustrated by his lack of a running game. Looming in the offing was the mighty USC Trojans. They were led by Marcus Allen, who was on the brink of being the first Division-I player to break 2,000 rushing yards in a season.
That week of practice set into place the destiny for a season, as well a young unknown named Jacque Robinson. As told by Don James:
"Our scout squad, which runs the opposition plays in practice, -- to give our defense a look of what to expect the next Saturday—is made up mostly of freshmen. To a great extent, freshmen who are being redshirted. None of the scout squad members are likely to see action in the upcoming game.In that game he ran for 142 yards and two touchdowns, including a highlight-quality run where he broke free of tacklers and weaved and glided gracefully 34 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown. The Huskies would go on to win 28-0.
"A freshman named Jacque Robinson was on the scout squad that year. He was pretending to be Marcus Allen…. While the scout team ran the USC plays against our defense.
"I went to the staff meeting the next morning and said, `Hey, our freshman running back is looking better than anybody we've got at the other end of the field with our offensive unit.'
"So we moved Jacque up to the varsity. He played a part in beating the Trojans, ran well against Washington State the next week. In the Rose Bowl game against Iowa at the end of the season, Jacque was named MVP of the Rose Bowl, as a freshman!"
Jacque Robinson had a stocky build, and did struggle with weight issues during his career. However, he had a graceful fluidity that belied his fullback-like physique. He had the great vision to use his blockers, the strength to wrest free of would-be tacklers, and the moves of a tango dancer when out in the open field. In a sense, he could be best described as an acrobatic bowling ball.
Jacque Robinson went on to a banner sophomore season, winning the Pac-10 rushing title with 926 yards. That Washington team was ranked #1 for seven consecutive weeks, and beat two top-5 teams. His highlight was rushing for 203 yards in a victory over Texas Tech, running against the late, great defensive lineman nicknamed Senor Sack, AKA Gabriel Rivera. At the time, the victory pushed UW's record to 7-0.
Injuries plagued Robinson during the 1983 campaign. But 1984 was to be a banner year for Jacque, in more ways that one.
On May 31, 1984, Jacque Robinson and Arleen Busch became proud parents of a baby boy, whom they named Nate. This would be the first of seven children the couple would have in the years to follow.
In the fall months of that year, Washington went 11-1 and staked a claim to the national championship. The Dawgs were lead by the "Purple Reign" defense of Ronnie Holmes and Jimmy Rogers. On offense, Jacque Robinson led the way with another great season, accumulating 957 yards and 14 TDs. Clearing the way for #28 was the stalwart blocking of center Dan Eernissee. Other great players included Rick Fenney, Danny Greene, Reggie Rogers, Tim Meamber, Jeff Jeager and Hugh Millen.
The quintessential Jacque Robinson play came against California in 1984. Washington pounded the Golden Bears that day 44-14. QB Paul Sicuro dropped back to pass and flipped the ball out to Jacque in the right flat. He broke a couple of tackles and cut toward the middle of the field. By the time he found the end zone, Robinson had weaved a brilliant pattern across the field, leaving confounded tacklers grasping for air. He ended up crossing the left corner of the goal line. This score put the victory on ice.
In the week leading up to the Apple Cup, there were reports coming out of Pullman that Cougar scout team players were stuffing their pants in practice so they could "look fat like Jacque Robinson". Washington had a berth in the Orange Bowl at stake, so there was more than pride on the line, on a cold day in Pullman, November 17, 1984.
Jacque Robinson had the last laugh. He had a brilliant game, rushing for 160 yards and 4 TDs. Washington beat Washington State 38-29. The Orange Bowl officials were on hand and promptly offered the Huskies the chance to become the first Pac-10 team to participate in the Miami's grand New Year's Day event.
Of note, Husky fans threw oranges (as opposed to bottles) onto the field after the clock expired.
The Orange Bowl was a great match-up, pitting fourth-ranked UW against second-ranked Oklahoma. The Sooners boasted the nation's #1 rush defense. However Don James and his staff devised a trap system to counter Oklahoma's bull-rush tactics. As a result, Jacque shredded the defense for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Washington won 28-17, and finished ranked #2 in the nation. The Husky tailback was named the Orange Bowl MVP, to add to his Rose Bowl MVP award from the beginning of his career.
Jacque Robinson says that the Orange Bowl victory is his fondest memory in his time with the Huskies.
Time moved along. He moved on the NFL, with a stint with the Buffalo Bills. The Washington Huskies had temporarily reached a zenith, and were now destined for some mediocre seasons. Then came resurgence from late 1989-1992, when the Huskies won three straight Pac-10 titles and enjoyed three straight appearances in the Rose Bowl.
Following this, were the bitter sanctions of 1993. At this point, Nate Robinson was nine years old.
Jacque's son was tearing it up. By the time he was a senior, Nate was named the Seattle Times' Class 3A State Player of the Year in BOTH football and basketball. He rushed for 1,200 yards, received for an additional 500 yards and scored 21 touchdowns. He returned seven different punts and kickoffs for scores. He was named a SuperPrep All_American.
He also led his basketball team to a 28-1 record, and a #7 ranking from USA Today.
"This jersey is kind of sweet," Robinson said, as he ran his fingers across the stitching of his new Washington football jersey with a big smile. Robinson had eliminated most of the suspense, choosing the Huskies early on in the recruiting process.
"I just asked myself if I wanted to go there and I was like, 'Yeah!' I knew it," Robinson told Dawgman.com. "Then my Mom woke me up at 12:01 on Wednesday and I signed the papers and I was happy. We had cake and ice cream at a get-together after our game that night."
"My dad was a leader and I'm going to try to imitate that. He was one of the best and I'm going to try to imitate that also," he said.
N-Rob has proved to be the only freshmen not to redshirt this year.
His play against Arizona's Bobby Wade showed why. Facing a 3rd down and six, driving into Husky territory, all the Wildcats had to do to secure victory was to get a first down. Washington's defense had been struggling mightily, surrendering 443 yards to Arizona QB Jason Johnson. The Wildcat signal-caller saw Wade being guarded man-on-man by a pure freshman, and went to him. Nate played defense that would make Gary Payton proud. He was with Wade step-for-step, then went high and knocked the ball away. This play got Washington the ball back, and the eventual last-minute triumph.
"I saw his eyes look at the ball," said Robinson, "and from that point it was just like a jump ball in basketball. All I tried to do was knock it out of bounds. You stand your ground, it's man-on-man, you can't let him embarrass you, you have to be physical."
With this combination of moxie and talent, by next year Nate Robinson will mean to the Husky defense every bit what Reggie Williams means to the offense.
As defensive tackle Terry Johnson stated after the Arizona game: "The older guys have to see that if a freshman can make those plays, so can they."
These days, as Jacque Robinson positions himself along the sideline during home games, his son looks over and signals to him from time to time. Only this father-and-son tandem can know the pride they feel, as they play out this unique family dynasty in Washington's football history.
Derek Johnson can be reached at djohnson@Dawgman.com