A Visit with Shane Pahukoa

For those who stuck it out, the scene was surreal. It was last October, as Notre Dame hammered the hapless Huskies, that Shane Pahukoa was introduced at the end of the third quarter as that week's Husky Legend. The dwindling crowd responded with a rousing ovation; for they remembered the ferocious-hitting safety that played for the 1991 National Championship team and later in the NFL.

"We were getting blown out, as usual," Pahukoa said. "But it was great to have Coach (Jim) Lambright there and my brother Jeff. It was still a great time."

After the game, Pahukoa flew back to southern California, where he lives with his wife and kids, and is a warehouse manager for company selling custom furniture. Like all UW alumni, he suffered along with last year's 0-12 debacle of a season. But hope springs eternal—especially with the turn of the calendar and the arrival of a new coaching staff. Pahukoa couldn't wait to get to Seattle for the April 25th spring game and reunion of former Husky football players. Walking into Burbank Airport, he met up with former Husky Brendan Jones, to await their morning flight. With eagerness, they sidled up to the bar and talked Husky football.

"Brendan's a little younger than I am, and he talked me into a Bloody Mary at 8 a.m.," Pahukoa said. "So we guzzled those down, and I knew I was in for a weekend with him. We talked about how excited we were about going up there. He proudly showed his ring from when they went to the (1995) Sun Bowl. I didn't want to embarrass him or anything, but I dumped my four rings onto the bar. He went OHHHHHHH! And I said, `These ain't Sun Bowl rings; these are three Rose Bowls and a National Championship.'

"But we agreed that it's a whole new situation for Husky football," Pahukoa added. "Everything feels different: All new coaches. Not that I didn't like the old coaches, as I had good friendships with Coach (Randy) Hart and Coach (Chris) Tormey. But I was glad that they moved on. Brendan and I couldn't wait to get up there. We wanted to see the new facilities. The last time I was up there, they wouldn't let me in the locker room."

When the flight touched down at SeaTac, Pahukoa's parents were there to greet him. After exchanging hugs, his father only needed to say two words: "Dick's, right?"

"I told him yep," Pahukoa said. "Before heading home to Marysville, we headed straight for Dick's on 45th. When I was in college, that was the place, man. I remember in training camp, we would all pile into my old Mustang and hustle up there and grab as much as we could and get back just before bed check. So it was great to be back. It all looked exactly the same, including the same acne-filled kids behind the counter. And I kid you not, by the time we got to Marysville, I had finished off four Dick's Deluxes, two fries and a shake. My mom was like, what the heck are you doing?"

After the Marysville visit concluded, Pahukoa met up with fellow former safety Tommie Smith. The two headed down to Husky Stadium to take everything in and check out a football practice. "We went to the Graves Building and talked to the guys in the equipment room," Pahukoa said. "And then we walked down the tunnel toward the field. It was the first time I had done that in years: It had the same smell, that of sweat and dirt; it still had all the Rose Bowl plaques on the wall. And when we stepped onto the field, it brought back a lot of memories. Tommie and I kept on laughing; do you remember this? Do you remember that?"

The arrival of Friday night brought with it Pahukoa's favorite part of the trip. A horde of former Huskies congregated at The Duchess Tavern. "There were lots of former players there, including guys that had played 20-30 years before us," he said. "It filled up quick. Every time someone walked in, everybody looked to see who it was. I was really looking forward to seeing guys from my class: Guys like Hillary Butler, Russell Hairston, Walter Bailey, Steve Springstead and Leif Johnson. I was really looking forward to seeing the Hoffmann brothers, Steve Emtman, Coach Lambright and Coach (Dick) Baird. Some guys like Walter Bailey looked exactly the same, while guys like Deke Devers had gained a lot of weight.

"I wish I would have stayed longer at The Dutch, but I left because Lawyer (Milloy) had rented out the VIP room of a local club. It was really nice with an ice sculpture of a Big W, and it was fun. But it was so loud there that we couldn't really talk like we could at The Dutch."

Come the following day, Pahukoa and the others gathered along the sideline at Husky Stadium to watch the spring game. As things progressed, they talked amongst themselves.

"The consensus was that (the current Huskies) are too small, too undersized," he said. "We were all talking about that. Some of the players running by us looked really tiny. One of my biggest concerns heading in was Jake Locker. At practice he overthrew a few passes early on, and I was like, uh-oh. But in the scrimmage, he looked great and confident. I'm optimistic that Jake is going to have a great year.

"I also like the linebackers and the safeties," Pahukoa said. "I like Nate Williams—I just wish he would wrap up a little more. He's trying too hard to take people's heads off. Coach (Jeff) Mills is coaching the secondary, and he was a graduate assistant in my sophomore and junior years at Washington. He pulled me, Lawyer Milloy and Walter Bailey to the side and asked us to speak to the players. I was glad that Lawyer started, because he's still in that frame of mind where he's used to speaking before groups of people about his experiences. Lawyer told them that they needed to help each other and that the older guys needed to take the younger guys under their wings. He told them of how I had taken him under my wing, and showed him how to do things the right way. The players' eyes were focused on us and they seemed so eager to hear what we had to say. I could feel it was important to them, that we were saying things that could help in the future.

"And when it was my turn, I kept it short and sweet," Pahukoa said. "I just told them that the way I played was with reckless abandon; the only thing I focused on was hitting people as hard as I could. If there was a lineman running down the field, and I could hit him, I would hit him—I didn't care. If a receiver was coming across the middle, and the ball was slightly overthrown, he was done—I was laying him out. It had to be legal and not dirty, but you have to let them know who is boss out there and that they ain't coming into your zone. Mental mistakes can be figured out, but if you go 100 percent all the time, they can't fault you for not giving everything you've got."

In the weekend's aftermath, Pahukoa reflected on the future of Husky football. "The kids just need to keep working hard, studying film, owning their part of the field," he said. "And like Lawyer was saying, the older guys need to help the young guys out. I was surprised to hear that I had been such an influence to the younger safeties, like Lawyer. For me personally, I thought Eugene Burkhalter was a great safety, and I always modeled myself after him. So I guess everyone has someone they look up to.

"I'm very excited for the coming season," Pahukoa said. "I'm hopeful that we will get to 4-5 wins. And the day is going to come when we're getting back to a bowl game. I already told my wife that whatever bowl game they're going to, I'm going. I don't care if it's in Hawaii or Boise or wherever. There are going to be so many Husky fans there. It's bound to be a great, great time."

Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnsonbooks@comcast.net

Husky Football in the Don James Era available at www.derekjohnsonbooks.com

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