Taking Husky to an art form

When talking with famous artist Michael Reagan, just mentioning the words "Joey Harrington" will get you an interesting reaction.

"Back in 1999 Oregon played up here. Harrington was a sophomore and I noticed that when he broke huddle and went up to the line of scrimmage, he lined up like this..." Here, Reagan jumps out from his chair and drawing board to demonstrate in the middle of his studio. "Harrington used to lineup under center and wiggle his butt, literally just like a damn duck. That used to really piss me off."

Such opinions and football facts pour forth from Reagan in bountiful supply, and it's a treat to spend part of an afternoon talking football with the creator of several different Husky logos. He is one of the premier artists in the Pacific Northwest, having done portraits for thousands of famous people. A sampling would include the Presidents Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, and Bush, and their first ladies; Don James, Bob Hope, Warren Moon, Joe Dimaggio, dozens of Playmates and (literally) every Heisman Trophy winner. In December of 1997 he did a portrait of Oprah Winfrey, which she in turn gave to her father for Christmas that year. And when the Mariners honored the retiring baseball legend Cal Ripken, Jr. at Safeco Field, it was artwork composed by Michael Reagan that was given to the Hall-of-Famer as a gift.

Over the years he also did the Washington Centennial poster, the Cougar Centennial poster, as well as seven Seahawk and two Mariner team posters. All told, there are an estimated 1,750,000 of his posters in circulation throughout the Northwest at this moment.

His mind is also a flowing fountain of football trivia-- a fact that never ceases to amaze and befuddle his wife while they watch games together on TV.

Perhaps in some way, fate was opening the door to Reagan as a youth back in the early days of the Jim Owens era. One afternoon he was playing sandlot tackle football over near Woodland Park. He took the ball and was dropping back to pass, when an on-rushing tackler smashed him. His wrist was snapped completely clean, and that brought to a screeching halt his sandlot playing days. Soon after, he was sitting at home (going crazy) listening to a Husky football game on the radio. His buddies were all out playing football. Reagan saw a picture of Katherine Hepburn in a magazine, and on a whim began to draw a likeness. When he was done he showed it to a family friend. This friend was so astonished; he encouraged Reagan to explore art as a career. That would be the first of many steps, which would lead him to hear from Hepburn herself many years later—who told the artist that it was such a relief to see a likeness of her "from someone who can actually draw."

In the late 60s, fate had a detour in store for Reagan, and he found himself in Vietnam. Obviously, his outlook on life was altered via the nightmarish wartime experiences he endured. Several soldiers suffered horrific deaths right in front of him. "When you see life leave someone's eyes, you learn the value of every day and every breath… I love life and I love people, and much of what I have done is due to the Vietnam War…. I believe that I survived and was brought back from Vietnam for a reason."

Upon his return to the United States, his artistic career began to take root, and then accelerate. His involvement with the University of Washington included the development of various Husky logos. It was Reagan who designed the Husky logo that ran from 1995-2001. It was a regal-looking Husky that was modeled by an award-winning canine by name of Turbo Carrera. As Nike entered the fold and a sleeker logo was to be introduced to the public, Reagan was a consultant to a large committee that worked toward creating the design. "The new look is very (contemporary). The new Dawg may be excluding some of the older fans, but we made sure to have block-W products available, hats and shirts with just the "W". In other words, it was made sure that the people still had a choice."

Reagan also designed the basketball logo from back in the Andy Russo days. The erstwhile Husky basketball coach had a friend from Indiana who told him that he had no idea where the Huskies were from. So Russo wanted a logo with the Space Needle shown in it, so as to identify the Huskies with the city of Seattle. After Reagan designed the new logo, it was even displayed upon the Hec Ed court for a few seasons.

Although Reagan has season tickets to all Husky football home games, he is afforded the opportunity to stand on the sidelines, and much prefers it. But sideline passes and public acclaim aren't the only perks he enjoys as the result of his artistic talents. "You remember that earthquake from February of last year?" he asks with a knowing smile. "Well right afterward, the phone was ringing off the hook… and I get calls from seven Playmates asking me if I am OK."

Here he gives me a smiling look as if to say, how do you like them apples?

Standing on the sideline has brought with it a bit of relative horror as well. When I asked him of the most painful loss he has experienced, he immediately cited the 1995 Oregon game. "I was standing right underneath the uprights when we missed those two last-minute field goals. I remember looking up and seeing the ball sail wide right, and I just went…" (Here he buries his face in his hands in mock anguish.) For the following few years, Prime Sports Northwest would show that highlight during their intro segments. There would be Reagan, standing right underneath the uprights, looking on in horror as John Wales' kick sails wide right… again and again.

There have been some great Husky moments as well. Reagan cited the 1985 Orange Bowl as the fondest memory for him as a Husky fan. "It was special… It was exciting. I remember saying to Don James, ‘go kick their butts,' and he responded ‘we intend to.' And then they did. And there isn't a Husky fan alive that doesn't think we were #1 that year. Everyone remembers that BYU-B.S."

Brigham Young went 12-0 that year, beating a 6-5 Michigan team in the waning moments of the 1984 Holiday Bowl to win the National Championship over the 11-1 Huskies, whose only blemish was to USC that year.

Husky fans assuredly remember hearing that the first play of the 2001 Rose Bowl was dedicated to Peggy Watson, the long-time secretary to Don James and Jim Lambright. Coach Neuheisel talked with Peggy at her bedside as cancer was over-taking her and she had limited time left. Clandestinely, she and Neuheisel designed a play that was to be known as either "Peg Left" or "Peg Right".

Reagan was a very close friend to Peggy and her husband Dick. When asked to describe her, he depicts her as "warm, welcoming, wonderful and loving… Even when she was bald and dying, she would still get up from her desk and come give people a hug hello."

Reagan gave up his Rose Bowl tickets to friends in order to stay with Peggy and Dick during her final days. On a particular day that December of 2000, he went to the hospital and saw Peggy lying there with a green blanket draped across her to keep warm. Not one to sit still at such a sight, he immediately left and returned a short time later with a purple Husky blanket. Peggy lit up like a Christmas tree, as one blanket was exchanged for the other, and she remained covered with that for her remaining days. She passed away a couple of days before Washington proceeded to beat Pursue 34-24. The game was dedicated to both her and Curtis Williams. As the Boilermakers were to discover, "Peg Right" ended up being an option play, with Marques Tuiasosopo leading the charge.

These days, Reagan has a studio along the Edmonds waterfront. It looks out upon the fishing dock that the late UW crew coach Dick Erickson used to sneak away to periodically in the afternoons. His studio is also next door to BGT's University Sports shop, and its amiable and talkative owner Bill Tourikas. Reagan does portraits for everyday people and continues to donate celebrity portraits for charity. He is currently working with Channel 4's Steve Pool and Warren Moon, to produce some lithographs to benefit Children's Hospital.
All photos appear courtesy of Michael Reagan, who can be reached at mikier@nwlink.com
Derek Johnson can be reached at uwsundodger@msn.com

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