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The Dawgfather




Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”  This story is about someone like that.  He was one of Seattle’s most revered sports figures and one of the top football coaches in this country.  He even coached his coaches.  He was all about the details and organized with a capitol “O”.  He even planned his own funeral right down to the music.  This fellow owned the college football world in the Great Northwest.  He was Meet the Press, The Tonight Show, and Saturday Night Live all rolled into one.  He inspired folks to be better people.  He treated everyone from the stars to the lowliest walk-on players with dignity and respect.  He believed that good friends build character and they enrich your life; but as an opposing coach, you never felt comfortable until you shook his hand.  After eighteen seasons, he became the winningest coach in Washington Huskies’ history.  This fellow was one of the people you meet in life that you never forget.  The players’ names changed from year to year, but one name remained constant, Don James.  He was one of a kind, a master of the moment.  We have lost a lot of great coaches these past two years:  Joe Paterno, Jack Pardee, Darrell K. Royal, “Bum” Phillips, Chuck Fairbanks, Paul Dietzel, and now Don James.

Donald Earl “Don” James was born on the last day of the year 1932, in the high school football capitol of Ohio, Massillon.  James grew up on the corner of “Happy and Humble” streets.  Don’s older brother Tommy was currently playing in his third year of a ten-year career in the NFL.  Tommy, a star in his own right, played for the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and spent his last year in the pros with the Baltimore Colts.  Don graduated from Massillon’s Washington High School in 1950 and was recruited by the Miami Hurricanes to play quarterback.  There, Don set five school passing records, while manning a defensive-back position on occasion.  It was said Don could move linebackers with his eyes.  In 1954, he graduated and received a B.A. degree in Education and was commissioned a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.  After graduation, Don also won the Phillips Optner Trophy, which honored the senior player at the University of Miami with the highest grade-point average.

Chuck Mather, Don’s former high school coach, had moved to coach at the University of Kansas while Don served his country.  In 1956, Don joined Mather at Kansas, as a graduate assistant for the football team.  Mather said at the time, “James seemed so young; he looked like he was playing ‘hooky’ from school.”  In 1958, after two years at Kansas, James became the Head Football Coach at Southwest Miami High School, located in Florida.  After that season, James would spend the next twelve seasons working as an assistant football coach at Florida State, Michigan, and Colorado.

In 1971, James accepted the head-coaching position at Kent State University.  In four seasons (1971-1974), his Golden Flashes compiled a 25-19-1 record while winning the 1972 Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship and receiving the school’s very first Bowl bid.  James was also named the Conference Coach of the Year.

James served as the “Dawgfather” (his nickname) to the Washington Huskies Nation from 1975 through 1992.  James’ first two seasons were tenuous, as the Huskies went 6-5 and 5-6.  His 1977 team had a few bumps but definitely help kick-start the program.  The team started 1-3, before quarterback Warren Moon, running back Joe Steele, and receiver Spider Gaines began their magic.  They routed Oregon 54-0 and started a streak of seven wins in the next eight games, ending the season with a big win over a heavily-favored 4th ranked Michigan team in the 1978 Rose Bowl, 27-20.  It was Washington’s first bowl game of any kind since 1964.  “What you need is a Bowl season and a marquee win, to get the program going,” said James.

During his eighteen seasons, he led Washington to six conference titles and a part of the 1991 National Championship.  His 1991 team not only went undefeated (12-0), but “smoked” the University of Michigan 34-14 in the Rose Bowl.  That 1991 team has been regarded as the best in Washington University history.  They scored a modern era record 461 points and only gave up 101 points, setting another record for the least amount scored against them.           

 The door to the College Football Hall of Fame swung open for Don James in 1997.  The Tyee Center, the stadium’s only premium-seating area, at Husky Stadium, has been renamed The Don James Center.

There were many great players associated with Don James.  James oversaw 109 of his players drafted by the NFL, including ten in the first round.  He coached seven All-Americans and some of his greatest players were:  Steve Emtman, Napoleon Kaufman, Billy Joe Hobert, Mark Brunell, Brock Huard, and Warren Moon.  James’ greatest attributes were humility and his willingness to change and get better.  He emphasized speed on both sides of the ball.  It made it magic, to play in the Emerald City.

There is a little-known story told by former Dallas Cowboys’ Vice President of Player Personnel, Gil Brandt.  In 1981, Texas A&M asked Brandt for help with its search for a football coach.  Brandt targeted two people for the Aggies:  Michigan’s “Bo” Schembechler and Washington’s Don James.  “Schembechler flirted with the idea,” said Gil.  “James didn’t even have to think about it.  Don said, ‘I’m flattered you would even talk to me, but they’ve been so good to me at Washington.  I don’t think it would be appropriate.’  They were offering him to be the coach, athletic director and have the automatic roll-over in the contract, all of that.  It was a lot more money than he was making at Washington, let me tell you.  But he gave it no thought,” explained Gil.  Don James was 49 at the time and coming off of back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances.  James was perhaps one of the hottest coaches in the nation, but he didn’t want to play “The Game.”  James wanted to build a tradition at Washington.  The Texas A&M Aggies hired Jackie Sherrill. 

Along with the 1972 MAC Coach of the Year Award, Don James received eight other coaching awards during his career.  He was chosen the AFCA Coach of the Year in 1977.  James won the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, the Eddie Robinson Award, Sporting News Award, and the George Munger Award, all in 1991.  And he was chosen the PAC-10 Coach of the Year three different times (1980, 1990, and 1991).

Don James held a tremendous influence in the college and professional coaching ranks.  His coaching tree contains familiar names such as “Dom” Capers, Nick Saban, Gary Pinkel, Jim Mora, and Jim Mora Jr.  From these top assistants came the likes of Andy Reid, John Harbaugh, “Chuck” Pagano, Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels, Ron Rivera, “Jimbo” Fisher, Jason Garrett, Jim Haslett, Will Muschamp, and a slew of other well-known coaches.

 Alabama Head Coach, Nick Saban, says he would not have chosen the coaching profession if it had not been for Don James.  Saban loved cars and wanted to one day own a car dealership.  Don James coached Nick Saban for two years, while at Kent State University.  In 1973, James offered Saban a graduate assistant coach’s job.  Forty years later, Nick Saban is one of the best college football coaches in the land.  “He wanted you to reach your full potential as a football player, but more importantly, he wanted you to do well in school and become the person you could be so you would be successful in life,” said Saban.  “He was the same way when it came to assistant coaches or anyone who worked for him.  You were a better person because of the time you spent with Coach James.” 

“There aren’t enough words to describe not only the great coach he was, but also how much he cared for people and the positive impact he made in the lives of everyone he came in contact with,” said his most successful pupil, Nick Saban. 

The most successful coach in Washington Huskies’ history passed away after a brief bout with pancreatic cancer on October 20, 2013.  It was said that when he died, his eyes were closed but his heart was still open.  James was 80 years young.  He had been scheduled to begin chemotherapy shortly after being diagnosed.  James’ complete win-loss record stands at 178-76-3 with a 10-5 Bowl record.  James’ ten Bowl wins placed him fourth in most wins in college football history, behind only Paul “Bear” Bryant, Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden.  Don James was survived by his wife, Carol, three children, Jeff, Jill and Jeni, along with ten grandchildren. 



Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

Before Jackie Robinson


There were only four, the first four African-Americans to play professional football.  And guess what?  They all started in 1946, one year before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in Major League Baseball.  So, sit back, enjoy and discover the brief history of these four players that integrated professional football. 

Kenny Washington, halfback, was from Los Angeles, California, and attended Abraham Lincoln High School.  In 1939, after high school, Kenny rushed for 1,914 yards in his UCLA career, a school record that stood for 34 years.  He led the nation in total offense and became the first consensus All-American in the history of the UCLA Bruins’ football program.  Washington felt the wrath of discrimination when he was left out of the East-West Shrine Game that same year.  After graduation from UCLA, Chicago Bears Head Coach, George Halas, tried to sign Washington but was blocked by racial discrimination from the other NFL owners.  So from 1941-1945, Kenny joined a semi-pro football team known as the Hollywood Bears, of the Pacific Coast League.  When the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles in 1946, an agreement was drawn up between owners, that teams could be integrated.  Washington signed with the Rams on March 21, 1946.  Kenny only played in the NFL for three years, but his performance was exceptional.   Washington was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1956, and his jersey #13 was the first to be retired by UCLA.  He would become a distinguished police officer for the LA Police Department.  In 1971, Washington died at the young age of 52.

“Woody” Strode is a name you will know if you enjoyed John Wayne westerns, as he starred in many of the big-screen movies produced by John Ford.  Strode was not only a football star, but a decathlete in track and field.  He was born in Los Angeles, California, and attended high school at Jefferson, located in East L.A.  He later enrolled at UCLA in 1939, where he joined Jackie Robinson and Kenny Washington in the Bruins’ backfield.   Ray Bartlett was the fourth member of the UCLA backfield and he, too, was an African-American.  This was at a time where there were only a dozen or so black players participating on college football teams across the land.  The Bruins would play the National Champion USC Trojans to a 0-0 tie, in the 1940 Rose Bowl.  Strode would sign with the Los Angeles Rams on May 7, 1946.  No other black players had played in the NFL from 1933 to 1945.  In 1948, Strode joined the Calgary Stampeders as an offensive end and helped them win the Grey Cup Championship that same year.  Strode retired in 1949, because of injuries.  Woody Strode also dabbled in professional wrestling, before the NFL and afterwards.  Standing 6’ 4” tall and weighing well over 200 pounds, he was billed as the 1962 Pacific Coast Negro Heavyweight Wrestling Champion.  Strode also became a terrific actor and is best remembered for his roles in Spartacus, Sergeant Rutledge and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.  Strode had parts in 67 movies during his career.  Woody died in 1994 of lung cancer.  He was 80.

Bill Willis bent over and put his hand in the dirt for eight seasons for the Cleveland Browns.  He was an excellent defensive lineman who was selected All-Pro all eight years, while winning four AAFC Championships (All American Football Conference) and the 1950 NFL Championship.  The Browns beat the New York Giants 8-3, as Willis made a game-saving tackle in the fourth quarter on Gene “Choo-Choo” Roberts.  You can also find Willis in the Cleveland Browns’ Ring of Honor and a part of the NFL’s 1940’s All-Decade Team.  Coach Paul Brown called Willis “One of the outstanding linemen in the history of professional football.”  After graduating from Columbus East High School, Bill attended Ohio State from 1941-1945, and then signed with the Cleveland Browns in 1946. Born in Columbus, Ohio, Bill also joined the Buckeyes’ track and field team at Ohio State and was a part of the Buckeyes’ first National Championship Football team, in 1942.  Bill retired in 1954 at the age of 32, and became Cleveland’s first chairman of the Ohio Youth Commission.  His goal was to help troubled youth in the Cleveland area.  His #99 was retired by the Buckeyes, and he entered the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971.  He has also been a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame since 1977.  Bill Willis #30, died in 2007.   

Marion Motley signed ten days after Bill Willis with the Cleveland Browns.  Born in Leesburg, Georgia, Marion grew up in Canton, Ohio.  He attended and played football and basketball at Canton McKinley High School.  After graduation, Motley enrolled at South Carolina State College in 1939, but later transferred to the University of Nevada before his sophomore year.  In 1943, he suffered a knee injury and returned to Canton after dropping out of school.  Motley joined the U.S. Navy in 1944 and managed to play fullback and linebacker for a military team known as the Great Lakes Blue Jackets, coached by none other than Paul Brown.  By 1946, Motley was back in Canton working in a steel mill.  In one of the oddest recruiting stories ever told, Motley wrote Paul Brown and asked for a tryout.  Brown declined, but later signed Bill Willis.  After Willis made the team, Brown reconsidered and asked Marion Motley to come try out.  Brown later admitted that Willis had needed an African-American roommate.  Motley signed for $4,500 a year and averaged 8.2 yards per carry in his first season.  Marion led the league in rushing in 1948, as the Cleveland Browns posted a perfect 15-0 record.  When the league folded after the 1949 season, Motley was the AAFC’s all-time rushing leader with 3,024 yards.  There was another pleasant surprise.  Paul Brown estimated that more than 10,000 black fans attended Cleveland’s first game.  As mentioned above, Cleveland won the 1950 NFL Championship and, by 1951, Motley began to feel the physical effects of the game and suffered a knee injury.  Marion Motley would retire before the 1954 season started.  His career rushing average of 5.7 yards per carry is still the all-time rushing record for fullbacks.  Motley asked many NFL teams for a coaching job but was turned down.  He later worked for the U.S. Postal Service, Miller Construction, and the Ohio Department of Youth Services.  Motley died in 1999 of prostate cancer.  He was the second African-American player to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Motley was also named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1994.

It would be hard to imagine the game of pro football without the likes of players like Walter Payton, Jerry Rice and David “Deacon” Jones.


Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

Push Down, Turn Left



On a good day, he could get four brand new tires and a tank full of gas in less than 14 seconds.  He would make his living going around in circles and getting in and out of car windows.  All that was needed was about 3,500 pounds of equipment, four tires, an occasional quick fist, and nerves of steel.  Add cat-like reflexes, 360-degree vision, and a bucket of chips on your shoulders and you have a professional race car driver.  One mistake could cost you the race, your life, or both. This fellow spent a lot of time pushing down and turning left on race tracks all across the country.  Why, because he was a professional race car driver, and a darn good one.  

Terrance Lee “Terry” Labonte was built on November 16, 1956, in Corpus Christi, Texas.  All that it required was a bit of racing fuel for blood, some sheet metal for hide, a little oil pressure for a pulse and a heart the size of an 8-cylinder motor.  This guy loved the sport and talked about automobile racing like your grandmother talks about recipes.  Growing up, his weekends were spent on paved and unpaved tracks all over South Texas, especially around San Antonio and Corpus Christi.  In 1978, Terry eventually found his way to Darlington, South Carolina, where he finished fourth in the longest race he had run up to that point.  He finished seventh at Richmond, Virginia, the following week and was on his way to a fine career, where he competed in 890 races spread out over 36 years.  Terry Labonte would take the checkered flag 22 times and was crowned a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion in 1984 and 1996.  Terry and his younger brother, Bobby, learned about cars while watching their father work on and build cars as a hobby, for their friends.  Terry is also the father of former Nationwide Series driver, Justin Labonte. 

“Texas Terry’s” most favorite moment occurred on March 28, 1999, at the Texas Motor Speedway, near Fort Worth, Texas.  I was there!  Labonte had a great car that day (Kellogg’s #5 Chevrolet Monte Carlo) and displayed 500 miles of great courage.  Terry had run upfront most of the race, but after a poor pit stop, Terry found himself running second behind Dale Jarrett.   Labonte proceeded to run Jarrett down and caught and passed him with less than ten laps to go, for the win.  An estimated 200,000 fans, including myself and friends, began to get up out of our seats.  “It was then I noticed the crowd,” said Terry Labonte.  “Everybody was standing up.  I knew I couldn’t let them down.”  I had been a guest of Miller Brewing Company and remembered that there were so many people we had to park several miles from the track to catch a bus into the facility.  I had never been to any sporting event attended by this many people, including Super Bowl XXVII, played in 1993, at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles, California.  We had seats in a suite, but I wanted to go down next to the track to experience the race from trackside.  I stood right at the fence for a few laps.  For those of you who have never been to a NASCAR event, the roar of the engines was unbelievable, but it was not the kind of noise that hurts your ears.  I had a soft drink in my hand and noticed that when the cars roared down the straightaway in front of me that the displacement of the air created a vacuum that sucked the beverage up and out above my cup and then the liquid fell back into the cup as they passed.   After the race, I also noticed what felt like saran wrap on my bare arms.  Sure enough, it was a light coat of high-octane racing fuel that permeated the air.  It was interesting that at trackside, you can only see the cars as they make their way to your right around the first turn and then you can follow them down the back stretch into the next turn.  Then all you can see is a blended glimpse of colors from the cars as they pass by at 200 plus mph.  It gave me goose bumps, and you can’t fake goose bumps.  It was powerful and the kind of rush you would feel if several F-4 Fighter Jets were to fly overhead.  

Terry Labonte drove ten seasons for Billy Hagan, three years for Junior Johnson, and eleven years for the Rick Hendricks teams.  Labonte also spent some time with Richard Petty, the Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman team, along with the Joe Gibbs team and Michael Waltrip team.  On October 17, 2014, at the age of 57, Terry Labonte announced his retirement.  He will be missed.

Terry Labonte also won the 1989 IROC Championship and holds the all-time record for longest drought between Sprint Cup Championships (12).  His brother Bobby was the 2000 Winston Cup Champion.  He was elected one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998 and has been inducted into the National Quarter Midget Hall of Fame.  Terry sat on the pole for 27 of his races and also finished in the Top Ten, 361 times.  The Labonte brothers have a park named after them in their home town of Corpus Christi, Texas, and were both chosen for entry into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, in 2002.  They continue to support the Ronald McDonald House here in Corpus.  There is no doubt that the NASCAR Hall of Fame awaits his presence. 




Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.


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