The Elephant in the Locker Room: Of Doug Baldwin, Russell Wilson, Mike Huard, and 1978
By Greg Wright
I’m not always 100% certain I’m writing about something other journalists have failed to cover. But this week, I’ve got it locked… because I’m not going to tell you anything new about Doug Baldwin’s TD pass to Russell Wilson in the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the Eagles.
Instead, it’s Mike Huard Story Time.
If you’re a Husky football fan (and who couldn’t be after that Apple Cup win yesterday?), you are undoubtedly aware of the legendary impact of Mike Huard on UW football. The Puyallup High coach nurtured and turned out an amazing string of QBs that starred for the Huskies in the 1990s: Billy Joe Hobert, Damon Huard, Brock Huard.
But before Mike Huard coached at Puyallap, he was the head coach at Tukwila’s Foster High School, my alma mater.
Mind you, I was not much of an athlete, and even less of a football player. I nonetheless spent three years as a Bulldog under Huard, most of those on the bench and J.V. teams. My senior year, I finally got thrust into the starting lineup when Bob Pesicka, the starting left tackle in front of left-handed Junior QB Joe Roppo, broke his arm. Foster had a limited roster, and there weren’t a lot of options on the line. I was the biggest body on the squad at 6’2″ and 22o lbs., and I’d at least had plenty of practice time. So I got the nod as “best warm body available.”
It was baptism by fire, really, because I’d never started a game of football in my life. I was only 16 years old and my physical coordination had not caught up to my gangliness. I don’t think anyone got hurt because of my inexperience, but I sure worried about it. Because of my general uselessness on defense, I was one of only two players on the team that played on only one side of the ball. In a show of good humor about the situation, I referred to that as being an “offensive specialist.”
During a padless Thursday practice prior to our road game at Peninsula that season, I was for some inexplicable reason standing with the coaching staff watching the #1 offense run plays. Coach Huard was having the backs and receivers repeatedly drill their way through a gimmick he wanted to use against Peninsula the next night, a pitchout to RB Paul Parker, who would then pass the ball downfield to Randy Bergquist.
I watched the drill with interest. It was quite a novelty to me, as was just about everything we practiced. I knew absolutely nothing about football strategy.
After about three or four times through, though, a thought occurred to me. I moved closer to Coach Huard and said, “Why don’t we pass the ball back to the quarterback on that? Every time, Joe is just left standing around and nobody is covering him.”
Mike Huard turned to me. “Wright,” says he, “I’m trying to coach a football team here.”
I understood perfectly.
Nonetheless, the next night at Peninsula, we were trailing in the third quarter and it was the first time our offense had crossed midfield. It was third and long at the 27 yard line. Randy Bergquist brings the play in from the sideline. “Halfback pass back to the quarterback.”
The reaction in the huddle was dumbfounded confusion. “What the hell is that? We’ve never practiced that play!”
For whatever reason, the other ten guys in the huddle listened to me as I calmly declared, “It’s okay. Block it like a reverse.” I had already run the thing through in my head, and knew it would work.
Phil Burnett snapped the ball to Roppo, who tossed it out to Parker in the right flat. As the defense flowed to follow, the linemen all feigned blocks that direction and then let their blocks slip. Parker pulled up and deftly flipped the ball back to Roppo. As the D line and linebackers turned back toward Roppo in the left flat, we blindsided them. They never had a chance as Roppo scampered the 27 yards for an easy TD.
After the game, Mike Huard never said a word about the play call. In 1981, he made the leap to AAA Puyallup, and the rest was history. I don’t know if he ever used that play at Puyallup, but five years later, the Broncos started calling it with John Elway. It was an NFL novelty at the time, but I knew it had been done before.
I ran into Coach Huard at Mike Shannon’s retirement party in July, and I recounted that incident for his amusement. He had a good laugh, but had no recollection of it.
Of course not. I’m sure it seemed to him that the idea came to him spontaneously while coaching on the sideline that night.
After all, who listens to linemen?
(Hat tip to my fellow trenchmates LG Randy Auve, C Phil Burnett, RG Jeff “Rhino” Reindel, and RT Mike Seifert. And my fellow “offensive specialist” and backup center, the late Perry Miyao.)
There’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us weekly for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.