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Unleashed: Four Remarkable Years Of Running With The Dawgs
Release: 08/05/2014
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Too many people to thank to list them all by name. So I will summarize with this: You have some top-quality people you root for as Huskies.

By Gregg Bell
UW Athletics Director of Writing

 

SEATTLE – Keith Price smiling. Through his facemask at the snarling Oregon Ducks -- during plays, while they were chasing him all around Autzen Stadium in his first career start.

Or while playing pickle ball on the playground of Seattle’s Green Lake Elementary school while as an intern.

Isaiah Thomas stepping back a few feet away from me and swishing his “cold-blooded,” buzzer-beating rainbow to win the Pac-10 tournament championship. And then coming back to UW a couple wondrous years into the NBA later to earn his degree, when he and his more than $30 million didn’t have to.

Shaq Thompson, as a true freshman, meeting Shaquille O’Neal in a Baton Rouge hotel lobby before a game at LSU and precociously telling the ubiquitous giant, “You are the ‘Basketball Shaq.’ I’m the ‘Football Shaq.’”

Krista Vansant sobbing but keeping her chin as high as her pride beneath the stands of KeyArena after the Huskies lost their Final Four match. Proof the national player of the year cares much more about her team than her status as the country’s best volleyballer.

The Huskies baseball team blowing toothpicks into the ceiling of the Ajax Café, tossing baseballs over the fence to the Ole Miss’ zanies and receiving back colorfully adorned balls in return – basically becoming honorary mayors of Oxford, Miss., after UW’s NCAA tournament week there.

Amanda Cline sitting with me inside empty Alaska Airlines Arena, hesitantly telling publically for the first time her story of escaping the World Trade Center’s melting, smoke-choked hotel on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, moments before the entire complex collapsed.

Those are the moments I will take away from one of the most unique, and uniquely rewarding, jobs in American sports.

This is my final column for this unprecedented position at Washington. It’s six weeks shy of four years since UW Director of Athletics Scott Woodward became one of the pioneers of college sports programs by hiring a journalist to tell his team’s stories from the players’ and coaches’ – not the traditional media’s – point of view.

I have accepted another unique opportunity: To cover the Super Bowl-champion Seattle Seahawks as the full-time, traveling beat writer for The News Tribune in Tacoma. I am honored, humbled and excited to be joining the legacy of talented writers that have covered that beat, including John Clayton, Mike Sando, Eric Williams and, most recently Todd Dybas, who just packed up for his new job with The Washington Times covering D.C.’s professional teams.

But before I begin that job this week, I am also truly honored, humbled and appreciative of this experience with you here at UW.

We weren’t exactly sure how this position would evolve after I arrived for my first day in September of 2010 – the day before that season’s football opener I covered at Brigham Young. I attempted to do it as I had in my five years prior as The Associated Press’ national sports writer for Seattle, and in my five years before that covering the Oakland Athletics and then Raiders for the Sacramento Bee: As a journalist blessed with the realization that sports stories are, at their essence, about people first and games second.

Here at Washington, there are 600-plus student-athletes. That’s 600-plus stories of hometowns, of mothers and fathers, of brothers and sisters, of how they got started in sports and why they chose UW. For a writer, it’s a gold mine.

I had a journalist’s dream canvas from which to craft, to learn about the people behind the Huskies we see compete on the field. I had unrestricted, behind-the-scenes access to 21 sports teams, with the full cooperation and support of administrators, coaches, support staff, trainers, doctors, alumni, boosters, family members and fans.

That, in my industry, is as rare as a 600-yard passing day. Thank you to all for that and more.

What I learned is that those hundreds of college kids and their coaches and their parents that are the backbone of Husky athletics are some of the highest-quality people I’ve met.

Forget the wins and the titles, whether or not they go pro – or, in the cases of gymnasts and rowers and others, if they even the have the opportunity to. I’ve learned in the last four years that these students and their coaches are representatives of the highest order for this entire, great university. These people should make you proud to be a Husky, and I hope I was able to convey that adequately enough through my stories.

I’ll always smile over writing after games past midnight from the middle seats of charter jets, between players sleeping or studying on the flights back to SeaTac. After one game, coming back in the middle of a football night from Oregon State, I filed updates from on the aisle floor of football bus No. 3. I conducted live game chats interacting with 15,000 Husky fans around the world, including from a U.S. military outpost in Afghanistan, from Vietnam, from the yacht in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and from, at least from what I’ve been told, the partially hidden smartphone screens of more than a few parents at kids’ recitals and fans attending Saturday weddings conflicting with kickoff times.

What I’ll miss most from here are the relationships. With you, the readers, who always let me know how this endeavor was or wasn’t working. And, of course, with the Huskies themselves.

It takes trust for UW’s coaches and athletes to open up the way they have to me and our endeavor here. I appreciate every minute and measure of that trust.

Talking with Lorenzo Romar not about basketball so much as about life, while on the sidewalk in the sun outside the team bus. It had stopped along Figueroa Street in south Los Angeles so his players could scatter to their favorite fast-food joint on the way back to their hotel from USC.

Steve Sarkisian taking the time and interest to read my just-about-farewell column I was about to file on Chris Polk and sharing his appreciation for UW’s No.-2 career rusher – from the coach’s San Antonio hotel room hours his Huskies played Baylor in the video game-like, 2011 Alamo Bowl, the wildest, most-exhilarating party of a game I’ve ever attended.

Listening to Bob Ernst tell the story of the Soviets thinking he was a CIA agent in 1987. That was when UW’s institution of a crew coach played his rock cassette tapes and drove the van that got the USSR’s team around Seattle in the week of the first Windermere Cup.

Bumping into the always personable, supportive and UW-proud Lesle Gallimore and Amy Griffin at Sounders games and Reign games -- and even my son’s rec-league basketball games (Griffin’s son Ben was my Eric’s teammate). That’s where I learned in January from Griffin how special a student, athlete and person Megan Kufeld is here.

Sitting mesmerized, impressed and baffled by Jim McLaughlin’s famed white boards as he taught his unique brand of hieroglyphics and formulas that shape his national-powerhouse volleyball program.

Playing editor and taking the colorful photos and prideful prose of Matt Thurmond from Hoylake, England, where the English-major-turned-golf-coach was thrilled to be watching one of his best, Cheng-Tsung Pan, become the first Husky to participate in the British Open.

Those are just some of the one-of-a-kind times I’m taking from UW.

As I watch Husky games from back on “the other side” in the future, I hope you will get out of them what I now do, after these four enlightening years: Win or lose, star or sub, these are outstanding people with remarkable stories that you are watching at Washington.

So enjoy.

Washington Gregg Bell
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