Sept. 12, 2007
by Matt Airy
SEATTLE, Wash. - Husky Legend Dave Kopay speaks with a quiet passion when it comes to his years as a running back and linebacker for Washington.
"UW Football taught me how to fi ght." he says, "It taught me how not to give up. It taught me that you have to show up--for class, for training camp--you have to work."
Kopay's early years were somewhat nomadic. Born in Chicago, he moved to Los Angeles when he was 10, and went on to become a star at football powerhouse Notre Dame High School. After considering offers from Stanford, Cal, and the Naval Academy, Kopay chose to get away from home, opting for Marquette University in Wisconsin.
Soon after arriving at Marquette, however, his thoughts began to turn toward the Pacifi c Northwest. Kopay's older brother, Tony, was playing for Washington at the time, and Dave got to watch first hand as his brother and company beat National Champion Minnesota 17-7 in the 1961 Rose Bowl (the Golden Gophers had been voted the champs prior to their game against the Huskies).
"At Marquette the players were big and huge and strong, yet the varsity team was basically terrible," remembers Kopay. "I was a freshman and I saw the Huskies just kickin' the (heck) out of this Minnesota team and that really infl uenced me to say `Hey, you know what? Maybe that's not a bad place to go.' My brother was right, so I followed him."
He may have followed his brother, but the younger Kopay made a name for himself. He transferred in time to compete in the 1961 regular season and Washington seemed to be the perfect fi t. As a sophomore, he was a part-time starter and played well enough to letter by the end of the season.
Kopay's junior year brought challenges, as he was moved to the defensive side of the ball. The switch dropped him in the depth chart, but never dampened his fi ghting spirit.
"I had both incredible highs and incredible lows," recalls Kopay, "and I think that teaches you something."
Lessons learned, Kopay thrived his senior year. He was named a co-captain of the 1963 team, playing both ways and logging extensive minutes. He led the Huskies with 12 receptions for 175 yards and was third on the team with 340 yards rushing. He also was second on the team with four touchdowns.
Kopay's best game came against his hometown USC Trojans. He played 52 minutes and lost 17 pounds in leading Washington to a 22-7 victory over USC and an eventual return to the Rose Bowl. In that bowl game, Kopay played through a painful rib injury, and scored Washington's lone touchdown in a 17-7 loss to a Dick Butkus-led Illinois.
"My rib was going in and out of the cartilage," he says, "The day of the Rose Bowl they taped it up, padded it up, and I played. The adrenaline of being in the Rose Bowl... I wasn't going to miss that for anything."
The toughness and resiliency Kopay displayed as a Husky guided him through a nine-year NFL career. In spite of being at an athletic disadvantage for much of his career, his work ethic and willingness to do whatever was asked of him was his foundation.
"I wasn't a big statistic kind of guy," says Kopay. "I was a steady player. I picked up the blitzes for the quarterback and I knocked people on their (ends). I did my job."
Kopay's mental and emotional toughness was tested off the field as well, never more so than 1975, when he became the first athlete in major sports history to reveal that he is gay. Retrospective of all his life's struggles, Kopay keeps an optimistic perspective.
"In life you make decisions and you go with them," he says. "If you keep battling, if you keep the struggle going, if you don't give up the game, sometimes things work out pretty well."