When Dick Baird heard that Chris Petersen wanted to see him in his office Wednesday, he was sure he was in trouble. As one of the few outsiders the Huskies football coach lets watch his practices, Baird figured he’d stepped in it somehow.

Was it something he’d said on KJR sports radio in Seattle, where he serves as one of the “Husky Honks”? Was Baird’s allegiance in question given that he played at Washington State for four years before joining Don James’ coaching staff at UW?

Nah. Turns out this was classic Petersen misdirection. There was no trouble coming Baird’s way — just a tribute.

“It took about 24 hours for the adrenaline to stop,” said the 73-year-old Baird on Thanksgiving morning. “I can’t really put into words how much it meant.”

(Rich Boudet / The Seattle Times)
The 112th Apple Cup

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Baird grew up in Seattle, went to Roosevelt High and dreamed of playing for the Huskies one day. Only problem was that the football team didn’t make him an offer, so he accepted a scholarship to WSU and played linebacker there for four years.

He enjoyed the experience — particularly the 1967 Apple Cup, where his Cougs snapped an eight-year losing streak with a 9-7 victory over the Dawgs. But as fun as that was, Baird never quite took his eye off the purple and gold.

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After spending year as a graduate-assistant at Washington State, Baird coached high school ball at Mount Rainier and Central Kitsap before moving over to Olympic College in Bremerton. And while coaching the Rangers, he would regularly best the Huskies’ freshmen team, which caught the attention of James.

So in 1984, James brought Baird aboard as a recruiting coordinator despite his old ties to Washington’s chief rival. As Baird said: “Sometimes you go through a divorce … I’d gone to the dark side, as they say.”

Yeah but the force was strong with him. In Baird’s 15 seasons with the Huskies, they won three Pac-10 titles, two Rose Bowls and one national championship. In addition to his recruiting responsibilities, Baird spent many years coaching the linebackers and one coaching the wide receivers, even though, as he said, “I couldn’t throw or catch.”

He was eventually let go upon Jim Lambright’s firing after the ’98 season, but Lambright’s successors — Rick Neuheisel, Keith Gilbertston Tyrone Willingham, Steve Sarkisian and Petersen — would all let him watch practice. Something about his personality, I guess.

“I was always positive no matter what,” Baird said.

Then he laughed.

“I proved that during the Willingham years.”

So Wednesday morning, the Huskies staff rewarded that lifetime of positivity. After summoning Baird up to his office, Petersen escorted him to the linebackers team room, which now features a plaque that says “In recognition of Coach Dick Baird and family.” Petersen also signed a football that read “To Dick, a truly great Husky!”

But the plaque and pigskin weren’t the chief culprits in turning on Baird’s waterworks. The tears came when his family — wife, kids, and grandchildren — all showed up to surprise him.

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“I don’t know if this was better than the day my kids were born, but it’s pretty (friggin’) close,” Baird said.

In terms of scope, this wasn’t a particularly grand gesture. But sometimes the most poignant actions are also subtlest ones.

Wednesday’s tribute didn’t mark an anniversary or a milestone. It happened for the best reason possible — just because.

Come kickoff today, the animosity between the Huskies and Cougs will rise to skyscraping levels. But there is one Coug-turned-Husky that draws admiration from both sides.

To know Dick Baird is to like Dick Baird — regardless of where your loyalties lie.