Former UW players have raised about $70,000 to build a statue that could be unveiled this fall.
The bone spur in Jim Rodgers’ right ankle had swelled to the point where he needed a hard cast and two crutches to get around. Not exactly the kind of start to his University of Washington football career he envisioned when he arrived on campus in the summer of 1980.
The reaction he got from Don James was not exactly what he was expecting either.
A quick step back: Rodgers, a high school All-American safety from Aloha, Ore., injured his ankle during the first couple weeks of UW’s training camp that August, and he was frustrated. And because he was in a cast he decided to skip out on a Sunday treatment session for injured players. What kind of treatment, he thought, can I get in a hard cast?
The next day, at the end of a rainy practice inside Husky Stadium, James summoned for the injured freshman.
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“You missed treatment yesterday — I need 10 hundreds,” the coach told Rodgers. A “hundred” is a punitive 100-yard sprint. Rodgers, stunned, looked down at his cast, then back at James.
But James was serious, and he stood on the Husky Stadium field in the rain to watch as Rodgers hobbled the length of the field — on crutches — all 10 times.
“You knew right away who was in charge there,” Rodgers said.
Despite that wet and miserable start, Rodgers, like many players of that era, grew to respect and admire James deeply. “After you’re done playing there,” he said, “he’s like a father.”
In an effort to give their admiration for The Dawgfather a permanent place, Rodgers and a small group of others who played for James are trying to raise money for a statue of the coach outside Husky Stadium. Over the past five weeks, the group has solicited about $70,000 from other former players toward the statue — one they expect to be unveiled this fall.
The goal is to raise another $80,000 by July 1, and the group has set up a website — DonJamesStatue.com — asking fans to contribute. Presuming enough money is raised, Rodgers said the plan is to have the statue dedication during the Huskies’ home game against USC on Nov. 12.
James, who died in October 2013, won more games than any coach in UW history, leading the Huskies to six Rose Bowls from 1975-1992 and a share of the 1991 national championship. Rodgers has gotten the blessing of James’ widow, Carol, for the statue, and he pitched the idea to interim athletic director Jennifer Cohen, who committed to finding a home for it.
“Don would have never allowed it to happen when he was alive,” said Rodgers, a captain on UW’s 1985 Orange Bowl championship team. “He was such a humble person.”
A statue of Jim Owens, who preceded James as the Huskies coach, was erected outside Husky Stadium’s west entrance in 2003. An exact location for James’ statue has not been established yet.
Working closely with former players Dennis Maher, Jim Simpson, Scott Fausset and Mike Ewaliko, Rodgers estimates he made 80 calls to other former players on some days last month to kick off the fundraising efforts. They’re almost halfway to their fundraising goal, and Rodgers is confident he can sprint to the finish line this time.