Do you remember how old you were? Do you remember the thrill or, in some cases, disgust? Did you know at the time it was something you’d look back at for years and say, “wow!” Do you remember who was watching?
This sidepiece is about the occasions you saw an athlete or team (or if you insist, an entertainer) for the first time and thought, “This is different.” Ideally the first time you saw them in person, though with all the media available today it could be the first time you saw them in any form. I encourage you to share your First Times and what it meant to you.
I’ll give you a couple to start.
On September 20, 1975, the University of Washington’s home opener under rookie Pac-8 coach Don James was against Texas of the Southwest Conference. It was also the first game at Husky Stadium for JC recruit sophomore Warren Moon. Riding the bench, he didn’t make a mark. A sophomore on the other side of the field did.
Earl Campbell trucked, and I do mean trucked, the Huskies for 198 yards and three touchdowns. To this teenager it didn’t seem like a fair fight, for the same reasons that became apparent when Campbell won the Heisman two years later. He moved on to dominate the NFL, eventually reuniting on the field with Warren Moon in 1984. This video shows coach’s films of his 1977 Heisman season.
Bill Walsh was head coach of the 1977 and 1978 Stanford teams, and his starting quarterbacks Guy Benjamin and Steve Dils both won the NCAA Divison 1 passing championship as the statistically highest rated quarterbacks of the year. Even though Walsh had left for the 49ers, 1979 starter Turk Schonert became Stanford’s third consecutive quarterback to win the passing championship. As a Stanford fan this was the quality of QB play I was used to. Despite Schonert’s success that year, there was a true freshman named John Elway nipping at his heels who was good enough to get significant playing time. My first memory of Elway was an incomplete pass in a September game, probably against Boston College or maybe against Army. The receiver could not haul in the 20-30 yard bullet, perhaps becoming one of the early victims of the Elway Cross. The speed of the pass was unlike anything I’d seen at any level, and the reaction in my section was a mixture of gasps and chuckles. Eventually he learned to control his weapon. The second half of this 3 minute video has highlights from his Stanford years, including the defining moment for me starting at 2:48. In 1980 against USC, he dodged the pass rush by running 15 years backwards and then ten yards forward before slinging a 70-yard rope over Ronnie Lott into the waiting arms of Ken Margerum.
I told you mine. Now you tell me yours.