By Derek Johnson
My mom was a real beauty back in the day. From 1980-2000, she was Rose Bowl Queen seven times, and won the National Championship in 1991. There were few moms like her across the land.
My love for her was pure. Time spent with mom on crisp fall afternoons at Husky Stadium was cherished. So many great memories.
But something happened along the way. There was a painful divorce in 1993, and things didn't quite feel the same for several years.
Things took a real turn for the worse in 2004. She got a new boss named Mark Emmert. And Emmert set her up with some guy named Tyrone Willingham.
Many people said great things about Tyrone. But let me tell you, it was awful. He made mom dress conservatively and limited the amount she could talk. And mom started feeling really bad about herself. She was ashamed to be seen wearing her work uniform. Her job performance sunk.
When Tyrone would come over to our house, it felt uncomfortable. He once grounded me for six months and wouldn't tell me why. One day, he was practicing his golf swing in our back yard. I asked him where mom was. "Who?" he asked, staring at me with a blank look. I repeated the question. "Do you see her here?" he asked, returning to his golf swing. Then he added: "Your eyes are as good as mine."
After three years it was clear that mom needed to end this relationship. God knows I tried to convince her. But mom's friends in the media, enablers like Jerry Brewer and Softy Mahler, called for Tyrone to stay with mom for at least one more year. He needed more time, they said. And who can forget the day soon after, when Tyrone showed up and the people in the athletic department gave him a standing ovation.
Tyrone stayed with mom for another year, and things went straight to hell. Mom slid into a deep depression. She didn't even win a game that year. She couldn't do anything right. Tyrone scolded her and blamed her for all their struggles.
It finally reached a point where Tyrone had to go away. Mom's bosses paid him a lot of money to do so.
But then Mark Emmert started meddling again. This time, he fixed her up with a partying frat boy named Steve Sarkisian. They called him Sark. And Sark was a happy-go-lucky and friendly sort. People marveled at how mom smiled more when Sark was around. They gave him credit for being a type of savior.
But behind closed doors I saw the truth. Sark drank a lot, could be verbally abusive, and was undisciplined. On some nights, I'd hear him and mom having sex in the living room.
There were days when mom showed glimmers of her old self. But when I tried to object that Sark was bad for her, people would say, "Can't you just be happy for her? Look at it this way, he's better than Tyrone!"
Sark would always tell mom to "just let it go and rip it!" So mom began scarfing Bon Bons and really packing on the pounds. Her hair went uncombed. She had pipe cleaner arms and a beer gut. She dressed in strange color patterns and designs that made no sense with her history.
By this point, I was out of the house. Many times I tried to speak to mom, but they wouldn't let me. Sark's drinking buddies, guys like Yogi Roth and Kim Grinolds, praised Sark publicly while deriding my efforts to warn her and everyone else.
The lowest point was when Sark announced that he wanted to be with mom longer than any other guy ever had. That was a dark day.
My heart broke. After thirty-seven years of pure love, I came to terms with the fact that the mom I knew and loved was gone. I thought: "Maybe I could find a new mom?" I really liked the one at UCLA. Much later, I contemplated the one at Tennessee.
But one day, Sark suddenly dumped my mom and moved to LA. He shacked up with some hot young chick near the beach. I immediately went to see mom. She was chunky with acne on her face. Her hair was all stringy and unwashed. She glared and refused to speak with me.
Some time passed. And time heals all wounds, they say.
At one point I heard there was a new man in mom's life. His name was Chris Petersen. He had actually reached out directly to her. He came from Idaho, and was looking to improve his life by moving to the big city.
Sark's old buddy, Kim Grinolds, openly questioned whether Petersen was dating out of his league. Whether Pete had out-kicked his coverage.
Their first couple years together were bumpy ones. But by the end of the second season, Mom was coming out of her shell. She'd lost 50 pounds and the acne was gone. That sparkle was returning. That sparkle from the good old days.
Petersen was proving to be a man of true character and integrity. He showed up on time, brought her flowers. He was humble and hard-working. He displayed discipline and helped build up her self-esteem and work ethic.
And now look at mom! She's dressing a lot better these days (although I wish she would dress like she did back in 2000). But she's looking like her dazzling old self. I saw her on TV recently when she was down at Oregon. She looked incredible. No longer a laughingstock. She was on top of the world. I actually wiped a tear from my eye.
There's even talk this year of mom being a national champion again.
The other night I had a dream. Coach Pete was dancing with mom on a Gulf Coast Beach. Away from the stadium lights. Away from the Shangri-la. Away from the team hotel, where the Huskies were celebrating their national championship win over Alabama with a fire dance led by linebacker Psalm Wooching.
It made me smile.