A decade ago, in the halcyon days of Dawgman.com, I drove down to Olympia to interview the great Bob Houbregs. A blustery, overcast day as I recall. A house situated among the lush greenery of Indian Summer golf course.
His smiling wife Ardis opened the door to greet me. She showed me to the living room, and soon after the towering figure of her 72-year old husband appeared. His easy-going nature put me at ease and over the next 90 minutes we discussed his UW basketball career.
I already knew the highlights. In 1953, Houbregs led the Huskies to their lone Final 4 appearance. He had been that year's NCAA Player of the Year. He was selected #3 overall in the that spring's NBA draft. And years later, he served as GM for the Seattle SuperSonics. But lastly, and most importantly to me, he had been my dad's idol when my papa was in his early teens.
"My dad grew up in Longview," I said. "He used to keep track of your stats and mimic your hook shot," I told him.
"Well your dad can't be all that bad," Houbregs said with a chuckle.
The memory of that exchange came to me the other day after I heard the news of Bob's passing. I hadn't spoken to him since about 2007 and was saddened. But as I leaned back in my chair, I did smile at another memory.
Back in 2004, as Father's Day approached, I called Houbregs and asked if he would be willing to golf with me and my dad. "It would be my pleasure," he said.
Dad was delighted when I told him of the proposed outing.
I can't remember the course where we met up with Houbregs, but it was near Olympia. After exchanging pleasantries, dad went to get a cart. Houbregs already had his and he and I proceeded to the first tee. Glorious warm sunshine and a deep blue sky overhead.
"Why don't you start things off Derek?" he said.
I told him that unlike my dad, my golf skills were sketchy at best. My hand burrowed through my golf bag for a ball and then I sallied forth to bury my tee into the green grass and perch a gleaming white Titleist upon it. I glanced back and saw my dad approaching via a white golf cart.
"Why are you using an iron?" Houbregs asked.
"Because I don't want anyone to get killed by my driver," I said. He chuckled before falling silent.
I took a mighty cut and blasted the ball straight down the middle of the fairway. A colossal blast with a titanic arc that seemed carried along by a jet stream. One of the greatest shots I've ever hit.
Houbregs stepped forward, and his towering frame bent to waist to set up his tee and golf ball. He peered at me with mock disgust. "I can see I'm in for a long day," he said.
"Well that was one of my better shots," I said, laughing.
"I'm just thankful we didn't place any bets," he said, taking a practice cut.
Houbregs proceeded to split the fairway, and moments later my dad followed suit with a fine shot of his own. In my mind's eye, I can still see all three golf balls dotting the center of the lush green fairway.
From a golfing standpoint, the rest of the afternoon was a debacle for me. I lost 10-12 golf balls, and quietly cursed those narrow fairways flanked by thick forest.
Houbregs cried out "Oh my!" after several of my errant hacks. And around the 14th hole, after launching a shot of dangerous trajectory that threatened the well being of a foursome in an adjacent fairway, I climbed into my dad's cart just in time for him to admonish me.
"For crying out loud, son," dad muttered.
But woeful play aside, the rest of the day was pure joy. I sat back on several occasions and listened to dad and Houbregs reminisce on Husky basketball. Houbregs told stories of his coach Tippy Dye, and of teammates and of the old rivalry with Seattle U. He described the 1953 National Semifinal game, where Houbregs said the referees seemed hell bent on sending Kansas to the championship game. It had been a ferociously pro-Kansas crowd, and a tough venue, he said.
In turn, Dad told him of his boyhood habit of listening to Husky games on the radio and keeping score in a dark green spiral score book.
As we completed the round of golf and walked off the 18th green, Houbregs offered to buy drinks.
Sitting at a table in the shade, three tall lemonades arrived as dad added up the scores. As I recall, Houbregs was around 80, dad was around 84, and I was in the vicinity of Jeff Cirillo's batting average during his ill-fated tenure as a Mariner.
Twenty minutes later, we arose to our feet to say goodbye. Houbregs towered over both of us as we shook hands. "It was nice to meet you, Ron," Houbregs said.
Dad and I walked in silence toward the direction of our cars. As papa hoisted his golf bag into his trunk, he turned to shake my hand again. "Well that was fun Derek, thank you," he said. "A nice Father's Day present."