Dawg Daze Shadows
Some days that arrive in your life will leave a deep mark that can remain until you draw your last breath. This one cold and rainy Seattle winter’s day in January of 1977 would become one of those benchmark days. Similar days like this had become another forced fact of life I had endured throughout my five years of playing football at the University of Washington. This particular day however, was about to strike an even more dismal, darker chord inside of me. There was something alien churning deep inside of me — aside from the day to day dreary encounters I felt from the gray and blackened skies that always loomed overhead. I loathed this sunlight deprived time of year in the great Pacific Northwest. Its beauty was gone. I just couldn’t see it. The hope of possibly catching a glimpse of warming sunshine seemed nothing more than some fleeting fantasy at best or something of a miracle that could be cast only by God himself.
I bounded cautiously to evade the puddles scattered atop the rain soaked asphalt parking lot between the Tubby Graves Building that housed the athletic department and my destination the Charles “Hec” Edmundson Pavilion. My lower campus stride which had evolved throughout my years of cross campus excursions had quickened much more so than usual this particular day. I failed miserably with my futile attempt and effort to out maneuver the rain. Another twenty minute journey had come to an end. Once again, it led me to a very familiar door to escape the beating raindrops from the darkened skies above. As I entered the Pav — a place which had become part of my off-season training and football pursuits of the previous five years — I casually shook the rain from my mane of long brown hair. As was repetitious habit on these rainy escapades, I then unsnapped and flipped open my Husky letterman’s jacket and brushed away the excess rain.
Then it was time to begin my ritualistic walk across the surface of the tan tartan track. Its white lined and numbered lanes skirted the edge of the moveable wooden basketball bleachers that had been pulled out for that evening’s Husky varsity basketball game. I recognized the solitary figure of a man, adorned in his grayish custodian’s overalls striding rhythmically atop the shiny hardwood floor. Somehow in my mind, I could hear the ticking of the beat he was marching to from some unheard cadence by marking time from deep within his wandering mind. He methodically pushed his woodened handled gray colored dust mop with each pass up and down the court, swept the shimmering surface of the portable basketball floor in preparation for the evening’s game.
This hallowed competitor’s great hall of my athletic pursuits seemed almost empty, reverent. One, lone invasive sound emanated from the faint reverberating echoes that bounced off the walls and steel girdered ceiling. Its source? The custodian’s striding gate from the resonating, well timed bumping of his broom as he tended to his duties. Along with me, there were a few early arrivals funneling in to set about their daily training routines. Their quiet, respectful echoes began to awaken this athletic sanctuary began to awaken some sleeping giant and filled the Pav’s empty space. I strolled along the casual curve of the track and as I had ceremoniously done as that creature of habit I had become time and time before, I broke off towards the football locker room located on the opposite side of the pavilion from where I had entered just a minute or so before.
It was a routine I had created nearly every day that I had been at the University of Washington and akin to so many others that I had made a habit of since my first day as a freshman football player. That very familiar dank and musty smell that daily filled my nostrils alerted me that the dimly lit tunnel, with its pale white stucco walls that led to Husky Stadium would soon be in view. That musty old tunnel of enchantment had been my magical gateway to a shared field of dreams with my treasured band of brothers. A recurring enchantment we shared during the many years of chasing our shared childhood dreams atop its dream laced Astroturf. This indelibly etched dream of mine was one of playing on football’s ultimate stage — the many stadiums and coliseums where other of my modern day contemporaries collided in feats of physical supremacy.
They were the modern day gladiators colliding in a symphonic reverie and besieged in bloody ancestral-like battles. So much like their forefathers warring tribes that had huddled together in their scant village outposts scattered across the wide open landscape of the National Football League years earlier. It was an elusive rainbow for many others who had been chasing their cherished reward and fallen short of capturing their treasured mystical pot of gold. But for me, it was a brightly colored rainbow of exploding colors awash with a true vision and expectant certainty of that shiny gold reward. It had been a most vivid childhood dream, which now had materialized into something very real with affirming expectations from NFL scouts, coaches and teammates that I would most assuredly be playing in the NFL in the fall of 1977.
I rounded the approaching corner to the left by the tunnel entrance and headed up the incline hallway. I made another left and reached to my right as I pulled open the door to the Husky football locker room. What I would hear next, and then sense in the deepest corridors of my mind, would clench at the very core of my soul. It would send me reeling into its darkest passage ways and even deeper into the spiritual core of my very existence.
The locker room’s speakers blared out in a man’s voice the shocking news that the rising star of a popular period sitcom — Chico and the Man — had just killed himself earlier that day. I froze in my tracks, instantly captivated by what I had just heard. I listened to the circumstances which had led a young and vibrant television star named Freddie Prinze to commit suicide. It was Friday afternoon, January 28, 1977. The reporter’s voice cracked as in stunned disbelief while he recounted the grave and shocking details surrounding Freddie’s suicide at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The reporter began to read the words taken from the note that Freddie had left as his last desperate comments before plummeting into eternal darkness.
“I must end it. There’s no hope left. I’ll be at peace. No one had anything to do with this. My decision totally – Freddie Prinze P.S. I’m sorry. Forgive me. Dusty’s here. He’s innocent. He cared.”
Freddie’s last desperate act; a self-inflicted, final violent action that ended his life began to haunt me in a very familiar and frightful way. The penetrating words that continued to pierce my ears from the radio announcer’s voice rocked my soul with such intensity that it sent me falling deeper and deeper into my own dark and desperate thoughts. Another teammate stood close by in shocked disbelief as we continued to listen intently to the reporter’s voice as it resonated from the speakers throughout the locker room. My soul began to quiver and shake — like some frightened, scared little child left alone in some foreboding dark forest of fear. I moved toward my locker. I had to sit down. I took a seat on the wooden bench in front of my locker as the reporter related that Freddie Prinze was only twenty-two years old… So was I.
The words struck deeper. He was only a kid, just like me. From outward appearances anyone would think that he was a fresh young voyager embracing life’s magnificent race possessing wide-eyed hopes and dreams of an expected, richly fulfilling and rewarding brighter future… One with an even greater life of wonderful experiences yet to come. Such hopes and dreams were shattered from those earlier appearances that indicated he had the world by the tail and with most everything it seemed at his beck and call. He always seemed so alive and full of life from what I had seen from watching his top rated television show. Appearances are just that. Who was it that even knew of his dark side and those many recurring bouts with depression?
“He was so young. He had everything anyone could ever want. Why would he do this?” I thought to myself.
A frightful, worrisome gloom began to overshadow and consume me. This dark engulfing haze was not anything foreign or strange to me. It was an unwanted, frequently recurring visitor of doubt of ever deepening, dark thoughts. This grimacing sinister visitor always brought with it such unrelenting hellish thoughts and nightmares tied with fear. I didn’t want to feel its mentally crippling depression. I always tried to flee its grasp on me, but here it was, circling back to haunt me yet again. I became frightened, growing more and more despondent from what I had just heard and I immediately felt so all alone — completely hopeless. This news only heightened my deepest hidden feelings and emotions. Sitting there, on the bench in front of my locker, I leaned back as my head thumped against the metal locker door. I sat there stunned, staring at the ceiling in a daze. Freddie’s death, by his own hand, had shocked me terribly. I was reeling. I could see myself as Freddie in that very moment of loss and desperation before he finally pulled the trigger ending his life. Again, the thought of why he could or would do such a thing raced through my mind. His vibrant life was gone; snuffed out in a deeply depressed moment by his own hand and at such a young age. Freddie had realized his dream. Now his once great dream and self guided blueprint for success had turned into a fatal nightmare causing his demise. Such thoughts accompanied with this similar feeling began to creep even deeper into my mind as well.
How could I flee and escape this ever menacing apparition that kept returning to me?
I wanted to run and hide from what I had just envisioned. This very recognizable, evil and wicked presence had once again become present in my life and it was pushing me towards those same thoughts of suicide more and more. It would hover over my every move. No matter what I did, or where I went — it always seemed to follow. It was growing ever closer; unremitting in its effect and placing its unyielding strangle hold on me.
God, where are you?
I felt so helpless. My innermost being was crying out for help. But there was none. I didn’t dare show any weakness in front of my coaches or teammates. My inbred jock’s mental strength with a deeply engrained ego of pride wouldn’t allow such a thing to occur because I had been conditioned to “suck it up” and to deal with whatever came my way. I was to be that tough, self-reliant and confidently strong man and not let my fear show. But I felt I was crumbling under its unrelenting weight.
Two of my teammates had just played in post season all-star games. I felt left out as one not good enough. And now, I felt as if I no longer mattered as some outsider looking in. Earlier thoughts of playing in some post-season all-star game was something that I had always dreamed of doing and had stated during interviews in preseason newspaper articles my senior year. My senses had control of it. I was intently focused. I could see it. I could feel it. It was so alive in me. I could trust it completely… But now; I couldn’t train. I couldn’t see, feel or trust it anymore — even though I wanted to deep down inside. Everything was falling away. What I had trusted to be real from the vision I had created; was becoming some fleeting fantasy and no longer something real and tangible I could hold onto any longer.
Why was it fading away? Why couldn’t I hold onto it any longer? Come back!
This once great hope and dream of playing in the NFL was dying a struggling death deep inside my mind and rapidly falling from view. I was losing weight and could feel myself getting weaker. I didn’t care anymore about my previously strict diet and highly focused and dedicated training regimen. I didn’t care what I ate. As a result, I had pretty much become an uncaring, carbohydrate ingesting junk-food junkie. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. I was falling behind in my classes. I couldn’t concentrate. I felt completely lost and insecure. I didn’t care, but I did. It was pulling and pushing me in different directions constantly. This wickedly heart-wrenching and psyche shaking news of Freddie Prinze would continue to rattle in my mind for days to come. I had come to the end of all hope just like Freddie. There was nothing left to hold onto. Football was my identity and my life. That’s all that mattered. The journey I was on to grab a childhood dream — my special dream of hope for what I felt as a greater life, now seemed over as well. My intricately crafted blueprint for success had failed me miserably. I couldn’t even think about moving forward. I just couldn’t. I felt that I had tried with all I had to reach my goal and it had now worn me down to where I felt nothing was left. I was fatigued, spent, exhausted and defeated. I was completely burned out — empty.
There was nothing left in me. I felt so guilty and ashamed for letting my parents and coaches down that I was withdrawing from everything and everybody. Above all, I felt that I had let myself down. I just wanted to die to end the pain. A few days later I made a decision…
I was going to kill myself.
“When the mind of man overbears his heart — where God dwells — conflict, chaos, confusion, despair and uncertainty reign supreme.”