In talking with former Husky Reggie Rogers about his alma mater, one thing is absolutely clear: He holds a grudge like Stalin. Over twenty years have passed since Rogers was a 1st team All-American and seventh pick in the 1987 NFL Draft. It’s also been two decades since Rogers was involved in a string of difficulites and tragedies that altered lives forever.
The twin epicenter of tragedy was the cocaine overdose death in 1986 of his brother Don Rogers—a rising star with the Cleveland Browns—as well as Reggie’s involvement in a fatal auto accident in 1988. That accident claimed the lives of three teenagers in Pontiac, Michigan. Reggie was hospitalized, arrested and convicted for involuntary manslaughter. After serving one year in jail, he attempted a NFL comeback that ended in failure two years later.
Today, what bothers Rogers is his belief that he was vilified in the media and suffered a damaged reputation. He asks fans to read the book One Moment Changes Everything, for which he says he receives no proceeds. The last 300 pages detail his life, including the fatal accident. According to Rogers, it shows that it wasn’t his fault, despite the jail term he served and the national perception.
For the purposes of this article, there is a Husky-related sore spot in all this: The bitterness that Rogers feels toward UW for a perceived lack of respect.
“Nobody really knows the truth about what happened that night,” said Rogers recently. “That accident is what’s really stopping me from getting into the Husky Hall of Fame. Right now, that Hall of Fame is just a place with a bunch of pictures in it. How can you justify not having the most decorated minority in the history of the University of Washington, and he’s not in the Hall of Fame? They told me that I am looked at as a bad guy because of the accident and that I will never get in there.”
Rogers was asked who at the UW told him that.
“I don’t want to say his name,” he said. “But it’s somebody who is very close to the Husky organization. He told me that they will never let me in. He’s not getting paid, he’s just someone who loves the football program and is very close to it.
“I went up there one day to try to find out why,” said Rogers. “My wife even called to find out why. They just talked around it. How can they justify putting anybody in there, if not me? Please! How can you justify keeping me out? I never had any real problems at U-Dub. I was a first-team All-American.“
Reggie Rogers isn’t the only Husky All-American currently on the outside looking in. Notables like Mark Stewart, Mario Bailey, Lawyer Malloy, Benji Olson and Olin Kreutz have yet to be inducted. In recent years, football inductees have included Lincoln Kennedy, Napoleon Kaufman, Ron Holmes, Jim Lambright and Jeff Jaeger. A maximum of two football players have been selected every two years. Unquestionably, it’s very difficult to get in when considering those factors.
UW Associate Athletic Director Chip Lydum was asked recently about Rogers’ bitterness.
“There’s a meeting every two years to decide the inductees into the Husky Hall of Fame,” he said. “It’s not just for football players, but track athletes, men and women’s basketball, baseball, etc. All sports are considered. There are ten people in the committee and it is run by the Big W Club. Former athletes are involved. I can say that we’re looking to improve the structure of the selection process. To create more structure in the follow-up. In the past it’s been more of an informal mom and pop format, and we want to make the process more sophisticated. In all the meetings I have attended, Reggie Rogers has never been discussed. There has never been any talk of keeping him out. I have never been involved in any conversation about him, pro or con, in regards to the Hall of Fame, or his accident. He certainly has the credentials to be in the Hall of Fame. Timing could be a primary question. Reggie has also yet to be nominated.”
Lydum went on to compare Rogers’ situation to that of two former Husky greats.
“We’ve discussed how to deal with Billy Joe Hobert, but not Reggie,” said Lydum, referring to the heralded quarterback dismissed from the team in 1992 due to an infamous scandal. “The one player I think of who was inducted that wasn’t a first-team All-American like Reggie Rogers, was Napoleon Kaufman. Napoleon had that type of crowd sizzle that people really loved. That might have influenced things a bit.”
In the past several years, Reggie Rogers has had virtually nothing to do with Husky football. In discussing the situation, his voice becomes angry and animated.
“I don’t go up there, I don’t go around there,” he said. “I don’t even watch Husky football on TV. I have nothing to do with that program at all. Understand me on this: My senior year in 1986, when Donald passed away, my mom was about to lose her house. I was about to leave early and go take care of my family and little Don (Don Rogers, Jr.). I stayed in Seattle because when you’re a Dawg, you stay a Dawg. You know what I’m saying? I stayed even though there wasn’t anybody on that team except me, Lonzell Hill and Chris Chandler. That defense was completely built around me and I can only do so much! I stayed there out of respect for the coaching staff and everything. That’s what Husky football used to be about.”
Rogers’ resentment even influenced the manner he viewed the recruitment of his daughter. Regina Rogers was a much-coveted basketball star coming out of Chief Sealth High School last year. She is currently playing for UCLA.
“Man, they recruited my daughter harder than anybody I’ve ever seen,” said Rogers. “I didn’t want my daughter to go to Washington. I did not want her to go there. How can you come here and ask for my daughter, when you won’t even respect her Dad? My daughter knows the truth about what happened (with the accident). At the end of the day, it was Regina’s decision. But I was happy that she didn’t go there.”
In recent years, Rogers has made one trip out to UW, five months after current coach Tyrone Willingham was first hired in Dec 2004. Rogers, along with a multitude of other former Huskies, took part in a barbeque with the 2005 team.
“I didn’t care about what was happening with the football program one bit,” said Rogers. “I was just curious to go see this black guy that the University of Washington hired as a coach. That’s what I wanted to see. Now look, I’m not racist. I’ve got a Baskin-Robbins family. I just wanted to see the black guy that U-Dub hired. I was like, WOW! YIP! The University of Washington hired a black man? I’ve got to go see this for myself! I wanted to go shake his hand and see if any of that shit came off of him. When I first met him, and he would probably deny this, but he gave me this look like, WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? YOU’RE THAT BAD GUY I HEARD ABOUT.”
Rogers went on to clarify his thoughts on Tyrone Willingham.
“With Willingham, I don’t know the guy,” he said. “I think he’s a great coach, and someone that I wouldn’t mind playing for. But what I do know is that what I see out there isn’t Husky football. The whole thing, the whole program. That’s not Husky football. That’s not what I’m used to seeing and it’s not what I’m used to being around. Now with Willingham, who knows, his hands might be tied. This is a new day. I’m turning 44 this year, and I have learned that everything isn’t always how it looks.
“For example, today I’m wearing a Washington Husky sweatshirt and baseball cap,” he said. “But I’m representing 1982-1986. I even got a Washington thing on my car. But it has nothing to do with what’s going on over there now. It starts in ’82 and stops when I left. What’s going on over there right now isn’t Husky football.”
Rogers was asked if his bitterness boils down simply as a matter of respect.
“Did you watch that one award show?” he asked. “They gave Rick James an award sometime before he passed. I loved his music but I didn’t know him or the hell he was going through. But he talked about how someone at the back door wouldn’t let him in, just like what happened with me at the U-Dub. Rick James said, BUT I’M RICK JAMES, BITCH! And that’s what I’m telling U-Dub: BUT I’M REGGIE ROGERS, BITCH!”
When asked about the possibility of future reconciliation with his alma mater, Rogers spoke in a calmer voice.
“Man, if they do right by me, then I could see being involved with the program again,” he said. “But right now, without me being in the Hall of Fame, I don’t want nothin’ to do with them. You forgive but you don’t forget.”
Chip Lydum stated the University of Washington’s current stance toward Rogers.
“Reggie and I have always had a nice relationship,” he said. “I have great memories of him as a player, and he certainly has great credentials. I am actually glad that this has been brought up because, at the very least, his entry into the Hall of Fame needs to be discussed.”