By Derek Johnson
Many people of the Puget Sound region know Dori Monson as the witty and hard-hitting host on KIRO radio. To others, he’s known for leading the charge on the pregame and postgame shows for the Seattle Seahawks, also on KIRO.
Monson’s roots, however, run deeper than that in Seattle soil. For it was twenty-eight years ago that he broadcast football games for the University of Washington’s campus radio station. As it turns out, his love of the Huskies goes way back.
“I was one of those kids who grew up in Seattle who listened to the games on the radio,“ Monson said. “I just have this vivid memory of the Ballard Ice Arena, which doesn’t exist anymore. They would always have the Husky game on every Saturday during the fall. I have always connected my falls to Husky football, because that was the only game in town in the early seventies, when I was eight, nine and ten years old. I loved the Hairbreadth Husky cartoons in the newspaper. I loved listening to the games. I could never afford a ticket to go to the game, but I was a gigantic fan.
“They were an average team then, but Sonny Sixkiller captured every kid’s imagination, just due to his name,” Monson added. “And I loved watching the coach’s show on Sunday afternoon. I loved watching Bruce King and the coach go over the previous day’s game.”
During his senior year Ballard High School, Monson interned for an Everett radio station. As he prepared to enter the University of Washington in 1980, he was looking to make a career in radio. The timing turned out to be perfect, for UW coach Don James was returning Husky Football to national powerhouse status.
“I met a guy who did the play-by-play for the campus radio station,” Monson said. “I told him I was coming to the University of Washington. He asked me if I knew enough about football to do color (commentary). I lied and told him yes. I wasn’t a football technician, but I wanted to be on the broadcast. So I did color for one year on KCMU with Scott Ellenson. Then after he graduated, I did the play-by-play for the next two years.”
In the years Monson covered the Huskies, the team’s records were 10-2, 10-2 and 8-4. This included a trip to Pasadena, as Washington played in the 1982 Rose Bowl.
“The university was so good to us,” Monson said. “Don James treated us the way he treated the KOMO crew. Bob Rondeau, who was also broadcasting back then, was incredibly good to me. The Sports Information Director was Mike Wilson, and he gave us amazing access to the coaches and treated us like professionals, even though we were college kids.
“They gave us a booth on the forty-yard line at the Rose Bowl,” Monson said. “When it was very difficult to get satellite time, we actually got it. We did the play-by-play at the Rose Bowl that year, which was the highlight of my college life. The Huskies beat Iowa 28-0. The atmosphere was absolutely electric. Just being there, after having watched it every year on TV, just felt like I was living a dream.”
Monson also recalled Jacque Robinson, the charismatic UW running back, who became the first freshman named MVP of the Rose Bowl.
“What I remember about Jacque Robinson was how many times he got hit at the line, and he would still go forward and get two to three yards,” he said. “He never went backwards when he got hit. There was a toughness in his running. I loved that about those Husky teams. The toughness and how they physically overmatched their opponents. I don’t know if it was raw force or just an uncanny desire that James would instill in them.”
Monson also cited one other defining moment in his UW broadcasting days. That was when the late Freddie Small recovered Chuck Nelson’s kickoff in the end zone, to lead the Huskies to a 13-3 win over the powerhouse USC Trojans. The game entered into lore due to the sixty MPH winds impacting the play on the field.
“Before the game, when were in our booth, I looked out on Lake Washington at the bay,” Monson said. “There was a guy out there trying to windsurf. He would struggle to put up the sail, and each time he did, he would get slammed down by the wind.
“But that game was such a battle, such a defensive struggle,” he said of the contest which was tied 3-3 with 5:00 left. “When Freddie jumped on the ball, there was a beat of silence in the stadium, because everyone was trying to figure out if it was a live ball or a touchback… And then the official’s arms shot up and then came the roar of the crowd!”
In life, the lessons learned in youth are critical in shaping us for who we become. This holds true for Monson too, as he reflected upon his weekly interviews with UW’s legendary coach Don James.
“What I learned more than anything was from Coach James,” Monson said. “For as kind, accessible and gracious as he was to me, if I came in unprepared, he made it clear that he did not like that.
“It happened to me once,” Monson said. “Here was this guy who had bent over backwards for me. He didn’t say anything specifically. But just from the way he was answering my questions, it was clear that he was running out of patience with me. And I deserved it. I was less-prepared that day than I was in all my other interviews with him. Just as he sent a message to his players in what he demanded from them, he sent me a message too—in a very subtle and effective way. I’ve always tried to be careful to be very prepared for interviews. But I learned that lesson during my first radio job, when I got to talk with Coach James every week.”