Husky Legend Dave Kopay Keeps Battling
Sept. 12, 2007
by Matt Airy
SEATTLE, Wash. - Husky Legend Dave Kopay speaks with a quiet passionwhen it comes to his years as a running back and linebacker forWashington.
'UW Football taught me how to fi ght.' he says, 'It taught mehow not to give up. It taught me that you have to show up--forclass, for training camp--you have to work.'
Kopay's early years were somewhat nomadic. Born inChicago, he moved to Los Angeles when he was 10, and wenton to become a star at football powerhouse Notre Dame HighSchool. After considering offers from Stanford, Cal, and theNaval Academy, Kopay chose to get away from home, opting forMarquette University in Wisconsin.
Soon after arriving at Marquette, however, his thoughts beganto turn toward the Pacifi c Northwest. Kopay's older brother, Tony,was playing for Washington at the time, and Dave got to watchfirst hand as his brother and company beat National ChampionMinnesota 17-7 in the 1961 Rose Bowl (the Golden Gophers hadbeen voted the champs prior to their game against the Huskies).
'At Marquette the players were big and huge and strong, yetthe varsity team was basically terrible,' remembers Kopay. 'Iwas a freshman and I saw the Huskies just kickin' the (heck) outof this Minnesota team and that really infl uenced me to say `Hey,you know what? Maybe that's not a bad place to go.' My brotherwas right, so I followed him.'
He may have followed his brother, but the younger Kopaymade a name for himself. He transferred in time to compete in the1961 regular season and Washington seemed to be the perfectfi t. As a sophomore, he was a part-time starter and played wellenough to letter by the end of the season.
Kopay's junior year brought challenges, as he was movedto the defensive side of the ball. The switch dropped him in thedepth chart, but never dampened his fi ghting spirit.
'I had both incredible highs and incredible lows,' recallsKopay, 'and I think that teaches you something.'
Lessons learned, Kopay thrived his senior year. He wasnamed a co-captain of the 1963 team, playing both ways andlogging extensive minutes. He led the Huskies with 12 receptionsfor 175 yards and was third on the team with 340 yards rushing.He also was second on the team with four touchdowns.
Kopay's best game came against his hometown USC Trojans.He played 52 minutes and lost 17 pounds in leading Washingtonto a 22-7 victory over USC and an eventual return to the RoseBowl. In that bowl game, Kopay played through a painful ribinjury, and scored Washington's lone touchdown in a 17-7 loss toa Dick Butkus-led Illinois.
'My rib was going in and out of the cartilage,' he says, 'Theday of the Rose Bowl they taped it up, padded it up, and I played.The adrenaline of being in the Rose Bowl... I wasn't going tomiss that for anything.'
The toughness and resiliency Kopay displayed as a Huskyguided him through a nine-year NFL career. In spite of beingat an athletic disadvantage for much of his career, his workethic and willingness to do whatever was asked of him was hisfoundation.
'I wasn't a big statistic kind of guy,' says Kopay. 'I was asteady player. I picked up the blitzes for the quarterback and Iknocked people on their (ends). I did my job.'
Kopay's mental and emotional toughness was tested offthe field as well, never more so than 1975, when he becamethe first athlete in major sports history to reveal that he is gay.Retrospective of all his life's struggles, Kopay keeps an optimisticperspective.
'In life you make decisions and you go with them,' he says.'If you keep battling, if you keep the struggle going, if you don'tgive up the game, sometimes things work out pretty well.'