Part 2: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Spider Gaines

Dan Raley

He nicknamed himself "Slam" and rode around in rented limousines through the downtown streets of Vancouver, British Columbia, and Calgary, Alberta.

After his pro football and Olympic Games aspirations deserted him, a rudderless and depressed Robert "Spider" Gaines turned to another avocation. He found something else he was good at.

He became a Canadian pimp. 

The Rose Bowl hero was now a sex-trade facilitator operating his own street-wise operation. He hung out in clubs and made prostitutes available to an always eager clientele. He managed two working women. For 18 months, he earned good money and spent it.

"It was my lifestyle," Gaines said. "I don't know if it was my destiny, but it was just one of those things that fell into my lap and I went with it."

While on the job, he turned sheepish on the night he ran into former University of Washington football teammates Antoine Richardson and Ronnie Rowland, who were musicians in Vancouver for a gig, and he had to explain himself.

Gaines kept right on working until he got picked up in a sting in 1985 by Canadian immigration authorities and deported to the U.S. after he refused offer insider information on the operations.

He remains one of the UW's greatest football players of all time, a wide receiver who could make any secondary look helpless, possibly the greatest deep threat in program annals. 

Yet there always was a seamy side to Spider Gaines, one that followed him most places. In this three-part series, we look at his life of sporting glory, post-football distractions and personal recovery.

Athletes are no different than other people. They have their problems, their issues, just like anyone else. Some go to prison for Ponzi schemes, others get caught up in drug distribution, yet others have domestic-abuse issues.

Few, if any, become pimps.

Spider Gaines, however, came from the mean streets of Richmond, California, where anything goes. While extremely likable, he always did things a little differently, if not recklessly. What seemed outrageous to others was often the norm for him.

On the eve of the 1978 Rose Bowl against Michigan, Gaines willingly abided by his team's 11 p.m. hotel curfew. Yet at 1 a.m., he let four high school friends into his room and they proceeded to party uninterrupted until the morning hours on a potent mix of cocaine, marijuana and beer. Spider got two hours of sleep.

He admittedly still felt a little buzzed when the big game in Pasadena began and he dropped the first pass delivered to him by quarterback Warren Moon. But he bounced back and scored a pair of touchdowns against the Big Ten powerhouse, though one was negated by penalty.

"I didn't come down from the cocaine until I started running and sweating," Gaines said. 

Back in the Seattle-Tacoma area following his Canadian eviction in 1985, Gaines unapologetically told his seamy story to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He spared none of the details about his pimping activities. People wanted to help him. He received 27 job offers from concerned alumni and fans that came directly to the newspaper because he didn't have a phone.

After considering his options, Gaines re-enrolled at the UW to earn his degree with the school picking up the tab in order to make him count in its student-athlete graduation statistics. He accepted an offer from Husky football coach Don James to become a graduate assistant coach during spring practice. 

The path to respectability didn't last long for Spider Gaines. He fell back into drug use, which included crack cocaine, and drinking. He was accused of assault in a University District night spot and left town.

Back in California, he took a series of jobs. He worked as a security guard for a Walgreens drug store. He wore a gray and black uniform and brought a sack lunch with him to the overnight job. Most of the time, he was alone.

He  became a high school security monitor, walking around campus during classroom hours and keeping the peace. Trying to break up a playground fight one day, he took a bottle to the head and suffered retina damage to one of his eyes. He returned to Seattle to have it repaired.

With restored vision, Gaines watched forlornly but happy for his Husky teammates who made it big in the NFL. Moon went to the CFL and joined the Houston Oilers, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs in putting together a Hall of Fame career. Michael Jackson played linebacker for several seasons for the Seahawks. The recently deceased Nesby Glasgow was a standout for the Baltimore Colts and the Seahawks.

Gaines decided to give respectability one more chance. He returned to Seattle and re-enrolled in classes at the UW once more. He went through drug and alcohol rehabilitation near Sea-Tac airport. As middle age approached, it was time for him to put stability into his world, to get over his disappointment, to become law-abiding.

"My dream was to play football and I got my chance," he said. "I was pro material with my height and speed. It was something that just wasn't meant to be."

Part 3: Spider Gaines obtains his college degree from the UW and everything else falls into place for him.

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Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Spider's Rose Bowl hotel roommate must not have gotten much sleep, either! lol