Coby's Wolverine Moment: It's 193 Days to Michigan

Dan Raley

Vince Coby never played against Michigan, missing out on two chances as a Washington football player, but the Wolverines were never far from him.

He was an unused freshman running back when the Huskies pulled an unforgettable 27-20 upset of Michigan in the 1978 Rose Bowl and an injured senior when the UW lost to the Big Ten team 23-6 in the 1981 New Year's Day game.

Yet while growing up in Tacoma, Washington, Coby was partial to the Midwest team after watching on TV as the guys in the maize and blue uniforms and distinctive wing helmet logos battled USC multiple times in Pasadena.

He was so smitten by Michigan, in fact, Coby decided to pattern his game after Wolverines speedster Gordon Bell, one of the school's all-time leading rushers.

As a senior, the Husky tailback took this attraction one step further and traded in his jersey number of three years for Bell's -- swapping No. 28 for 5.

"I remember him weaving through the defense and making plays," he said. "I said, 'That's what I'm going to be.' "

This is another in a series of Michigan memories as told by former Washington football players. It's 193 days until the Wolverines show up at Husky Stadium for the season opener and the beginning of the Jimmy Lake coaching era.  

Coby actually had more than one identity crisis as a collegian. Coming out of Wilson High, he was one of four recruits from his hometown who planned to play together for Oregon -- joining Mount Tahoma's defensive lineman Vince Goldsmith and fullback Vince Williams, and his Wilson teammate and offensive lineman Rick Price. At the last minute, Coby switched his commitment to the Huskies. 

Goldsmith finished his eligibility as a second-team All-America selection the year before, but Coby, Williams and Price fittingly all met at midfield before the Washington-Oregon game in Eugene in 1981 as co-captains for their respective teams. The UW won that one 17-3.

"I felt like Coach James was going to have us rise faster," Coby said, and he was right about that. The shifty tailback went to three Rose Bowls while his Oregon friends stayed home during the postseason. 

For the 1978 Rose Game game against Michigan, Coby knew he wasn't going to play that day and purposely stood next to coach Don James as much as he could just to get on TV that day. 

Three years later, he sat in the stands and watched the Huskies lose, recovering from knee surgery and wishing he could have given his teammates some offensive help. 

In the 1982 Rose Bowl, Coby altered the course of UW history with that earlier wardrobe change. He started at fullback for the Huskies and scored a touchdown while wearing No. 5 in a 28-0 victory over Iowa. It wasn't Michigan, but the Hawkeyes were the next-best thing.

The guy who inherited No. 28 from Coby went on to have a legendary game that day as a freshman who rushed for 142 yards and two TDs, and was named the game's most valuable player -- Jacque Robinson. Had Vince not given up his original jersey, young Robinson might have been wearing something like No. 27 or 29 for his big moment. 

In a little over six months, Coby will be seated in Husky Stadium watching the Washington and Michigan, his two favorite teams, meet once more. He can't wait. Yet he knows where his loyalties lie. 

"Regardless of my childhood fantasies," he said, "those guys will have to play second fiddle to my Dawgs."

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