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Jimmy Rodgers Can Tell You How to Win at the Big House

The former safety played a lead role in the Huskies' only victory at Michigan.

The blueprint for beating the Michigan Wolverines in the largest football stadium in the nation is fairly straightforward. If followed religiously and enthusiastically, it can supply a positive result. 

Here's how it goes: obsess about the Big Ten team at all times during the offseason; when running 10 100-yard stadium sprints, do two more for Michigan; and when lifting a prescribed amount of weight, hoist a few more reps for the Maize and Blue.

Thirty-seven years ago, the University of Washington football team didn't waver from this grand plan. 

The 16th-ranked Huskies entered the Big House in Ann Arbor, 40 miles west of Detroit, and made themselves right at home. They put their feet up on the coffee table, raided the refrigerator and smacked the No. 3-rated Wolverines around 20-11. 

Following that glorious afternoon in 1984, they returned home to Seattle with one of the most satisfying road victories in school history. 

"Everything you did was geared for that Michigan game," former UW safety Jimmy Rodgers said.

Now 59, with flowing gray hair and always a mischievous streak in him, Rodgers helped orchestrate the UW's only victory in four trips to what is formally known as Michigan Stadium, capacity 107,000.

CBS selected Rodgers as the Huskies' co-player of the game with quarterback Hugh Millen after he intercepted a pass, broke up two others, recovered a fumble and chalked up six tackles, including a sack.

"It was the last time I physically felt great," said Rodgers, a hellbent player who broke his arm three times during his career and needed hip surgery when he was done playing.

The Oregon native remembers the Big House walk-through, staring at the magnitude of the never-ending rows of seats, of catching a glimpse of a most surprising coaching moment and wishing he had a photo of it: in the stadium tunnel, old friends Don James and Bo Schembechler stood locked arm in arm, chatting away before getting after each other the following day.

On Saturday, Rodgers noted how close the stands were to the UW bench as they filled up, maybe 10 feet away. One Wolverines fan steadily chirped away at him, supplying an assortment of insults.

Once the game began, the Huskies took it right to Michigan. They forced five turnovers and sacked Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh five times. The Wolverines couldn't handle Rodgers or edge rusher Reggie Rogers, who had been a UW basketball player the year before when these teams met in Husky Stadium. One guy controlled the line of scrimmage; the other played centerfield immaculately.

Still, this was a higher level of play than the then-Pac-10 supplied, requiring a momentary adjustment period.

"When you see the guard pull from Oregon, it's a party; you can't wait to run up and meet him," Rodgers said. "When it's the pulling guard from Michigan, it's so scary."

Rodgers held up well, though. He made life miserable for Harbaugh, then the Wolverines senior quarterback and now the coach.

He noticed how the quarterback gave away his passes by moving his head certain ways and he picked up on his audibles. 

"I knew Jim Harbaugh better than he did," the UW safety said.

Rodgers and Harbaugh got much better acquainted midway through the first quarter. The aggressive defensive back drilled the Michigan offensive leader well after he scrambled out of bounds, knocking the quarterback clear over to the Wolverines' Gatorade bucket. 

The Husky aggressor drew a late-hit penalty and a one-on-one meeting with the hot-tempered Schembechler.

"Here I am behind enemy lines and Bo Schembechler is in my face and calling me every name in the book," Rodgers said. "It was so delightful. It was a surreal moment. It was like, 'Hi Bo, thank you sir.' I just smiled."

The Huskies built a 20-3 margin that held up until the closing seconds. While James put his second-team defense into the game in the final quarter, Schembechler stayed with his starters and moved the ball to the UW goal line.

Once the Wolverines got close, James put his No. 1 defense back on the field, but it couldn't prevent Michigan from scoring on a short Harbaugh pass with a scant two seconds remaining.

With no chance of winning, Schembechler still instructed his team to go for a two-point conversion, which was good, and cut the final score to nine points.

After the Husky victory was complete, Rodgers once more encountered that loud-mouth Michigan fan, who suddenly turned classy on him by congratulating him and putting two cold beers in his helmet.

The personable Rodgers, ever hopeful the current Huskies can bounce back from their shocking opening defeat to Montana and produce another UW victory at the Big House, lives in Seattle these days and is the fun-loving host of the Downtown Dawgs podcast.

He comes across like a football-minded Jimmy Kimmel, enticing an assortment of celebrities to sit in front of the camera with him and laugh a lot. Husky fans can subscribe to see this guy in action again.

A month ago, Rodgers even called up Harbaugh, trying to get him to do an episode long distance. To his surprise, the Michigan leader remembered him and even the late hit. They had a pleasant chat. 

The former Husky safety next sent Harbaugh a video clip promoting his show, which he later realized was a tactical mistake. The footage showed Rodgers tackling the old Michigan quarterback late and well past the sideline stripe. They never got together to do a podcast segment. 

There was a valuable lesson in there for someone who otherwise learned how to tame the Big House and all of its inhabitants. 

"If you want to get an interview with the opposing coach," Rodgers reminded, "don't send him a video of him getting his ass kicked."

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