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The Story Behind Washington's First Football Family and How It Came Together

The Jameses were barely teenagers, attending a firefighters benefit, in the middle of Ohio when they met.

It was fire engines at first sight.

Don James and Carol Hoobler were each 14 in 1946 when they met for the first time at the Fireman's Festival, a fund-raiser in the middle of Ohio used to support local firefighters.

He was from Massillon and she lived in Canton, neighboring towns in the historic cradle of Midwest football. They were born two miles apart. They became inseparable thereafter. 

"Don walked me home and that was it," Carol James said. 

Actually, they broke up once. So young, they decided they needed to date others. That didn't last long.

Don and Carol ended up going to college together at the University of Miami, where he became the Hurricanes' starting quarterback in 1952 and '53, and she was a cheerleader. 

They were married midway through their time in college, forming a union that lasted 61 years until the coach's death. 

They shared in his coaching career that took them to Kansas, Florida State, Michigan, Colorado, Kent State and finally Washington, with the final stop making James a coaching legend.

He had two decades of retirement before pancreatic cancer took him. He was 80.

"I miss him every day," Carol said, now 88.

Seven years after his passing, she hears from former Husky players who call practically on a daily basis to remind her what she once had. Beyond football. 

They tell her what the James family meant to them, how Don and Carol's marriage impacted them, how it became a model for them. 

"I didn't know Don and I had such a perfect marriage — we argued," she said with a laugh. "It touches me. It really surprises me. I've got a big family."

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During her husband's 18 seasons as the Washington coach, Carol James said players continually sought her out for advice. She was approachable. They feared the Husky coach.

They came to her with their problems and she listened, offered her opinion and then reflected on whether she should tell the coach.

A roughly 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive lineman made the following admission to Carol, telling her, "Mrs. James, how can a guy as big as me be so afraid of a man as small as the coach is?"

"You're not afraid of him," Carol responded to the oversized player. "You just want to please him."

The Jameses raised three children: Jeff, who worked for Boeing and is retired; Jill, who married a football coach, Jeff Woodruff; and Jenny, who became a UW cheerleader and is now an Alaska Airlines flight attendant.

They lived in a three-story house in Bellevue throughout Don's Husky coaching career. Once retired, he insisted they downsize, to safeguard against encroaching age, in case anything happened to him. They moved into a condominium with a sweeping view of Lake Washington. 

"He always wanted to take care of me," Carol James said.

That was the case since that Fireman's Festival in Ohio, once they walked home together, when they became a permanent couple.  

In 2013, as cancer ravaged the coach's body, Don and Carol James did something unimaginable. They said goodbye.

"We talked about how we'd see each other again," she said softly. 

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