My hometown of Walla Walla, a wheat-farming community of 30,000 not far from the Idaho border, is known for two things: It's the home of the sweet onion and the state penitentiary. On the day in 1993 when the New England Patriots selected me with the first pick in the NFL draft, there was news about the case of a notorious killer in the state pen. So the next morning the story of my going to the pros didn't even make the front page of the Walla Walla paper.� Football does, however, make headlines in Washington, and the annual Apple Cup game between Washington State and Washington is the state's biggest sporting event. What makes the game special is that it's a rivalry between the haves ( Washington) and the have nots ( Washington State). When you grow up on the eastern side of the state, as I did, you view the people on the western side as rich and snobby. Seattle is, after all, the home of Microsoft (and UW). We Easterners like to think of ourselves as blue-collar, hardworking farming people. So the Apple Cup isn't merely a battle of football programs; it's a battle of ideals and lifestyles.
My father, Mac, was a 210-pound offensive lineman at Washington who for 30 years ran the All-Northwest Football Camp with a friend named Shorty Bennett. From the time I was a rugrat I spent every summer running around the camp, hanging out with players such as Fred Biletnikoff, Kenny Easley, Steve Largent, Ronnie Lott, Warren Moon, Jim Plunkett and Ken Stabler. Not only was it the highlight of every year, but it was also where I learned how to be a quarterback.
Each year after the camp ended, my dad would invite all the pro players to a party at nearby Lake Coeur d'Alene in Idaho. One year, when I was about two, I was standing on the shore while my dad was talking on the dock with Biletnikoff, who was in his first year of coaching at the camp. My dad looked at me on the shore and then turned to Fred and said, "I guess we're going to find out real soon if you and I are going to be friends." Fred asked why. My dad said, "Because that's my son over there peeing in your loafers." Fred laughed it off, and they ended up becoming good buddies.
Since my dad played for Washington, I grew up a Huskies fan, always decked out in purple-and-gold gear. We attended a few Apple Cups, and I best remember the 1988 game. It was snowy, windy and cold, and my dad and I watched quarterback Timm Rosenbach and Washington State beat the Huskies 32-31. I was a high school sophomore then, and seeing the upstart Cougars win started to pull me in the direction of Pullman.
I decided to sign with Washington State mainly because of coach Mike Price. He was a guy I felt really comfortable around. Another reason was that Mark Brunell and Billy Joe Hobert already were at Washington. Had I signed with the Huskies, I was likely to be buried on the depth chart.
My alltime favorite football memory is of the 1992 Apple Cup. The Huskies came to Pullman ranked No. 5 and were going to the Rose Bowl. We played in a huge snowstorm, and on one play I threw a long pass to Phillip Bobo, who caught it for a touchdown and slid into a snow pile in the back of the end zone. My teammates and I ran downfield and jumped onto the snow pile with him and started throwing snowballs, acting like a bunch of kids. We won 42-23.
Five months later I was in the NFL, where the state of Washington has sent more than its share of quarterbacks, including Brunell, Hobert, Moon, Rosenbach, Chris Chandler, Cary Conklin, Brock and Damon Huard, Mark Rypien, Jack Thompson and Marques Tuiasosopo. I think the state's quarterback tradition can be traced to the level of offensive sophistication in its high school ball. You don't see too many teams running the wing T or the option where I grew up.
Even though my wife and I now live in Montana, we're there only to escape from the world in the off-season. I have plans to get back home someday. Some quarterback friends of mine—Dan Marino, Rick Mirer and Damon Huard—and I have looked into buying acreage in the state to make some red wine. The land in Washington is pretty fertile for grapes and for football. Besides, it's home.