September 9, 2000: Miami at Washington, the Season’s Second Game
After rolling through the end zone, he stood, military straight, and shot his arms out to each side, his body a cross, his palms up, the football cupped in his left hand. The crowd’s love washed over him — 74,000 fans, in purple and gold, Microsofties, elementary school teachers, doctors, nurses, students, bankers, Boeing engineers. He pumped his head twice — yes, yes — and hugged his teammates as they jumped into his arms. The stadium siren sounded. Gold pompons waved. “They are hot right now,” said the color man, up in the broadcast booth. “Are they ever,” said the play-by-play man. The cheers kept coming as more players ran to him, to join the celebration.
The crowd knew what he was accused of, yes. But did that matter now?
Did it matter to ABC, which was broadcasting this game nationally? If it did, the announcers kept it to themselves. Not a word was said of how he had been arrested six weeks before on suspicion of rape. The broadcasters knew about it, of course. Bob Griese knew. Brad Nessler knew. Lynn Swann knew. Everyone knew. Jerramy Stevens had been arrested by a SWAT team — and an arrest like that makes the newspapers. But ABC treated the whole thing hush-hush. “A great tight end,” Nessler said early on. Then, as Stevens racked up the receptions, the play-by-play man tacked on the praise. “He is some kind of target.... The big fella rumbles. ...Ace in the hole.”
Before the game, the crowd had buzzed about how he might be charged any day, about how maybe this time, the county’s longtime prosecutor would pull the trigger. In the last two years, the prosecutor had taken a pass on charging six other players with assault. But maybe this time...
From the newspapers, the fans knew a few details. The woman was a freshman. Whatever happened, happened on Greek Row. But for now, the crowd erupted in cheers. A chain saw registers 100 decibels. A Husky crowd hits 135. The stadium rocked. What mattered was that Stevens had scored, putting Washington up 21–3. What mattered was that the Huskies were pounding one of the best teams in the country — and they were doing it on national TV, the broadcast a postcard of the Pacific Northwest, the greens and blues and grays, with glorious shots of Lake Washington, Douglas firs, and Mount Rainier.
The judges in King County knew what mattered. Sentencing one of Stevens’s teammates to a month in jail, a judge wrote in her order: “To be served after football season.” When another teammate faced a felony charge of assaulting a police officer, a judge released him without bail so that he could play in the next game. Yet another teammate, convicted of T-boning a car in an intersection, sending a woman to the hospital, was sentenced to 150 hours of community service — and allowed to perform every hour at football camps, serving as a role model to younger kids.
In the end zone, the Husky players converged on Stevens, to slap his shoulder pads, to pat his helmet. Two months before, they had turned out for his bond hearing to show their support. Who were they to judge? Innocent until proven guilty. Besides, quite a few had troubles of their own. At least three had warrants out for their arrest. They were playing in front of all these fans while wanted. Another player, a star linebacker, was under investigation by Seattle police — only in his case, the public didn’t know. But the DNA results on that bloody fingerprint could be back any time now. Like Stevens, he could be charged any day.
Mike Hunsinger, a season-ticket holder, knew about that linebacker. He knew lots of things the public didn’t know. An unimposing man — 150 pounds, glasses, a voice more alto than bass — Hunsinger made little impression in a crowd. In Seattle, support for the University of Washington often becomes a family affair — something passed down — be the family’s name Nordstrom, Gates, or Hunsinger. For three generations, the Hunsingers had owned a lumberyard in Seattle. In the 1980s, Mike’s father, D.W., joined a group of thirty-four businessmen — bankers, architects, car dealers, beer distributors — who called themselves the “Endorsers,” and who took it upon themselves to pad the salary of then-coach Don James with an extra $100,000 a year. They wanted to make James happy, to keep him from being swept away by the NFL or by some other school. Mike’s brother Bill gave summer jobs to Husky football players at the family lumberyard. Sometimes, a quarterback and wide receiver would practice routes amid the fir and molding. Of course, the players weren’t allowed to operate the saws. Nobody wanted them to get injured.
Instead of selling lumber, Mike had become a lawyer. He had built a successful practice in Seattle, doing high-end civil work, mostly. Still, he managed to do his part for the football program. In Husky Stadium, Hunsinger could look down on the field and pick out clients, past and present. In time, he would represent at least fourteen players on this team, mostly against criminal charges. He would charge each player a few hundred dollars and let him pay over time. Sometimes, he could get prosecutors to drop their charges with a single telephone call.
Washington’s head coach, Rick Neuheisel, removed his headset and ran his fingers through his hair. The announcers talked of how he was resurrecting hope in Seattle. Sure, he was only thirty-nine. But he had already emerged as a new kind of coach, a coach for a new century, a gold-banged, rosy-cheeked, guitar-playing friend of the player and the fan, with nicknames like Skippy and Coach Kumbaya. Slick Rick, too. And Rookie. And Sneus — because he was a Sigma Nu, back at UCLA, back when he was a walk-on quarterback who dated all the prettiest girls and who overcame food poisoning to become Rose Bowl MVP. He was Coach Fun Fun Fun. Hear it? It’s the Beach Boys, in the background, playing along.
Neuheisel was also a lawyer, which is why he used words like exonerated. I hope the truth will exonerate you, he had told Stevens after his arrest. Stevens had the makings of Washington’s best tight end ever — and this, at a school known for great tight ends. “Not having him would change who we are,” Neuheisel told reporters.
Sportswriters, high up in the press box, could feel the stadium shake, as sound waves crashed into concrete. Ever since his arrival on campus, Stevens had charmed them. Even when he had landed in trouble before, they had assured readers that he’d learned his lesson, that he was a “good-natured giant,” that he would be getting the last laugh, you could be sure of that. Then he went and found trouble again.
Did that matter now?