Hmmm, yeah, the name sounds familiar.
Have a look at this photo uncovered from 1982. That’s a definite ID on the guy. Back row to himself, all 6-feet-10, trying to look unassuming.
You can’t blame him. How was this 19-year-old – or anyone else really – supposed to know that he’d become one of the greatest left-handed pitchers in big-league history, a four-time Cy Young Award winner, second all-time in strikeouts and just this week voted near unanimously into Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame, just 30-something years after this snazzy group photo was snapped?
The rest of the journalists-wannabes from the USC Daily Trojan newspaper staff filling out that frame – including me, sporting the Trojan helmet in the front row, for example – were only certain after this particular autumn day that we would never see Johnson’s bust in the Pro Football Hall in Canton, Ohio.
Actually, the Randy Johnson we thought we knew way back then was really someone we hardly knew. Know what I’m saying?
A full-ride scholarship member of Rod Dedeaux’s Trojan baseball team (along with this other pitching prospect named Mark McGwire), Johnson’s interest in photography would occasionally bring him to the student newspaper office, as well as the school’s Sports Information Department, to see if there were any assignments he could shoot. The advantage he had was obvious — no need for an extended tripod for the future-named “Big Unit.”
So now it can be told, hopefully without fear of the retribution of a fastball thrown at our dome: Someone had the inspired idea to recruit Johnson as something of a ringer to play for the Daily Trojan flag football team in the annual “Blood Bowl” game against UCLA’s Daily Bruin. If we used him as a towering tight end, it would be such an easy target for the quarterback Casey Wian (now reporting news at CNN) and Jon SooHoo (who would become the Dodgers’ longtime official team photographer) to hit over the middle.
If only Johnson could catch an actual pass.
That wasn’t known until the game started.
Those who try to piece together the facts of what happened that day start with the ridiculousness of a wet, sloppy, muddy mess of the Bruins’ practice field next to Pauley Pavilion.
Getting any kind of traction was tough for anyone. Johnson looked like a newborn giraffe.
In a fierce-hitting game (even though it was just flags) recorded as a controversial 12-0 UCLA victory aided and abetted by the Westwood referees, Johnson’s most memorable contribution involved the lone USC touchdown that wasn’t a touchdown. The 80-yard play pulled off by Paul Vercammen (now a CNN reporter) was called back because of an illegal downfield block. It was called on Johnson, the human broomstick who was probably just looking for someone to grab so he wouldn’t fall over. He couldn’t have blocked anyone if he tried.
But the Legend of Randy Johnson merely started that day. Who could forget all that he meant to the team after that?
And as a side note, there was another question that needs to be addressed: Whatever happened to the quarterback of that UCLA team?
David Kahn, whose career path started in sports writing but recently ended with him the ex-director of basketball operations for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, has been on a professional trajectory that may be more Ripley’s-related than what happened to Johnson.
If Kahn had any special basketball no-how, he might have tried to lure Johnson into playing for his height-challenged T-wolves and saved his job.
So what’s the moral of whatever this story has become? Pay attention to those kids you hang out with in college who may not always be the gangly, useless knuckleheads you think they’ll turn out to be. Because years later, when you try to reconnect with them, they’re likely to easily forget you ever existed.
== Making an appearance as part of David Letterman “Top Ten” list the other night for “Things I Said When I Learned I Made the Baseball Hall of Fame,” one of Johnson’s lines included: “One step closer to becoming People Magazine’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’.”
Is that some kind of left-handed compliment?
== Since Mike Piazza has had three straight years now of not-so-near misses at getting enough Hall votes, what kind of numbers does the greatest-hitting-ever-catcher need to put up in 2015 to qualify for the Cooperstown Class of 2016?
== What’s the worthiness of College Football Hall of Fame without admitting new/tarnished inductees such as Jim Tressel and Brian Bosworth?
== Outside of putting on a pretty decent marathon, Boston’s emergence as the revolutionary choice by the USOC to host the 2024 Summer Olympics must be because of . . . its world-class tea parties to go with Duncan Donuts? No overtures of a boycott yet from England?
— Boston.com (@BostonDotCom) January 10, 2015
== Who again is Steven Gerrard MBE, and why are to believe this lad from Liverpool could send the Galaxy into another new soccer-ific stratosphere?
== What’s the worst thing that could happen if I don’t return this O.J. Simpson Heisman Trophy that I recently picked up in an LAPD get-rid-of-the-evidence auction?
== To those who predict that Jameis Winston is a future Pro Bowler, it’s are they confusing what he can do with an NFL pigskin versus the 16-pound balls he’d need to compete regularly on PBA Tour?
== Stan Kroenke hasn’t been returning my phone calls either. Should I be ramming my head into a wall?