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Welcome Home Luncheon – Jim Zorn Remains An Entertaining Speaker

Posted by Matt Terl on August 27, 2009 – 3:32 pm

Last year’s Welcome Home Luncheon was the first time I took notice of Coach Jim Zorn’s facility as a storyteller. I’ve referenced his anecdote about breaking the cheerleader’s nose probably thirty times since then, and was frankly skeptical that his speech this year would match up.

How wrong I was.

Sure, a lot of Zorn’s speech this year was pretty much what you’d expect. Praising the Redskins organization (“The key to improvement in any organization is the people.”); moving forward to next year (“2008 is dead. It’s over. It’s gone. And there were a lot of things to learn, and I learned an awful lot.”); and reiterating his point from Fan Appreciation Day that the Super Bowl is the ultimate goal.

But in addition to that, there was this story about how good it was to have training camp at the home facility in Ashburn.

“There are a lot of young rookies on our football team,” Zorn said, “and they’re all trying to make the football team. And I remember when I was a young rookie for the Seattle Seahawks, and we had just — much like this group — completed our first training camp.

“I just had completed my first training camp, and I was ready to get back to Seattle. When I played, we were four and a half hours away from Seattle at a small college called Eastern Washington State University.

“And after the morning practice, we would get in our cars and we would drive this four and a half hours. Well, at my first training camp, I didn’t have a car there. I was going to ride home with one of our linebackers; his name was Greg Collins.

“Everybody was scurrying, getting all their stuff ready to go, and Greg Collins had a Porsche 911 S Targa. And I thought, ‘Man, it’d be fun to ride in a Porsche. This’ll be great.’ So we’re getting ready to leave, and Greg’s just kinda taking his time. And I’m ready to go. I wanted to get home.

“And Greg says, ‘No worries, let’s have lunch.’ Everybody’s out: coaches are gone, players are gone, and we’re the last ones there. Well, I didn’t know what he had planned, but when I got in the car — and you know how low these Porsche cars sit, and he had his lowered right to the ground — and we sat in the car, and as the car was idling, he’s putting on driving gloves.

“Just kinda looking over at me, putting on his black driving gloves. And we take off. And I’m telling you, I-90 had never seen anybody drive like this. We’re going, honestly, a hundred and thirty-five miles an hour down I-90. That would’ve been okay, except that we were goin’ at times 135 miles an hour passing people in the other lane. And there is no divider on most of I-90. We are flying.

“So I’ve got my hand gripped here, and I’ve got my hand gripped here, and we’re cruising. I’m feeling pretty good about this, really. Until…

“We’re driving and we had this — have you ever been in an awkward moment? Well, I had this awkward moment. Here I am, a rookie on a team, and I’m low — all you can barely see is my head out the window — and I’m passing our head coach, Jack Patera, on the left shoulder.

“You’ve gotta imagine what we’re doing here. He’s driving down the road and he looks out the window, and all’s I could do is go–” Zorn offered a tentative wave. “I could just give him this little smirkish wave.

“And we took off, and he kinda looked and I didn’t know if he waved back or not because we were gone so fast. Not just in the other lane: left shoulder. The left shoulder of the road.

“Well, we were buzzing back. It’s a four and a half hour drive; about three hours and ten minutes later, we’re driving just around one of the last bends into Seattle. Naturally it’s raining in Seattle; it’s always raining in Seattle.

“We come around this last bend, just before we hit Issaquah, Washington, and — we shut it down, because we’re coming into civilization here — we’re going about 65 miles an hour, and all four wheels hydroplaned. So now we’re going 65 miles an hour backward down the freeway. A real nice slow spin.

“I look over and Greg’s doing one of these deals” — he mimed trying to get control of the wheel — “And we come up on the side of this embankment, and it just … it was all rocks, and it just ripped the undercarriage of his car. Only by God’s grace did we not flip over, but we spun around and came to a stop on the correct shoulder, facing the correct way.

“We’re checking all bodily parts, and we finally get in: 18,000 dollars of damage to his car, and he just trickled into the car dealer and left it right there, and that was it.

“The next morning? Greg Collins was cut from the football team.

“I was not, for whatever reason.” He paused for a second as if reflecting. “Well, I was the starting quarterback. And I felt kinda bad, because I thought he was an outstanding linebacker, and Greg Collins was released.

“Well, he went on to be an actor down in Los Angeles; he’s still an actor today. If you ever see any of these Viagra commercials, he’s the one guy on the motorcycle that’s kinda goin’, and the closer he gets to the remote beach condo, he gets a bigger smile on his face?

“Yep. Seriously, it’s a true story. It’s Greg Collins.

“But I had a problem the rest of my football career, because nobody would ever ride with me anymore. All the players from that time on, coming back I had to drive my own car, because nobody would ride with me anymore. They’re afraid they’re gonna get cut.

“So anyway, our football players do not have to take that trip, because we got to stay home and practice in our home facility. It’s been an outstanding training camp, and we are on our way.”

It was an exceedingly well-told anecdote. Maybe it seemed a little offbeat, but at the same time last year Zorn reintroduced the “Hip hip hooray!” cheer in a similarly offbeat move, and that seemed to work out pretty well.

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