“Here’s the situation. It’s the biggest game. It’s the Super Bowl. Do you want the ball and be behind to win the game? Or do you want your defense out there with the lead?”
A ROOMIE WITH A VIEW- JERRY QUAERNA
“Q,” as Jerry Quaerna is known, grew up in Janesville and Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. He was recruited by all the Big Ten schools, but once he walked in The Big House, it was all over for the other schools. Q lives in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and commutes to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he is a vital cog working for the Department of Homeland Security.
I was recruited to play football at Michigan. When I went there, Jim was my roommate. Jim and I were paired up as freshmen. We didn’t know each other. Then we lived together as fifth-year seniors. I got to see Jim before he was a big star and after he was big time.…Jim offered to have me go home to Kalamazoo and spend Christmas with his family for two days. Yeah, I don’t want to be stuck in a hotel. Sure, I’ll go home with you 90 miles to Kalamazoo.
So we got there, and I met the Harbaugh family. Very hospitable. Very tight. I got to meet John for the first time. John is different from Jim. John is a little more laid-back. He’s more of a diplomat. Jim is more fiery. We were having a big debate inthe basement. Jack was there, John was there, I was there, Jimwas there. What were we discussing? We were discussing if thegame were on the line, do you want to be behind and have the ball or do you want to be ahead and be on defense? We’re getting into this knockdown, drag out thing. I knew what position I was going to take.
Jim phrased it, in the heat of the moment. He said, “Here’s the situation. It’s the biggest game. It’s the Super Bowl. Do you want the ball and be behind to win the game? Or do you want your defense out there with the lead?”
I said, of course, I wanted the defense. Defense wins championships. I gave him that whole spin. John agreed with me.
He wanted the lead, and he wanted the defense out on the field. Jim was doing cartwheels, because he took the opposite side of that debate. He said, “I want the ball.” Now remember, he phrased this one, “The game is on the line, and it’s the Super Bowl.” We were going back and forth, and it was heated. Jack was sitting right there, but he wasn’t chiming in. He was just sitting back and enjoying it. He was soaking it up.
Here was when it went really ugly for me. I was ready to just throw it out and sink Jim’s ship. We were debating fiercely. I said, “All right, Jim.” Jim’s guy was John Elway. He loved John Elway. Elway wound up finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting his senior year. That would have been the year Jim and I were freshmen—1982.
Jim talked about Elway quite a bit. Jim was a big Joe Montana fan, too, and he had a picture of Joe Montana on the wall. He also had…was it Joe Montana’s girlfriend or Dwight Clark’s girlfriend? It was Dwight Clark’s girlfriend, Shawn Weatherly, Miss Universe. Very aesthetically pleasing.
Anyway, Elway put up some pretty good numbers. Jim watched John Elway play at Stanford when Jim was playing at Palo Alto High. I was going for the knockout blow. I said, “Okay, Jim, what just happened with your boy Elway, perhaps the greatest college quarterback who has ever played the game? Why didn’t he go to any bowl games? It wasn’t because they weren’t scoring points. It was because they weren’t stopping people.” I was thinking, okay, that was a point for me. The place got real quiet. Deathly quiet. Jim and John both looked at me, stared at me and said, “Damn, that’s just cold, Q.” Okay, I just won the debate. What’s so cold about that? Unbeknownst to me, Jack was the defensive coordinator for Stanford for Elway’s sophomore and junior years. Here I was, being taken care of really well by this family, and I just threw my foot in my mouth big time. I’ll never forget that moment in my entire life. I had the debate won, and the next thing you know, those guys are looking at me and the conversation just ended. On a dime.
Flash forward years later. I was watching Jim and John coach against each other in the Super Bowl, and I was thinking, okay, I remember this. That was the context of that conversation that went horribly wrong for me. I watched the game, and it looked like it was on the verge of a blowout. The Ravens were going to win big. Then the power went out at the Superdome. When play resumed, Jim’s 49ers started creeping back. I was thinking, holy cow. That was what transpired. Jim’s team was coming from behind, and they had the ball with an opportunity to win at the end of the game. That discussion just came full circle. It was just astonishing to me. But I assure you, it happened. I will never forget it. Perhaps John and Jim and Jack don’t remember the time the Big Cheese stuck that size-16 right in his mouth to finish off that debate. It was really weird. I don’t know if they remember that. They were so busy and so accomplished, maybe it wasn’t that big of a deal. But for me, it seared into my skull. Here I was, being hosted by a marvelous family, and I just had that huge gaffe. I will never forget it untilI hit the grave.
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