Canzano: Victory in front of Oregon-Washington game
“Not all that happens to us is good — but it can all be used for good.”
LAS VEGAS — My friend Joel Dombrow just became a grandfather. I’m going to lead with that today because it’s far more important than him being an unhinged University of Washington football fan.
I met Dombrow at a coffee shop more than a decade ago. We talked sports. He invited me to play pick-up basketball. I didn’t know what he did for a living when I laced up my sneakers a few days later, and raced up the court, cussing after an errant pass.
“You DO know,” one of the other players whispered as I got back on defense, “Joel’s a church pastor.”
Washington and Oregon will meet on Friday at 5 p.m. for the Pac-12 Conference championship. There’s a College Football Playoff berth at stake. Also, a Heisman trophy hangs in the balance. But the part of the game I’m most looking forward to is looking down from the press box and seeing my old friend, the church pastor, in the crowd at kickoff.
Allegiant Stadium is going to provide the stage for the biggest game in a rivalry series that began in the year 1900 with a 43-0 Oregon victory. I can’t wait to see what happens on Friday. Also, my plan is to wander down before the game starts and give the guy sitting in section C136, Row 21 a hug.
Two springs ago, Dombrow got some terrible news. He was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. He’s endured hospital visits, chemotherapy, and had a surgery that removed a large mass from his colon. They also removed half his liver. He lost so much weight at one point — more than 40 pounds — that I worried the treatments, not the cancer, were going to kill him.
I’m not good with these kinds of things. I don’t know what to say or do. What do you say to someone in a fight for their life? What can you do? Talk about the cancer? Or talk about everything BUT the cancer?
My text exchanges with Dombrow in the last 20 months are filled with subjects such as the Huskies, the Blazers, the Ducks, the Beavers, his favorite podcasts, our children, and about how sports aren’t just about the results on the field.
“Sports,” the pastor wrote to me, are more about “making memories… relational connections… friendships formed… and learning to be a team.”
Joel’s dad was a University of Washington graduate. The family had season tickets when he was a kid. He went to the 1981 Rose Bowl, a UW loss. I asked him this week about his earliest football memories. His most vivid one is being at Husky Stadium and being taught ‘the wave.” Also, he remembers watching the Orange Bowl after the 1984 regular season, a UW win over Oklahoma.
“Should have been a national championship that year,” Dombrow told me. “Absolutely criminal that BYU won it because of their insanely weak schedule.”
That’s my pastor, folks.
Dombrow loves the Huskies. He has an amazing wife, Joy, and two children, Nathan and Elisabeth. The kids are grown up. Elisabeth is in college. Nathan is married, and he and his wife, Olivia, welcomed a baby girl — Alice — last week.
I don’t know if you’re somber about the end of the Pac-12 Conference as we once knew it. The final game is here. The conference was killed by greed, arrogance, stupidity and failed leadership. It’s a crying shame. But I’ve often been reminded that there are bigger, more important things happening in the lives of Pac-12 fans.
Pastor Joel’s cancer diagnosis and treatment moved along the same sad arc as the Pac-12’s story. The conference splintered. But that family pulled closer together and battled. They’ve provided their friends, neighbors and multiple church congregations with a demonstration of rare strength, grace and vulnerability.
As Joel posted on social media: “Not all that happens to us is good — but it can all be used for good.”
I could have written a column about Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr. today. They’ve both been spectacular this season. Their teams wouldn’t be where they are without them. But before I cast my Heisman vote for either quarterback, I need to see them play (and shine) on Friday’s title-game stage.
Or I could have provided an in-depth analysis of what I think is going to happen. (My pick: Oregon wins by double digits. The Ducks have been playing with laser-like focus in the last six weeks). But my mind kept drifting to Pastor Joel — and not just because he sent me a 379-word text message on Tuesday morning titled “11 reasons why UW has a chance against Oregon.”
Among the pastor’s bullet points: “UW’s top five players will get drafted higher than Oregon’s top five players.”
Maybe you have someone in your life who has endured a recent health crisis. Or been through some tough personal tragedy. Or maybe someone close to you died in the last year or two. Real life is happening all around us.
I could throw a dart at the crowd from the press box at Allegiant Stadium, walk to where it sticks, and tell an important human-interest story. The TV networks aren’t paying to broadcast it, but your journey is every bit as compelling as a college football season.
A friend of mine told me this week that he lost his father-in-law the day before Thanksgiving. A few minutes later, a 44-year-old reader, one who has suffered two strokes in the last five years, told me he’s finally well enough to go to back to work. And my friend, the pastor, became a grandfather.
Huskies vs. Ducks is a big-time football game. It’s sold out. More than 54,000 fans are in Las Vegas to see it. And Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Holly Rowe will be there for ABC to broadcast the game. But I have some breaking news for you.
A few weeks ago, Joel Dombrow wrote on social media “It’s been a while since I last posted…” and he followed it with an update. He’d had a scan. The results were in.
He wrote: “No evidence of disease.”
Talk about big victories.
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