Eight miles and a world away from where football became his grand obsession, Mike Pattinson is discovering it again as a game.
For about half a season as a senior in 1993, before he broke his collarbone, he had an opportunity to employ his considerable talent at quarterback for Washington State.
Most of his college career, though, he toiled in the shadow of Drew Bledsoe, and later he had the misfortune to hook up with some of history’s most benighted attempts at professional football.
He’s a veteran of the “indoor war” of Arena Football, and he played for an alleged pro team in France, the Grenoble Centaurs, he says his Moscow High School team could have beaten.
Football never seemed to repay Pattinson for all his devotion to it, and when an opportunity to establish himself as a legitimate pro finally came in an offer from the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League this summer, Pattinson found he was burned out on the game.
He held to his original plan and entered law school at the University of Idaho.
“It’s challenging, difficult. It’s different from what I have been doing, but it’s turning out to be a real benefit,” he says. “I needed something after football to establish direction in my life. This does a good job.”
But strangely enough, football, after a fashion, continues. Here is Pattinson, on the abused grass of a late October gridiron, throwing passes, running. On the UI Guy
Wicks intramural field, Mike Pattinson is the quarterback for Lex Talionis, the law school intramural team.
The name roughly translates to “an eye for an eye,” or “retribution.”
It is about as far from where he has been as a football player as Pattinson can be. Yet he’s finding it’s a pretty good place.
At WSU, Pattinson was the good soldier.
“As a player, he was quick, dedicated, and he was a real loyal player to me,” says WSU coach Mike Price. “He had a burning desire to play, which he reflected to me one on one. But he always kept the team first …”
On Lex Talionis, he is equally long suffering. As a senior, he led the Cougars to a 5-2 record before breaking his collarbone. He played against Michigan and USC. He passed for 400 yards against Arizona State. Yet he patiently endures coaching tips from his earnest, and occasionally semi-corpulent, intramural teammates on how best to move the offense.
Probably no one on this team could catch the bullets he directed as a matter of course at WSU teammates. He’s taking something off his throws, but passes still carom off hands.
“He threw a pass that bounced off my chest, 30 yards into the air and sounded like a sonic boom,” says Bob Thomas.
But Pattinson says he is having fun.
“It’s still the game. In a way, that’s how it started out, as a game, as a good thing I’ve been playing my whole life.”
But in between the flag football phases of his career, first as a Wild Potato when he was a kid in the Moscow Parks and Recreation league, and as a Lex Talionisan now, Pattinson learned that football was a business.
“Washington State has football games to make money,” he says. “When I broke my collarbone, that really changed my perspective. It wasn’t the pretty game it was when you’re out on the field.”
Playing in Canada might have taken away some of the sour taste.
“A shot in Canada, that’s what I’d been headed for all my life,” Pattinson says. But even though he admits to second thoughts about turning it down, when it came time to go to camp, Pattinson found he’d lost the hunger to play. He decided he wasn’t going to take on football as a job anymore.
“It just wasn’t right for him,” says Price. “He had a chance and turned it down, but he made the decision for all the right reasons.”
Which is still a disappointing way to leave a sport that consumed him for so long. But here he is, finding he has gone from “playing with a bunch of guys who live and eat football to playing with guys who live and eat law school.”
He’s gone from playing before 40,000 at Martin Stadium to playing before a couple of fans huddled against a biting wind at Wicks.
“I’m like anybody else, I hate to lose,” he admits. But in this year when he was supposed to get on with life, to walk away from the sting of a college career that ended too soon and a pro career that amounted to little more than a bad joke, Mike Pattinson got a chance to play football for fun again.