Rod Retherford ’84 triumphed as an undersized athlete, but his plucky comeback tale has always been told in spaces that were too small to fully contain it. There were plenty of headlines in 1980 after a bullet ripped through the football player’s shoulder and lodged permanently in his neck, nearly killing him. Media interest soared after Retherford mounted a miraculous comeback and terrorized opposing offenses. When he left Martin Stadium behind, the story surfaced now and then, including a segment in the Legends of the Palouse film series by Jeff McQuarrie ’98. That in turn spurred a Washington State Magazine story (Fall 2005) which this reviewer wrote after witnessing Retherford’s tearful reunion with former teammate Junior Tupuola, the accidental gunman.
People always said Retherford’s story was worthy of a book or movie, but New York and Hollywood never called. Then came one of those “Go Cougs!” moments outside the post office in Madras, Oregon, near where Retherford is a custom saddle-maker. As conversations will go, talk turned to Retherford’s football days. Only this time the rancher who noticed Retherford’s WSU cap had connections. Within eleven months Retherford’s life story was sandwiched between the handsome covers of ROD: A True Story. It’s possible that a movie will follow; Retherford already launched another career in motivational speaking.
Finally, author John A. Kuri gives the story room to roam. What compels a late-blooming, small-town kid to take on 2,000-pound bulls in competitive rodeo and then launch himself headlong (literally) into a big-time college football career despite being pressured off his high-school team for being too small? Besides his size, Retherford overcame the tragic rodeo death of the older brother he idolized, a descent into self-destructive drug use, and that fateful meeting with a small-caliber bullet. Such barriers would convince most people to aim lower, but Retherford instead lowered his shoulder and knocked the obstacles down.
ROD finally – and fully – captures the story behind the headlines. However, odd as it seems, the telling of this quarter-century-old tale feels rushed. ROD deserved the A-game its namesake brought to the rodeo ring and football field, but too often the book reads like a draft in search of a tough editor. A few grammatical gaffes, awkward transitions, and word and detail choices sometimes blunt the action.
Fortunately, Retherford’s inspirational story overcomes ROD‘s flaws. Perhaps Drew Bledsoe, former WSU and NFL star quarterback and one of the book’s many celebrity endorsers, says it best: “Rod Retherford is a shining example of all that is right in sports. Perseverance, toughness, and an amazing will to succeed are all over his amazing story.” Those qualities are evident in ROD, and the reason the book is worth reading in Cougar Nation and beyond. ROD is widely available, but for an extra ten bucks (includes shipping) go to www.rodspeaks.com for a signed copy.
Freelance writer Eric Apalategui is a frequent contributor to Washington State Magazine.