In the last state. On the last island. Down the last road. At the last speck of a no-stoplight town before the United States drops into the Pacific Ocean.
This is where sports' reigning hermit possibly lives, protected by friends, geography and a six-foot hedge. Public records say he owns this unassuming, two-story home. But no family member or former teammate will confirm it. No telephone number is available. And there's only a decades-old football photo to measure the man in the front yard against.
"Hi, Jake Scott?" I ask.
"Jake's up in the house,'' the man says, pointing up a half-dozen stairs to a wooden porch with a screen door. "Who're you?"
"A writer from Florida,'' I say, walking toward the stairs, leaving the man chuckling a this-could-be-good chuckle.
He knows what everyone does: Jake Scott doesn't do interviews, rarely surfaces in public, divorced himself from the Dolphins, declined a College Football Hall of Fame bid, didn't join most other Super Bowl MVPs again last year in Detroit and has pulled such a Howard Hughes that a sports memorabilia dealer, showing the kind of focus that sends others in search of Sasquatch, once hired a private investigator to contact him. It took two years.
"HEY, JAKE!" the man in the driveway yells up at the house. "A WRITER'S HERE TO SEE YOU!"
Scott's final Dolphins moment in 1976 was spent yelling with Don Shula. Defensive lineman Manny Fernandez says Scott wasn't asked to sing his college fight song like other rookies his first training camp because, "He's the one guy no one messed with." A Colorado mountain man once heard Scott was a football player and picked a bar fight, saying, "I'm the toughest guy in here." Scott dropped him like a shirt off a hanger, and then asked, "No one's tougher in here than him?"
These are some dots. Connect them and you understand the possibilities as the screen door opens and the ghost walks out in a purple golf shirt tucked into faded blue jeans. It must be him. It's that football photo time-aged forward.
At 61, he's still trim. He's completely bald. Oversized glasses cover his face like two storm windows. And he's smiling, thank God. I double-check to be sure.
"Hi, how you doing?'' he says.
He shakes hands. He talks in a soft, friendly voice still rooted in Georgia. He says, "I'm not hard to find." He says, "I don't want a story written." He says, "If you'd ask questions, then I'd have to tell the truth." He says, "I live the simplest life you can imagine -- wake up every day and decide whether to golf, fish or have a drink."
From this front porch, the Pacific peeks through palm trees across the quiet road. Warm air rides in on a noonday breeze. Scott puts one foot up on the railing and allows the conversation to drift. He tells how his home sat alone on this road when he arrived in 1982. Now the world has joined him. A small place beside him just sold for $1.9 million. A big lot across the road, against the ocean, went for $29 million.
He says, "That's how it goes." He says, "Beautiful here, isn't it?" He says, "Too bad my boat just had its propeller damaged or I'd take you out fishing -- just you and me, not for a story."
After 10 minutes, it seems I've scaled the mountain, found the wise man, but won't get to ask the three questions carried across time: What the heck has he been doing with his life? Are the testosterone-rich stories teammates tell about him true? And what's up between him and Shula?
Then Scott says something I find out later makes his friends listening inside look at each other in surprise:
"I'll be at the Tahiti Nui at 5 if you want a drink."
Regulars at the bar
5 p.m. The bar's first stool, the corner view, the spot nearest the open double doors belongs to Richard Pasakai, a Hawaiian everyone calls "The Mayor." He is 54, near-sighted, autistic, grew up on this westernmost Hawaiian island of Kauai and is such a known commodity that Scott has him chaperone visiting haole, or white people, around the island to ensure they have a local's stamp of approval.
The second stool belongs to Art Wills. Art is cool. Art is funny. Art is a 70-year-old construction worker and Hawaiian. At age 6, he remembers standing on a Honolulu rooftop watching the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor -- "I thought it was a fireworks show at first," he says. Four years ago, he moved into the bottom apartment in Scott's home for two weeks and never left.
The third stool is Scott's. As I enter, he is taking a peanuts can to the other side of the small bar and sprinkling some before four tourists from San Francisco. He waves me over to where he's sitting. One rule of the Tahiti Nui, known only to locals, is this side of the bar is for them and that side is for tourists.
Another rule is these three men sit on these three stools. They're as much of the daily scenery as the thatched roof, Polynesian masks, dozens of ribbons from local canoe-paddling competitions and the framed photos on the walls of fishermen with their catch.
"We meet here at 5,'' Scott says from stool No. 3.
"It's a simple life,'' he says, drinking a Salty Dog (vodka and grapefruit juice). I get a Hawaiian beer and sit down on the fourth stool.
6 p.m. The idea was not to be a slave to fame or money. Create a life. Take a machete and make a path. Hanalei fit with that when Scott discovered it on a visit to see Terry Hermeling, a former Washington Redskins teammate who owned rights to Burger King stores on the outer Hawaiian islands.
Scott had a Colorado place then. He and fellow Dolphins safety Dick Anderson had taken their 1971 Super Bowl winnings and bought a Colorado ranch together. When they sold it a few years later, Scott built an A-frame log home 9,400 feet up a mountain north of Vail. It was so isolated he laid the electrical lines himself. In winter, he'd snowmobile up the final two miles on the otherwise impassable road.
Hanalei became Colorado's geographical alter ego for Scott. Kauai is 550 square miles with 60,000 people. But Hanalei is the furthermost stop on the island, cradled between the Pacific and the world's wettest spot of Mt. Waialeale, which gets 480 feet of rain annually.
Main Street consists of five blocks where you can eat taro burgers, drink papaya smoothies, sign up for surf lessons or give a hitchhiker a ride for six ocean-hugging miles to where the U.S. ends on a beach.
"The beauty of this place got me,'' Scott says. "And the people. They're just like the South in some ways. The food's the same, pork and chicken. And they'll sit just around with the children playing in the ocean, the men drinking beer and the women talking.
"Nothing fancy to it. People just living. That's what I was like."
7 p.m. Scott points to a framed photo on the wall of him holding a 130-pound ahi tuna. He learned to fish in the rugged seas of the island's North Shore from David Kahoone, a neighbor, friend and Hawaiian. He has fish tales. Just last week such a big marlin hit that it took all his line and had to be cut loose.
But he also has too many tales like this: Kahoone, dying of cancer two years ago. He helped care for him, right to the end. The three men on the bar stools then took Scott's boat to a remote, ocean-side cave where, as a boy, Kahoone rode out a storm in a boat with his grandfather while a hammerhead shark sat in the water. There, they scattered their friend's ashes.
"It's what he wanted,'' Scott said.
8 p.m. Scott introduces me to a Hawaiian taro farmer in jeans and T-shirt. We small-talk for a few minutes. About taro, the potato-like crop grown in Hawaii. About fishing. When he leaves, Scott says he's worth millions.
By evening's end, it seems he's introduced most of Hanalei's 800 residents, many Hawaiians, some haole. There's J.D., who has a stuffed 550-pound lion in a room of his house; Scrappy, nicknamed because he liked to fight as a kid; a golf buddy, a neighbor, a player in the Wednesday night poker game at Scott's home for which he makes his special chili.
Somewhere amid the dozens of greetings, a Hawaiian and friend of a friend introduces himself to Scott, saying, "I've never met a Super Bowl player before."
Scott clinks his Salty Dog glass against the man's beer, says in the pidgin Hawaiian he sometimes breaks into, "How you doing, brud-dah."
9 p.m. Scott made more Pro Bowls (five) in the Dolphins' glory years of 1970-75 than four Hall of Fame teammates. He remains the Dolphins' all-time leader in interceptions (35) and punt returns (10.5-yard average). But the Pro Bowl plaques, two Super Bowl rings, college All-America awards from his days at Georgia and his 1968 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year trophy that he didn't even bother attending the banquet to pick up all sit in his mother's Atlanta home.
He holds up the only football souvenir he carries around: Five screws in his left hand from breaking it against Kansas City fullback Jim Otis in the 1971 AFC Championship Game. He shows the right wrist he then broke in that ensuing Super Bowl. That put both hands in casts and led to him saying at the time: "Now I find out who my real friends are when I go to the bathroom."
10 p.m. Art asks Scott, "You really talking to a writer?" Scott shrugs. I grab a pen and a cocktail napkin off the bar and ask Question No. 1: What the heck has he been doing with his life?
"You're looking at it,'' he says. "You can make life real simple if you want."
The broader answer sounds like a nonstop adventure. He's single, hasn't worked a day of his non-football life and lives half the year in Hawaii. The other half, he returns to his native Georgia or is off like a dart at the map. He's off to New Zealand this winter for a month with his Atlanta girlfriend. British Columbia is a common stop.
He once had the idea to urinate in the Arctic Ocean, he says, and so spent four months in a motor home in Alaska, "driving down every dead-end road they had." Another year he rode his Harley motorcycle from Georgia to Mexico City.
"We were getting run off the road in Mexico, hard, when the guy I was with pulled out a .45 and started firing,'' Scott said. "I didn't even know he had it.''
Was anyone hit? "I don't know, but they stopped trying to kill us."
Last Super Bowl, when most other MVPs were gathering in Detroit, Scott was scheduled for another preferred destination: Australia. One previous trip there, he ended up in Perth and befriended some blokes. They took a helicopter to the remote town of Exmouth, where they spent some good time fishing.
He had planned to fish for barramundi this time. "Huge perch,'' he says. "Great to catch."
But his buddy got sick, the trip was canceled and Scott ended up watching the Super Bowl at Jake's Compound, which is what friends call his home that includes four apartments. (Art lives in one. Two are for visitors. The fourth is kept locked for whenever his sister and her husband visit from Key West.)
Scott didn't mind missing the MVP gathering considering what the NFL was offering. Fly to Detroit? Sign several hundred memorabilia items? Put up with "all the a-- kissing,'' he says? For $8,000?
"I don't need the money,'' he says. "I don't need it for my ego. And I'd rather sit here and have a drink with Art."
He looks over at Art, who's listening to the bar's band, the Road Warriors, play Lay Down Sally.
"Tells you what an idiot I am," Scott says.
11 p.m. Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne once told Scott the goal in life was to run out of money and breath at the same moment. Scott likes that efficiency, though he has been broke and nearly broken.
He invested his football money into car dealerships. For years, everything hummed along nicely, meaning Scott had several million in the bank and lived in Hawaii and Colorado. In 1991, the owner of the dealerships filed for bankruptcy. Scott lost every cent.
"Good thing I was here,'' he says. "If I'd been around him, I might've killed him."
A Georgia alum and investor would help Scott to his financial feet again. But, to do so, Scott needed to find money to invest. He had to decide what to sell from his life: Colorado or Hawaii? "I hated to sell the place in Colorado,'' he says. "Had to, but hated it."
Midnight. Question No. 2: Are the wild stories his teammates tell about him true? Of his University of Georgia report card being all A's and F's, depending if he cared about the subject? "That's true,'' he says.
Of his legendary drinking stamina to the point he once drank 43 beers in a setting? True. Of so many women flocking to him that on one visit Joe Namath said, "And I thought I had women in New York?" True.
Of his ability to unlock an opposing quarterback's secret -- noticing, for instance, Namath always studied the break of Scott's free-safety position to read coverage, so Scott would take a false first step to fool him?
"Yeah," Scott says, adding that Namath would curse at him across the line of scrimmage.
Of him telling a nervous Shula, on the bus to Super Bowl VII, "What's the matter, you thinking about going down as the losingest coach in Super Bowl history?"
"That's true,'' Scott says. "I'm never late to anything. I'm always early. That day I was outside the bus giving tickets to some people. Shula yells out, `You're going to be late to the biggest game of your career.' So I said that to him."
Of him taking a $5,000 pay cut to leave the Canadian Football League and join the Dolphins?
"It was $10,000,'' he said. "I remember reading [General Manager] Joe Thomas say in the papers, `We got a first-round talent for seventh-round money.' But I got them back."
When the World Football League bought Larry Csonka, Paul Warfield and Jim Kiick in 1974, Scott says he bluffed the Dolphins that he had a big-money WFL offer, too. That's why the Dolphins offered him a five-year, $600,000 deal. He became the NFL's first $100,000-a-year defensive back.
Of him riding his Harley up the concrete columns and over Georgia's basketball arena?
He smiles. "That's the rumor, isn't it?''
1 a.m. Scott turns to me. "I knew you were coming. I got a call at 4 o'clock this morning saying you were on the island."
I look. He's serious. Every teammate and friend from Anderson to Csonka to Jim Mandich has repeated the same thought: Scott never lies. Ever. So I think back. I had called his mother in Atlanta the day before leaving, fishing to assure he was in Hawaii so as not to waste a 5,000-mile trip. She hinted he was there, but like everyone refused to pinpoint where there was. Scott won't say that was the tip-off.
"It's a small island,'' he says. "But think about it. I wasn't surprised when you showed up. If I'd been surprised, you might have been thrown off the porch.'' He laughs. He's joking. Maybe.
1:17 a.m. "Don't tell anyone this is a beautiful place,'' Scott says, as I get up to leave. "We don't need more people here." As I look back, he's moved closer to the band, playing, Against The Wind.
The Kauai Taro Festival is held the next afternoon in an open field. Several hundred festival-goers stand amid the occasional spitting from Mt. Waialeale and take in music, art and every food of the potato-like taro. Smoothies. Poi. Pork- and chicken-wrapped Hawaiian lau-laus.
After an hour, I wander a few blocks into the Hanalei Gourmet restaurant.
"Hey!" Scott calls over. "Sit down. Have a beer."
He introduces me to Paul The Bartender, who once rented one of Scott's apartments; Hag, who owns a transportation business in town and plays in Scott's Wednesday poker game; and the Road Warriors' bass player and his girlfriend, who is suggesting she could join the poker game.
"OK, do you know how to play poker?" Scott asks her. "Do you know hi-lo?"
She hesitates. "Yeah, I think."
Scott laughs. "Just have your boyfriend give us $200 and save yourself the time.''
He wears jeans, sandals and a white golf shirt with the insignia of Fuzzy's Place, an Atlanta bar whose owner played football at Georgia with Scott. Fuzzy Cawthon, 56, had died the previous week. Scott, who gave Cawthon his nickname, might not surface much, but he holds friendships fiercely. A few years ago another Georgia teammate, Dick Young, was dying and Scott rushed from Australia hoping to see him but arrived too late.
Cawthon was the second close friend Scott lost in October. The first was more traumatic. It came aboard the custom-made, 41-foot catamaran Scott bought earlier this year. He named it the Mele Kai, Hawaiian for either "Mary of the Seas" (Mary is Scott's mother's name) or "Song of the Seas."
Beyond personal fishing trips, the idea was to have tourists rent the boat for trips. Bill Lawrence, a longtime friend and Hawaiian boat captain, became Scott's business partner and would go out with tourists.
On Oct. 8, Scott and Lawrence were carrying officials of a major Hawaiian canoe-paddling competition from Kauai to the island of Molokai. Scott was in another part of the boat when he noticed it drifting. Lawrence, he found, had suffered a heart attack.
"We tried CPR, mouth-to-mouth, everything,'' Scott says. "There wasn't anything to do to help him. We could only cover him up."
He takes off his glasses, wipes his eyes.
"It makes you look at things, reminds you what's important, what's not. It also means I'm getting old."
Fall-out with Shula Question No. 3: What's up between him and Shula?
"Don Shula is a good man," Scott says. "He was a great coach. And he made a mistake."
There, in three definitive sentences, stories are unlocked that rumble across the years. If his friends' deaths tell how deeply Scott can love, these stories tell how long he can remember.
Let's start here: Legendary Georgia coach Vince Dooley says Scott is the best athlete he ever coached. Yes, better than Herschel Walker. But in 1968, after winning its final regular-season game, the team sent Scott into Dooley's office carrying oranges as the players' vote for an Orange Bowl bid and national title matchup. But Dooley, in a move he regrets, privately had signed already to play in a lesser Sugar Bowl.
Scott cut Dooley from his life right there. This wasn't just a football issue to him. It went deeper. It was about loyalty and trust. College juniors weren't eligible for the NFL draft then, so Scott left for the Canadian Football League and stayed away from Georgia until Dooley left.
In 2001, Dooley offered to lobby Scott for the College Football Hall of Fame. Having no way to reach him, Dooley sent word through a friend that Scott only had to promise he would attend the induction ceremony. Scott sent word back not to bother.
Scott and Shula once were close. Shula took a snowmobile with his family up to Scott's Colorado home. They had lunch together in Vail. His oldest son, David, wore No. 13 in football because Scott "was his idol," Shula says.
But at some point that changed. Scott loved the mind and tactics of Shula's defensive coordinator of the Super Bowl years, Bill Arnsparger. But like many teammates he didn't respect Arnsparger's successor, Vince Costello.
During one practice in 1974, Scott yelled at Costello, telling the coach he didn't know what he was talking about. When Shula hustled across the field to ask what happened, Scott said, "I wasn't f------ talking to you."
Then, after the 1975 season, Shula announced in a team meeting that players' attendance was mandatory at a banquet. "I won't be there," Scott said.
"Everyone will be there or they'll be fined $5,000," Shula said.
Scott didn't go. He was fined. That offseason he asked for a trade. "Shula said I'd never have to wear a Dolphins uniform again," Scott says today. Scott was on the team in preseason but didn't practice because of a bum shoulder.
Shula says doctors told him Scott was healthy. When he told Scott this, Shula remembers, "He told me he'd say when he was ready to practice and play. I said, `We can't operate like that. I can't have one set of rules for you.'''
Scott, to be sure, was respected for playing through pain: He played the final 11 games as a rookie with a separated shoulder; he played Super Bowl VI with that broken hand and wrist, even receiving punts in the game; he was MVP of the Perfect Season Super Bowl despite such a battered shoulder that Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder moved Washington from a two- to a three-point favorite with the idea Scott couldn't play.
Still, when he wouldn't shoot up the shoulder with painkillers for an exhibition game, Shula and Scott got in a yelling match in the locker room. The next day, Scott was traded to Washington for the forgettable Bryan Salter.
But that's not the mistake Scott harbors today. Several teammates asked don't know this one. They think he never has attended a Perfect Season reunion. But he says he was there in 1982, at the 10-year celebration, ready to join in. As Scott tells it, he and Shula were in an Orange Bowl elevator together.
"I said to him, `We've got to meet next week and iron out this thing between us," Scott says. "Shula said to me, `F--- you.'''
Shula says today: "I don't remember that. Why would I say that?"
When the elevator door opened Scott walked out of the Orange Bowl, rolling away like a dropped coin, never to be seen again. Shula wishes he would return, saying, "I loved Jake on that team and I know the kind of player he was. I don't think there has been a better safety combination than him and Anderson."
When the Dolphins announced this summer that Anderson would be inducted in the Ring of Honor, Scott called his former safety partner to congratulate him. There was some thought Anderson and Scott would enter together, like Mark Duper and Mark Clayton. Scott says it was never offered, and he hasn't talked to any Dolphins official in more than a decade.
"I'm not bitter or angry," Scott says. "I'm living a great life. I do whatever I want. And I love the Dolphins. I just didn't want to come around and be an issue with [Shula.]"
Asked whether he'll come back some day, he answers: Na kuli ana. He lets it sit a moment. "That's Hawaiian for, `It's not in my future,'''
And so he lives in the world he's created, not the larger one asking to see him, touch him and remember him as someone 30 years ago. There's a sense of nobleness to this, the ex-jock not defined by his glory. There's also an equal and opposite sense of loss at not joining his team in the occasional whiff of public nostalgia.
He surfaces occasionally. He attended one Super Bowl MVP gathering in 1986 (he was the only one without a tie). He signed autographs at a card show in Broward County in 1993 and another in Virginia in 2001 only after that promoter's private investigator tracked him down. ("I see a ghost,'' teammate Jim Langer said in greeting him.)
He has agreed to be an honorary Georgia captain for the coin flip before the Georgia Tech game on Saturday. Dooley, if it matters, and no doubt it does, is no longer officially with the school.
But across one weekend, in hours of conversation, his eyes narrowed just once in the manner his reputation still holds. I asked about taking a photo for this story.
"I don't want one taken,'' he said. "Hawaiians think it's bad luck to have their picture taken.''
"Do you think it's bad luck?" I asked.
"Hawaiians do,'' he said.
"But you have your picture on the wall at the bar."
His eyes flattened. "There'll be no picture."
A few seconds later, he was laughing about his friend, Paul Hornung, losing so much weight that his pants fell down while speaking at Notre Dame. And telling how he took Csonka elk hunting in Colorado. Then how he'll boat friends to a small island off Kauai, open only to Hawaiians, and let them off there while he'll fish for a few hours before picking them up.
Scott drains the last gulp of Budweiser, puts the bottle down and opens his hands, palms up: "That's it. There's no big mystery. I'm just living the simple life I saw." He stands up, shakes hands and walks out the door.
As my airplane taxis to the gate after the 15-hour trip home, a message pops on my cell phone: "Hi, this is Jake. Just wanted to make sure you got back OK. Come on back here some time and we'll go fishing. Bring your wife."
There's a chuckle. "Call ahead next time, though, or I really will throw your a-- off the porch."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times