SEATTLE — The truth is, we forgot. The rest of the country forgot that way up here in the corner, college football could make a din so loud and so protracted it could ring in your ears halfway through the rest of the night. We forgot about the Washington Huskies as something relevant, something with proud fans with long memories and rich nostalgia.
We forgot about the purple, the spelling of the word “Dawgs” and the uncommon sound of 72,027 people barking.
We even forgot about the lake.
How in the world could we forget, for long swatches of time, that Husky Stadium has a lake adjacent it, with long rows of floating tailgates and people in purple walking boat-to-boat on metal planks on the way into the games?
At how many tailgate settings does one get to walk past the lily pads?
It all came whooshing back on a rousing Friday night at the University of Washington, when a team that was impossible to gauge through four opening games against tepid resistance suddenly played in a way that made its fans chant, “We Want Tampa,” Tampa being the site of the national-title game come January. While that clearly was a case of giddiness blurring rationale, the No. 10-ranked Huskies had proved so superior in every football job that they distributed a sight seldom seen, that of the defending Pacific-12 champion and No. 7-ranked Stanford, the bully of the league, on the receiving end of a 44-6 obliteration.
“It was like a dream come true, man,” said the hybrid Washington linebacker and defensive end Joe Mathis, who spent the first half rampaging all over the field with such effect there seemed to be two of him. “I loved it. It was my favorite game.”
“That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of,” said quarterback Jake Browning, who said hello to a nation in which only the junkies would have known him.
“It felt like the times when Lawyer Milloy and all those guys talk about it,” said safety Budda Baker, a reference to the 42-year-old former NFL player who mined the rosy days of the early 1990s at Washington.
Through the whole, teenaged century we had forgotten them, ever since their 2000 season ended with only one loss and with one win in the Rose Bowl. Two of their ensuing seasons included four losses, and the rest included six or more. The 2008 season had 12, against zero wins. Finally in 2016, in the third season with former Boise State Coach Chris Petersen as conductor, there came a night with major heft.
Even before it started, it had such heft that the school brought back the 1991 national co-champions at halftime, a 12-0 team the prize pupils of the sport will might recall for names such as Steve Emtman, Mario Bailey, Billy Joe Hobert, Beno Bryant. They greeted the end of the third quarter by introducing the family members of the late Coach Don James (1932-2013) to a swelling cheer that indicated a fond and sharp memory of a man who finished coaching here in 1992. Back in the days when we didn’t forget Washington so haphazardly, James introduced Washington to that national title, long after he introduced Nick Saban to the world of coaching at Kent State.
“Let Purple Reign Again,” the game program read.
“They need to be here every game,” Mathis said of the 1991 team. “I don’t know. It was some magic or something. That was the best game we ever played.” It was about the nearest thing to perfection as a band of young humans can concoct, from their four scores in four first-half possessions to lead 23-0 at halftime, their seven sacks and eight tackles for loss, their limiting of Stanford to 213 total yards, and of its super-duper-star Christian McCaffrey to 49 yards on 12 carries. “I just want this night to be about confidence, these guys taking the next step, confidence-wise,” Petersen said.
In the waning seconds, before the fans spilled out onto the field in a civilized, Seattle manner, the chants began. Washington had resumed its relevance, its viability, and the chance for the rest of us to walk its piers and experience its boats.
In that they bill as the “greatest setting in college football,” there’s an entire boat ecosystem out there. The athletic department even has a guy managing the scene, a delightful 27-year-old who has the name John Terry, which means he gets vile Tweets aimed at him whenever Chelsea’s English soccer star John Terry errs in some unforgivable way. He has the singular title “waterfront manager,” a job formerly named “boat moorage manager.”
“These are the forty-to-sixty-foot boats, and then we have the sixty-to-one-hundred in this area,” the Terry who did not miss the penalty kick in the 2008 European Champions League final in Moscow explained to a visitor. For the outer boats, which cannot park near the piers, they have seven water taxis with Coast Guard-certified pilots.
“If we didn’t have somebody managing it, it would be chaos,” Terry said during pre-game. “Then we’d have all these boats out there coming in.” For example, during pre-game on Friday, they had some minor issues with some jet skis who had to be advised to take it out farther on Lake Washington. On the occasions when people do complain to Terry and the staff, it’s often because they dislike their boat positioning and yearn for better boat positioning.
It’s a fine party out there, with almost everyone cooperative and friendly, and with only the occasional person plunging into the lake, usually a college kid overdoing it, which has occurred “twice in the last three years,” Terry said. Wind can complicate matters, as when a string of boats rafted together curls over toward another string of boats, thus the strategic positioning of buoys.
Kayakers happen by sometimes. Paddle boats. In the smorgasbord of college football, it’s one of the best settings, and then everybody walked the piers into the stadium and roared at a team that went sublime on it.
“Everybody just kind of did their jobs,” Browning said, and so Washington is back in our view, and Husky Stadium is back in our ears, and the lovely lake is back in our thoughts, as well as the reminder that any endeavor, even one is sprawling as college football, is better when it has some Seattle in it.