Monday, October 1

Purple Passion

Odometer: 6325
Location: Seattle, WA

Some of my friends, including a few that live in Seattle, asked me why I was including the Washington Huskies in my travel plans. It had very little to do with a city boasting world class coffee and get-togethers utilizing Ouija boards in hopes of contact the ghost of Kurt Cobain. When I was very young, before I really understood what college football was all about, Washington was one of the sport’s major programs and a Rose Bowl contender every season. Three of my four years in high school, they closed their season in Pasadena, winning a National Title in 1991. Longtime head coach Don James retired after that 1992 season, partly in protest over NCAA sanctions levied on the program. Since then, fans experienced a decline to mediocrity followed by further slippage to 1-10 in 2004. The Huskies improved as last season went along, so I was eager to see what the fans were thinking and whether anyone remembers the days of Joe Steele or Vince Weathersby.
Over my long weekend in Seattle, I think I only saw the sun for a combined fifteen minutes. That’s long enough to steal a glance at Mt. Ranier, but is not conducive to frolicking in the park. Though I suppose it’s better to get the real Seattle experience, anyway. A solid group of die-hards turned up very early even though the game had a later kickoff than usual. Tailgating is packed in very tightly in the lots to the north and south of Husky Stadium, but with only so much room, it’s probably better to get as many people in there as possible. I had a media pass that included parking, but I was surprised to see that my car would be surrounded on all sides by tailgating festivities. There was clearly no way I would be leaving this game early, not that I’m the sort to do such a thing. It was more challenging than usual to approach people tailgating. Part of this was due to the tight squeeze. I had to walk myself all the way into what amounted to a private party in order to start a conversation. Even then, I really had to engage people before they would start to open up to me. According to my friends native to the area, that’s typical of the Seattle scene. People are very nice, and absolutely polite, but to call them a friendly group would be incorrect. That’s not to say I didn’t have great conversations with purple-clad fans. I just had to work a bit harder.

Washington fans can easily be split into two groups. Some are dying for the team to once again attain the status they used to enjoy. These folks travel to away games and are true college football junkies. Then there are fans who are just there to see their friends and have a fun Saturday. Many of them wouldn’t even be attending the actual game despite the fact that tickets were readily available. The notion among the die-hards is that if the team keeps improving, the other group will come around.

Someone contact the English department.

I spent some time with some of those die-hards who were equally committed to a drinking game that was new to me. These guys invented Beershoes almost by accident while camping. They immediately drew up rules, regulations and a league. They took the game very seriously, keeping scores and standings as the day progressed. This game is a winner. I fully expect to see Beershoes being played across the country within a few years. There’s an official website, but I can’t find it anywhere. If someone has it, please let me know or leave a comment. If you have the right connections, you can easily sail to the game. Boats arrive via Lake Washington and dock immediately east of the stadium. Most of them were large and somewhat intimidating to people wandering around the dock area. I wanted to chat to some of these folks, but it was hard to even make eye contact with them. Then again, I’m sure they’re used to gawkers roaming around – especially for big games. However, I was able to spend some time with people on a boat skippered by Captain Deano. All guys, they come to every game and are one of the few boats grandfathered in, giving them the privilege of docking on the near side of the wharf. On a nice day, if they ever occur, I can’t imagine a better version of tailgating than sailing to the stadium. At halftime, the fans honored the 1960 Husky team which beat National Champion Minnesota in the Rose Bowl, 17-7. How could a National Champion lose their bowl game? Because back in the day, the champion was declared before the bowl games. The not-officially-regognized Helms Poll was taken after the bowl games and bestowed their title to Washington, while the Football Writers Association gave it to Ole Miss. I heard a lot of mixed opinions about this from the fans. Many pointed out that the team didn’t care about the National Championship – winning the Rose Bowl was everything in those days. I’m kind of on the fence with this one. It’s good that the school wants to honor a great team in their past, but they’re kind of making their own rules on this one. Bowl games weren’t viewed as part of the season then. They’re applying modern rules to historic times, and it rubs me the wrong way. It seems like they should simply honor a great Rose Bowl team and leave it at that. It probably doesn’t matter that much as I can’t imagine anyone in Minnesota is going to care these days.

In further honor of the 1960 team, the players donned throwback uniforms, which actually looked pretty sweet. The fans were a bit more unified on this one. They all mentioned how it’ just a way for Nike to make some more dough. Bear in mind that Nike head honcho Phil Knight is a major Oregon booster, and it’s clear why everyone’s in touch with that issue. Husky fans are not fond of the Oregon Ducks. Eyes were glued to the TV sets in the afternoon, and all those eyes were pulling hard for Cal. I watched this game from the sideline which is a pretty sweet experience. The action is often frighteningly close, especially if you have a blown-out knee. A number of times, I had to react to players being tackled out of bounds in my area, knowing full well, I can’t really dodge anything right now. Many of the players are incredibly large from such a close vantage point – USC wideouts in particular. They’re giants. Often I was able to pick up nuances and take in details invisible from the stands. But when the action was at the other end, I was left watching the jumbotron. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not note that the entirety of Husky Nation has Jake Locker fever. I heard the phrase, “the real deal” at least a dozen times before the game even began. He is probably the least vilified quarterback in the country. He overthrew a receivers often and had one crucial interception on Saturday. But after the game, no one was mad at him. They actually recognize the fact that he’s a redshirt freshman and shouldn’t be perfect yet. Whether he’s the real deal will be up for time to tell. But I can tell you this. He’s one tough hombre. They won’t let me embed this one, but I recommend clicking. This was intense live:


Anonymous said...

Glad you could make it to U-Dub game. Crappy weather does play a part in limiting some of the major attributes of a Husky Football Saturday, but it sounds like you made the most of it. Here's to hoping you make a return visit a year from now and Husky Fever is at level reminiscent of the 90's. Go Dawgs!

Anonymous said...

I believe the Beershoes group has been shut down.

Just a FYI for those looking for it in the future.

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