||Thursday, December 20
Updated: December 21, 2:57 PM ET
The Purple Haze
By Richard Billingsley
Special to ESPN.com
"I saw Purple. That's all I saw. No numbers, no faces, just Purple."
There could be no greater compliment to faithful fans. The University of Washington has what only the elite in college football have -- undying fan support. And why not? Where else can you tailgate from a boat while sailing on beautiful Lake Washington, admiring the Seattle skyline or catching a breathtaking view of Mount Rainier, all while waiting for your favorite team to take the field? Nowhere else but Washington!
Tailgating by boat has long been a favorite tradition among Washington fans, dating all the way back to 1920 when the stadium was first built. Now, massive Husky Stadium, seating 72,500 is called one of college football's most perfect venues. Washington records sellouts year after year while many other Pac-10 teams struggle to fill 70 percent capacity in similar venues. Win, lose, rain, sleet, snow or incredibly beautiful sunny blue skies, Husky fans will always be in the stands ... dressed in PURPLE.
The school colors of Purple and Gold were adopted in 1892, three years after team captain Frank Griffiths led the first Washington team in a 20-0 loss to the Eastern College Alumni. But from that shellacking on November 28, 1889 was borne some of college football's greatest traditions and some of game's greatest coaches, one of whom was legendary coach Gil Dobie, who coached Washington from 1908-1916. Dobie attended the University of Minnesota and was the Golden Gophers QB from 1899-1901. Seven years later he was named as the 11th coach in school history of the "Sun Dodgers" as the team was called in the early years.
The Sun Dodger was the name of a student newspaper banned by the University and later adopted by students as a team name in protest. But the "Sun Dodgers" sank into the sunset in 1921 when a committee was formed to change the nickname to something more appropriate for the Pacific Northwest. The Huskies were officially recorded as the team name for the 1921 season and the squad was led on to the field in 1922 by Frosty 1, an Alaskan Malamute, the breed which has served as the mascot for the Washington team ever since.
Dobie was a strict man, and total pessimist by many accounts. But the man knew how to get the most out of his players, and it reflected in the win column. During his nine years at Washington from 1908-1916, Dobie accumulated an amazing 58-0-3 record. Coupled with the final regular season win over Idaho in 1907, Washington boasts a 59-0-2 stretch from 1908-1916 -- a mark that still stands today as an NCAA record for most consecutive wins without a loss. Dobie led Washington into the Pacific Coast Conference, (the precursor to the Pac-10) as a charter member in 1916, where he promptly won the first conference title with 3-0-1 record (6-0-1 overall). The Dobie years came to a close after the 1916 season when he moved on to Navy, and eventually Cornell and Boston College. His accomplishments won him induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951 with an overall coaching record was 180-45-15. One of the more curious questions in college football is why Washington was NEVER invited to the Rose Bowl during one of the Huskies' most prolific periods in school history, but record books supply the answer. The Rose Bowl was first played after the 1901 season, but no other Rose Bowl games were played until after the 1915 season which only left the Huskies eligible in 1915 and 1916 under their 59-0-2 run. Washington State was invited after the 1915 season -- the Huskies did not play the Cougars that year -- and Oregon tied Washington 0-0 in 1916 which sent the Ducks to Pasadena. Imagine that, 59-0-2 and never played in bowl game!
Washington finally made it to the Rose Bowl, the Huskies' first bowl appearance, after the 1923 season and tied Navy 14-14. The 10-1-1 campaign was led by coach Enoch Bagshaw, who coached at Washington from 1921-1929 and complied a 63-22-6 record. Bagshaw was also the coach when the first game was played in Husky Stadium on November 27, 1920. Washington took the field against Dartmouth in front of 24,500, but lost 28-7. Some of the Pac-10's greatest rivalries intensified during this period and although there are many rivals for Washington in the Pac-10, Southern California and UCLA among them, nothing compared to the fierce games with Oregon and instate rival Washington State. As the Washington media guide states, referring to the "Apple Cup" game between WSU and UW, "Cats and Dogs, what could be a more natural rivalry!"
Coach Bagwell's greatest team may have been the 1925 squad. Washington went 10-0-1 in the regular season but lost 20-19 to eventual national champion Alabama in what is considered one of the Rose Bowl's greatest games. Washington, led by legendary All-America halfback George Wilson, took a commanding 12-0 lead at the half. But Wilson was injured in the third quarter and out of the game for 22 minutes during which time Wallace Wade's Bama boys struck for 20 points. Wilson returned to the game and Washington pulled to within one, but time expired with the Huskies in possession at midfield. James Phelan (65-37-8), Ralph Welch (27-20-3), Howard Odell (23-25-12), and John Cherberg (10-18-2) all led the Huskies from 1930-1955, but with only minor success. The Huskies went to the Rose Bowl only twice during that span of 26 years, in 1936 when they lost 21-0 to Pittsburgh, and 1943 whene they lost to Soouthern Cal 29-0. Darrell Royal, who went on to national prominence at the University of Texas, coached at Washington for one season in 1956 where he complied a 5-5-0 record including a stunning 28-13 win over No. 13 Illinois. Three of the five losses were to ranked teams, No. 9 USC, No. 17 Oregon State and No. 19 UCLA. The loss of the young, energetic Royal was disappointing for some Husky fans who yearned for a return to Pacific Coast supremacy and were counting on Royal to lead them.
Jim Owens came on board in 1957 and went on to compile a 99-82-6 record over 18 seasons. Owens came to Washington after serving as an assistant for Bear Bryant at Kentucky and Texas A&M. His most successful years were his early ones where Owens put together back to back Rose Bowl winning teams in 1959 and 1960, both 10-1-0 seasons. During Owens tenure in 1968, Washington switched to AstroTurf and became the second team with an outdoor stadium to use artificial turf. (Houston's Astrodome was the first indoor facility and Tennessee was the first to use it ourdoors by one week).
Washington has certainly had their share of great players over the years, but none so famous perhaps as All America QB Sonny Sixkiller. After suffering through three consecutive losing seasons in 1968, 1969, and 1970, the Huskies were finally able to put together a 6-4 record in 1970. Hopes were high beginning the 1971 season as Washington reeled off four consecutive victories over UC Santa Barbara, Purdue, TCU and Illinois. So high was the fever pitch that a local DJ penned "The Ballad Of Sonny Sixkiller" which aired constantly on local Seattle stations for the majority of the fall of 1971. It even received some national air play. Sixkiller, the descendant of a Cherokee chief, had these immortal words written about him:
"He grew up into a proud young man
When Don James took over in 1975, few expected the amount of success that Washington would acclaim. When James left in 1992, he had complied a 153-57-2 record (best in Pac-10 history), 99 Pac-10 wins, (most in Pac-10 history), 15 bowl games (10-5 record), nine straight bowl games from 1979-1987 (Pac-10 record), and most importantly, a national championship in 1991. The 12-0-0 season included big wins over No. 9 Nebraska, No. 7 California and No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl, perhaps Washington's greatest victory.
However, in some Husky circles, the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma after the 1984 season may qualify as the greatest win, mainly because it capped an 11-1 season earning the Huskies an "unofficial" national championship recorded by the Football News.
The game was centered around a strange turn of events that has become a matter of lore for both Oklahoma and Washington. Washington had taken a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but Oklahoma battled back to tie the score at the half. With momentum and the clock on their side the Sooners' Tim Lashar kicked a 22-yard field goal to give Oklahoma a 17-14 lead early in the fourth quarter, but, there was a penalty on the play. As Oklahoma's famed "Sooner Schooner" rode around the field, there was a yellow flag on the ground. While this Sooner tradition had always been acceptable at the Orange Bowl, an official penalized OU 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct, saying the wagon entered the field prematurely. The re-try for the field goal, this time from 42 yards, was blocked, so the score remained 14-14. Shellshocked, Oklahoma never regained the momentum. Washington scored 14 points in a 60 second burst and held on to win 28-17.
Jim Lambright carried the Huskies to four consecutive bowls during his six years at the helm from 1993-1998. It was in 1981 that Husky cheerleader Rob Weller, who later went on to co-host TV's Entertainment Tonight, created "The Wave", one of college football's most famous fads. The first wave occurred on October 31 against Stanford, and although unsuccessful in comparison to later attempts made around the country, Weller receives credit for its creation along with band director Bill Bissell.
Rick Neuheisel came to Washington in 1999 from Colorado and has instantly won the hearts of the Husky faithful. In his first season as head coach the Huskies were 7-5, losing a heartbreaker to No. 4 Kansas State in the Holiday Bowl. In 2000, the Huskies were a contender for the national championship with an 11-1 record capped by a 34-24 win over Purdue in the Rose Bowl. The Huskies finished the season ranked No. 3 by the Associated Press. This season, 8-3 Washington is currently ranked No. 20 heading into the Holiday Bowl against the No. 10 Texas Longhorns. Rick Neuheisel seemingly has a bright future at Washington, considered by many to be the top program in the Pac-10, and one of the best in the nation.
Richard Billingsley is a BCS computer pollster and his website is www.cfrc.com.
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