Growing up, Christmas and New Year's Day used to be synonymous with a Washington Husky bowl game. Like winning seasons and beating Cal, I thought it was my birthright. That all changed with the lackluster 1988 season that saw the Huskies finish with a winning record, barely, but no bowl invitation.
I was upset.
Normalcy returned, until the Dark Ages of Husky Football that only recently seemed to end with the 2010 Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska, and the fact that there are so many bowls today that they're about as "special" as participation awards for 2nd-grade little leaguers. But I digress.....
So, now that game day is finally upon us, Darin and I decided to look at some of the most important bowl games in Husky football history. "What are the Greatest Husky Bowl games?" asks the man with the checkbook. Let's see if we can come up with some answers to that question. First, let's be straight about what it is we mean by "great." There are lots of big wins, upsets, fun games that Husky fans like to look back on with purple-hued nostalgia. That's nice. But I think we should talk about the games that had the greatest impact on Husky football. Here's the list of great games in chronological order. Naturally, the games we come up with will be heavily tilted toward those in the last 25 years, since history really got rolling around 1971. Or 1975, as the case may be.
1960 Rose Bowl
Darin: This one speaks for itself. A one-loss Husky team takes it to undefeated and number-one-ranked Minnesota. Husky football's debutante ball.
Brad: Yup. It's too bad that the University of Washington failed to claim a national title from this season for as long as they did.
Darin: First bowl game of the Don James era. This team backed in, needing a loss by UCLA to USC to seal up the Pac-8. The Dawgs were unranked, Michigan was No. 4 with only one loss (to Minnesota, who also beat Washington). Michigan was a 13-point favorite, which suggests the Dawgs had something like a 15 percent chance of winning that game. Win they did.
Although the official stats say the Dawgs were 10-2 in 1977, the fact is they were 8-4, with losses to UCLA and Mississippi State wiped out due to use of ineligible players. Does that record sound familiar? The Pac-8 finished with three rated teams besides Washington (10): USC (13), and Stanford (15). In my opinion, this team is probably over-rated by Husky fans. They played a pretty weak schedule, and although they beat all three ranked teams they played, they dropped four they didn't have to. Football is fickle.
That being said, the Rose Bowl win is not over-rated. It's a big one, and it foreshadows Don James's ability to get a team ready given time.
Brad: I don't actually know the impact that the ineligible players used by UCLA and Mississippi State had in those two games. I'm going to pretend it was the difference between the Huskies winning and losing. I also wonder whether those games would be considered wins in college football today, or simply non-games.
Is that team overrated? I don't know. I don't ever really hear people talking up the '77 team in the conversation of "Greatest Husky Teams." It's the aura surrounding the game itself that means something. Boosters directing their ire at James early in the season after an inauspicious start. James coming off the podium after a press conference and punching a wall, then sleeping in his office the rest of the season in order to make sure things got fixed. I don't know if all of that's true, but the lore is what makes the lead-up to a huge upset in the Granddaddy so special.
Darin: This may be my favorite. The 1984 Dawgs were a very good team (especially on defense) at the end of an incredible run: 2, 3, 2, 2, 4, 1. Those are the number of losses the Huskies had from 1979 to 1984. You could make a legitimate case that this era, and not the early 1990s, is the purple-and-golden age of Husky football. If Don James had left after the 1984 season, he'd still clearly be the greatest coach in Husky history.
This team gave up an average of 12 points per game, second-best ever for Washington after the absolutely insane 1991 team. The Orange Bowl was No. 4 Washington, with one loss to No. 10 USC, versus No. 2 Oklahoma. It was the famous "Sooner Schooner" game, which is pretty stupid. There are three important things to take away.
First, the Huskies came out running right at consensus All-America defensive tackle Tony Casillas. They trapped him. If you Google "1985 Orange Bowl," one of the first hits you'll get is a video clip of Casillas looking bewildered in a post-game interview. Some clown named Bosworth also played for Oklahoma. I'm not sure whatever became of him, but it's a safe bet he's a delegate to the United Nations or a Congressman or something.
Second, local legend Hugh Millen came of the bench to help the Dawgs score two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Finally, with the win, the Huskies were awarded their second national championship. (I know, I know. Save it, I'm not interested.)
Brad: My favorite as well. I remember a night in the spring of 1985 when Mom and little sis were gone for the night, and you, dad, and I borrowed a copy of this game from a friend of dad's. Unfortunately, it was recorded on a different tape speed, and the VCR we had could only show the game at twice the normal speed. That sucked.
Don James called his "trap checks" the Huskies ran at Tony Casillas his greatest offensive game plan of his career. It's hard to argue with the success the Huskies had in running right at a huge all American.
Barry Switzer campaigned hard for the winner of the Orange Bowl to be the national champion over a weak BYU team in the time leading up to the game. He seemed pretty sure the Sooners were going to win, and win easy. One of my favorite video clips is him after the game saluting the Huskies' performance that night. What a game.
Darin: The 1989 Dawgs were part of a late-1980s slide: 7-5, 8-3-1, 7-4-1. 6-5 (and no bowl, the last time this happened until... well, you know), and then 7-4 heading into the bowl against a so-so Florida team. Still, the way things had been going, I had no expectation we'd win this game.
The Dawgs won. But more importantly, they completely shut down Florida's offense, including Emmitt Smith, who had 17 yards on seven carries. Florida averaged 240 yards per game rushing, they got 120. The scored one touchdown. It was a dominant defensive performance. I remember watching, not quite understanding what I had seen. How did the Huskies manage to do this? What happened? We know now that it was a preview of the Jim Lambright defense that was the foundation of the 1990-1992 seasons.
Brad: You could almost make the argument that it was the 1986 Sun Bowl loss to Alabama that set the table for the early 90's run as much as this game. That was the one that James pointed to as the impetus for the Huskies to change the way they recruited - to look for guys that could run and jump, and to verify those numbers themselves - as opposed to the way he'd evaluated players in the past. And while that philosophical change didn't show up in the recruiting class of 1987, it started to in 1988 and beyond.
But the win over Florida was huge, and as you mention, so unexpected. Especially the way it played out. Completely shutting down Smith, to the point that you could see he no longer wanted to play in the game (and if I remember correctly, he basically took himself out toward the end). A lot of credit is due to both James and Lambright for deciding to switch, midseason, to an attacking defense that was the hallmark of those 90's teams.
Darin: You know why.
Brad: Uh, yeah. 2001 Rose
Darin: What a weird season. Some background. Neuheisel came in wanting to thrown the ball. But in 2000, he was convinced to implement the option attack that Marcus Tuiasosopo had run in high school. He brought in some coaches to help over the summer, and the results were spectacular. Although Tuiasosopo didn't have the raw ability of, say, Jake Locker, he was an effective runner, and he seemed able to lift the team up when it counted. The Huskies trailed in every single game in the fourth quarter, and six times they scored in the last 30 seconds to win. I haven't looked that up to verify, but I'm sure it's true.
Below are the Huskies records from 1993, the start of Lambright's tenure, to 2002, Neuheisel's last year.
Here's a test: can you spot the years in which Cory Dillon and Marcus Tuiasosopo played? They are in bold to make it easier. Without those years this looks like an abysmal run of bad seasons. One that continues to today, frankly.
Anyway, the Dawgs dominated a fairly ordinary Purdue team with Drew Brees. This game is a ray of sunshine.
Brad: So many things to correct, so little time....
The switch to the option came after two games in 1999 (losses to BYU and Air Force). The first "option" game the Huskies ran under the ricker was his third game, which came against his old Colorado team. I couldn't believe how many Buffalo fans bought tickets near the tunnel simply so they could yell profanities at him as he lead his team on and off the field.
The Huskies actually never trailed in the fourth quarter versus Idaho, Miami, Colorado, WSU, or Purdue that year. So there.
It might be sacrilege to says this, but it was tough to be a fan of that team. The games were wildly entertaining, and there was a lot of heart on display (mostly from Marques Tuiasosopo), but it got hard to watch them stumble around the field for a half or more before finally starting to make their own breaks and play efficiently. I just wanted them to put somebody - ANYBODY - away early. It wasn't until the Apple Cup that that really happened. But you never turn your nose up on an 11-1 final record, nor a #3 ranking in the polls. People never really seem to mention it, but that Husky team had as strong a claim as anyone to play in the BCS title game that year.
Darin: Washington was up on Texas 36-20 at the end of the third quarter. Texas scored 20 points faster than you can say, "Has anybody seen my defensive playbook?" to take the lead. The Dawgs scored again to go up 43-40 with about two minutes to go. I knew, to a moral certainty, that Texas would score again and win the game. We had no chance. We couldn't rush the passer, we couldn't cover. It was over.
This is the game that made me understand that the Huskies didn't play defense anymore. That had probably been true for a long time, but it took this collapse to make the scales fall.Brad: To me, the wheels mostly came off of the defense in the last game of the season, a 65-7 beat down against Miami in the Orange Bowl that wasn't actually that close. But I get your point. It was mostly flukey that the Dawgs were even up going into the fourth, and I'm right there with you - I just didn't expect them to be able to hold on. A depressing finish, no doubt.
Darin: You guys remember this game, right? Nebraska had kawalloped the Huskies at home 56-21 -- which was not a reflection of the true dominance shown by the Cornhuskers. The Dawgs could do nothing. Nebraska had big plans that year, until they lost to Texas A&M and then Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. The Holiday bowl was not where they wanted to be that day. Especially not playing Washington, whom they probably viewed as not a worthy opponent.
The Huskies dominated from start to finish. At least I think they did. ESPN failed to show the start, as well as several plays along the way, so they could bring us women's basketball and Jack Arute catching a fish, holding an umbrella, turning on lights, etc. I really hate ESPN sometimes. The most impressive thing was the defense. Martinez, the Cornhusker QB, was not a good passer, and the defense was able to focus on stopping the run. And they did. The highlight, of course, was a holding penalty against Nebraska on Alameda Ta'amu in the end zone, giving the Huskies a safety. Salt, wound.
Jake Locker was at his warrior best. He ran. He tried to throw -- although our receivers were not more effective against Nebraska's great defensive backs than the first time around. He knocked himself out and thought he'd gone blind when his helmet fell down over his eyes. (This story has always seemed fishy to me.)
I wish the Huskies had build on this win more effectively. I thought the defense might have turned a corner, but it hadn't. Nick Holt was fired after the next season. Still, this was a great win. Just what was needed at the time.
Brad: I loved the fact that we got to see the UConn women lose - ON TWO DIFFERENT CHANNELS!!!! ON THE SAME NETWORK!!!!
What impressed me most about the defense that day was that they were down to (I think) five healthy defensive linemen, total (Tokolahi had broken his ankle the game before in the Apple Cup, and another two had retired due to chronic injuries in bowl practices). And two were deep reserves that had hardly played that season. That was Nick Holt at his finest right there. Not just in getting performance from his guys, but schematically as well. It's too bad that that game didn't turn out to be the "corner" for the Huskies, Holt, or Sarkisian. But it didn't.
So, there you have it, Husky fans. Happy Game Day to you all. It's like Christmas in December. Feel free to add your thoughts below.