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Looking Back on the PAC: A Husky History

A look back at UW’s time in the Pacific Conference

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

For a conference older than the pop-up toaster, Dick Van Dyke, and even the beloved William Daniels (a.k.a Mr. Feeney), it is hard to believe 2023 is the year it could all come crashing down.

In the Huskies' 118-year run in the Pacific Conference they have had seasons of 0-12, 12-0 and everything in between. We saw legendary coaches like the Dawgfather (Don James), Jim Lambright, and Gilmour Dobie. Lived in lore with groundbreaking players; Hugh McElhenny, Sonny Sixkiller, Warren Moon, and Marques Tuiasosopo to name a few.

Yet, as a move to the Big 10 looms it is time for Dawgs everywhere to prepare to depart the conference they’ve called home for so long. Before all Huskies say one last goodbye to the Pacific Conference, let’s take a look back at how we got here and who we met along the way.

The Birth of a Dawg

Technically, my conception as a Dawg began at my literal conception (regardless of how unaware or unconcerned my mother was with my fandom at the time). Like so many Dawg fans my ties to UW were a matter of lineage. My dad was a Dawg. His dad was a Dawg. My dad’s brother, cousins, all Dawgs. Like the Royals of England, being a Husky has been a foregone conclusion for countless families tied to the purple and gold. Not to say we all haven’t had a few Harry and Megan’s along the way. But, hey, no family is perfect.

In 1998, my fandom hit puberty. My urge for purple and more purple could not be contained. In my room, a giant poster of Lester Towns and Brock Huard hung on my wall. I fell asleep each night looking at a wave of purple and gold. On game days, I recall awing over the giant neck rolls on guys like Elliot Silvers, slobber-knocker hits in the secondary from Hakim Akbar, and gashing runs from my personal favorite at the time, Willie Hurst.

From there the love only grew and in 2001 my future was cemented as a Dawg while watching Marques Tuiasosopo take down Drew Brees and Purdue in my first Rose Bowl experience.

Marques Tuiasosopo #11/Pat Coniff #47
Marques Tuiasosopo hands off to Pat Coniff - 2001 Rose Bowl

Different generations of fans were birthed at different moments. Some born into the gold, raised on third down screams and woofs. For others, it could be a single moment like dodging security in 2009 to storm the field after the upset of third-ranked USC.

The older die-hards might point back to the 1991 Rose Bowl team that took down Michigan to claim Washington’s second National Championship. And even before that, the oldest of fans would tell you it was the 1960 National Title team who won in a ground-and-pound Rose Bowl against top-ranked Minnesota.

Maybe it was a player who stole your heart; Steve Emtman, Mark Brunell, Billy Joe Hobert, Jake Locker, Greg Carothers, Larry Triplett, Budda Baker, Cody Pickett, or Reggie Williams. There are too many moments and players capable of creating Dawg fans to name them all, but regardless of how you came to don the purple and gold you are forever linked to Husky Nation.

And while game days won’t change much, from 30-year-old canisters filled with scalding hot chocolate, and crushed beer cans in parking lots, to the lines of fans filing into Husky Stadium waiting for the purple smoke to rise, the future of all Huskies will start to change.

The logos on jerseys, programs, and the 25-yard lines will be switched out. Unfamiliar teams and fans will travel to Husky Stadium. Likewise, Dawg fans will infiltrate new and foreign enemy territories. But before we get too deep into the future, let’s recount the journey to this point and relive some of the memories we share of UW’s time in the PAC.

A Brief Hundred-Year-Old History

It all began in 1915. The original four – Washington, California, Oregon, and Oregon State – came together to create a conference that would dominate the world! Well, maybe not the world, but at the rate college football is going now, who would rule that out?

Between 1915 and 1968 a grand version of musical chairs went on. Schools came and went – some for good (Idaho, Montana) – until finally in 1968 the conference changed its name for the umpteenth time from the Athletic Association of Western Universities (not exactly a primetime ticket) to the PAC-8 (much better).

From there it was onward and upward, with the Arizona schools climbing aboard in 1978 to make it the PAC-10. Then in 2010 both Colorado and Utah signed on to give the PAC a total of 12 teams. The conference looked as strong as ever. But as we all know now, the bond (and money) that held those 12 schools together would be short-lived.

Winning Time

Arguably the second most successful program in the history of the conference, the Huskies will leave the PAC as 17-time conference champions. That ties them with UCLA for second all-time, and puts the Dawgs only 22 behind USC who have a whopping 39 conference titles.

UW is second all-time in the conference in wins and lays claim to two of the winningest coaches in conference history; Don James (2nd all-time) and Jim Owens (7th all-time). Remarkably, only one other school has more than one coach in the top ten. Can you guess the other school? I will give you a hint – it is not Oregon.

And actually, James technically sits in first for all-time wins at 153 after UCLA’s Terry Donahue had all seven wins vacated from the 1977 season, bumping him from the top spot. James also holds the conference record for most bowl appearances by a head coach (14) and most bowl wins (10), cementing his legacy as one of the best coaches ever in the Pacific Conference.

The Record Books

Washington holds too many records to name them all but the few I have selected below are some of the most incredible, for one reason or another.

In 1955 the Huskies coughed up a conference record 11 fumbles in a win over Idaho. 11 fumbles! And they still won. Lenny Anderson of the Seattle Daily Times wrote the Huskies “treated the football like a baked rivet” in regards to the Idaho fumble-fest.

Then in 1969 the Dawgs somehow repeated the same feat against Oregon.

(Where is Tim McGraw when you need him?)

Seattle Daily Times sports editor Georg N. Meyers recounted a conversation UW’s Bo Cornell and Oregon’s Ken Woody had before the game. Woody told Bo they “must be the two most psyched-out teams on the West Coast” and they “might even find a way to fumble on the same play.”

“It was supposed to be a joke,” Meyers went on, “It was almost prophetic. On one play, Joe Bell fumbled forward and a Duck momentarily controlled the ball, fumbled it away and Bell got it back.”

While Woody saw into the future on that day, even a call to Miss Cleo wouldn’t have saved San Jose State from the next record.

Husky legend Corey Dillon Dillon ran for over 1500 yards and rushed to paydirt 22 times in the 1996 season, but one game stands out in particular.

In the first quarter of a Week 10 matchup against San Jose State, Dillon amassed 222 yards on 16 carries. That set a PAC-10 and NCAA record for most individual rushing yards gained in one quarter.

That day, the struggle didn’t come from figuring out how to beat the Spartans, but figuring out how to help Dillon break the 20-year-old record.

As the end of the first quarter drew near, UW coaches started to realize a historic performance was brewing before their eyes.

Percy Allen of the Seattle Times tells it like this,

“Washington coaches made quick calculations and informed Lambright that Dillon was close to breaking a 20-year-old NCAA record for rushing yards in a quarter. He had 197 and needed 18 more...Washington’s intent was to run Dillon, but coaches called a screen pass just for good measure. Dillon took the short pass and ran 83 yards for a touchdown, the second-longest reception in UW history.”

As you already know, Dillon got the record and it still stands today. After the game, Guard Bob Sapp had this to say, “He came out and hit the holes and really did some fine running. As a matter of fact, I think he’s still running right now.”

There are plenty more records to remember. Mario Bailey holds the record for most TD catches in a season (18). Dante Pettis has his own little section in the books with all of his punt return accolades. Defensive players Michael Jackson, Mason Foster, and Ben Burr-Kirven all hold tackling records. The list goes on. But one of the most impressive records in Husky, PAC, and NCAA history, belongs to Al Worley. In the 10-game 1968 season, Worley jumped quarterbacks for 14 interceptions.

Finally, a stat all Dawg fans can be proud of – UW had a conference-leading 17,986,293 fans in attendance from 1978 to 2022. 362,465 more than the next school in line, USC.

Memorable Games

1960 Rose Bowl – Wisconsin vs UW (W 44-8)

Still a game all the “old heads” can look back on and smirk with pride, this beatdown stands out in Husky history for a few reasons. First, Wisconsin was heavily favored coming into the game and no one held back in letting the Huskies know about it. Running back Don McKeta was quoted after the game saying, “We read all week what a weak, little line we had.”

Well, that weak, little line helped the Dawgs blow open the game in the first quarter, scoring 17 points and never relinquishing control.

“There was no turning point in the game. Our line just tore ‘em up, and we took command,” McKeta continued. “They didn’t seem to hit very hard. Any offense we ran would have worked, our line kept so much pressure on them.”

Mcketa sums it up pretty well right there. But just to cap it all off, this was the first time a Big Ten school had lost a Rose Bowl in 14 years. As the two conferences thought of negotiating a new Rose Bowl agreement, Georg N. Meyers of the Seattle Daily Times suggested, “After what happened to Wisconsin, the Big Ten may never want to see another rose or a bowl again.”

September 17, 1983 – Michigan @ UW (W 25-24)

The second game of the 1983 season saw No. 8 Michigan travel to Montlake to take on the 16th-ranked Huskies. The game started with a back-and-forth first half and after a big fourth down goal-line stop, both teams went to the break needing an oil change. The Dawgs leading 10-3.

However, the third quarter belonged to the boys in blue. Michigan scored on their opening drive of the half and picked off Husky QB Steve Pelluer on the next series to set the Wolverines up at midfield for another succinct touchdown drive.

At this point, the only thing stopping Michigan from marching down the field was that little yellow flag in the referee’s pocket. And on the opening play of the fourth quarter, UW’s line busted open like a dam. Pelluer dropped back to pass on third down and was swallowed up by all four Michigan linemen, causing a sack/fumble recovered in the endzone by the Wolverines.

Now down 24-10 and outscored 21-0 thus far in the second half, UW’s magic 8-ball was reading “outlook not so good.” But just as all hope seemed to evaporate, the offense responded, opening up the game through the air and driving down for a score to make it a one-possession game with 9:06 left in the game.

The next series was pivotal. Michigan kept marching and found themselves on the UW 15-yard line. After nearly throwing a third-down INT, the Wolverines lined up for a field goal that would make it a two-score game. They missed.

With 3:40 left, Pelluer drove the Dawgs down and hit Mark Pattison for a fade in the right corner of the endzone. Then, with a defender barreling down on him, Pelluer hit senior tight end Larry Michael on a shallow crossing route to make good on the two-point attempt and take the lead. When the clocks hit zero, the scoreboard read, “WE DID IT!!!!!”

“Whammy in Miami” September 24, 1994 – UW @ Miami (W 38-20)

From one end of the US to the other, UW and Miami have had a few memorable games, but none quite like the Whammy in Miami. The Dawgs traveled down to sunny Florida, already assumed by many to be the 59th team in a row to lose at the Orange Bowl.

Down 14-3 at half to 5th ranked Miami, the No. 19 Huskies were at least beating the 14-point betting line if not the Hurricanes. But something changed in that third quarter and the Dawgs scored 25 points to blow Miami out of the water, setting in motion one of the biggest upsets in UW history.

On the second play of the third quarter running back Richard Thomas took a pass 75 yards for UW’s first touchdown of the day. After a two-point conversion, the Dawgs kicked off and Miami took back control of the ball, but only momentarily. On the ensuing series, corner Russell Hairston took advantage of a fallen receiver and picked off Miami QB Frank Costa, making a house call for the Dawgs' second TD of the quarter.

Then a pair of fumbles, one by the Hurricanes’ kick return team that bounced into Husky hands, and one by UW QB Damon Huard that squirted into the endzone and led to the most unexpected result of the day, a Bob Sapp touchdown.

The Dawgs all of a sudden led 28-14, and the Hurricanes never recovered.

Other Memorable Games:

1961 Rose Bowl vs Minnesota (UW 17 – Minnesota 7)

1978 Rose Bowl vs Michigan (UW 27 – Michigan 20)

1990 USC @ UW (UW 31 – USC 0)

2000 Miami @ UW (UW 34 – Miami 29)

2009 Arizona @ UW (UW 36 – Arizona 33)

2016 UW @ Oregon (UW 70 – Oregon 21)

The End?

Thanks for scrolling down memory lane with me. Feel free to add in players, games, coaches, or whatever defines your fandom as a Dawg.

Next up, I will dig into the Dawgs’ history with each school in the conference starting with the Week 4 matchup against Cal. We’ll go over historic matchups, rivalry-defining stats, memorable players, and more.