Why The 2000 Husky Football Team Should Have Been National Champs

Originally Published:  June 27, 2012, under the title “The Amazing 2000 Washington Husky Football Team” & July 4, 2012, under the title “The Amazing 2000 Washington Husky Football Team Wins A National Championship”

Part I

The 2000 Washington Huskies were the greatest football team I’ve ever seen.  Now, that IS saying a lot and it isn’t.  I enrolled in the University of Washington in the fall of 1999; prior to that, I most certainly wasn’t a Husky fan.  What can I say?  I like rooting for the underdog, and for most of my life to that point, the Huskies had been the biggest thing in Seattle.

But, after Don James left amid the scandals, the years leading up to 1999 weren’t all that special.  Granted, they continued making bowl games (after they paid their dues for two ineligible years), but they weren’t nearly the hot dogs they were at their peak.  Besides, I was a sports fan and I was going to their school, it’s not like I was going to NOT root for the Huskies.

In addition to me joining Husky Nation, 1999 saw Rick Neuheisel join the Purple & Gold.  1999 was also Marques Tuiasosopo’s first full season as the starting quarterback (he backed up Brock Huard in both 1997 and 1998, coming in whenever Huard was injured or ineffective).  This was a brand new team, a brand new era.  And, however acrimonious it ended with Neuheisel, this was an EXCITING era.

Anyway, the 1999 Huskies weren’t special, but they were good.  And you could see the promise in them being truly great.  They finished tied for second with Oregon (who we beat, by the way), but with only a 7-5 overall record after losing in the Holiday Bowl to #7 Kansas State (in a game MUCH closer than it should’ve been, losing by only four points).

In 2000, the Huskies would find a way to win those close games.

As I was saying at the top, I didn’t have a whole lot of greatness to compare to the 2000 Huskies before, and I really don’t have a whole lot to compare it to since.  The 2005 Seahawks went to the Super Bowl, so in that sense they were great.  But, they were also really lucky.  The NFC was pretty down that year, so going 13-3 kinda felt ho-hum.  I mean, SOMEONE had to do it!  And we beat Jake Delhomme and the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game for Christ’s sake.  Every year that guy throws another 5-INT game, our Championship Game victory seems less and less special.  Pittsburgh had to go through a murderer’s row – as a SIX seed – to get to the Super Bowl!  The Seahawks had to beat a couple of mediocre teams in Qwest Field.

Getting back, ho-boy how bout dem Huskies!  In the AP pre-season poll, they were ranked 13th in the nation.  Before they’d even played a game, they fell to 14th, then after routing Idaho at home they fell to 15th.  This is how it looked from Week 3 (in the polls) on:

  • Week 3 – 9th
  • Week 4 – 8th
  • Week 5 – 6th
  • Week 6 – 13th
  • Week 7 – 11th
  • Week 8 – 9th
  • Week 9 – 9th
  • Week 10 – 8th
  • Week 11 – 7th
  • Week 12 – 6th
  • Week 13 – 4th
  • Week 14 – 4th
  • Week 15 – 4th
  • Week 16 – 3rd

When all was said and done, according to the AP, the Washington Huskies were 3rd in the Nation.  It was their highest finish since they won the Coaches Poll National Championship in 1991 (they finished #2 in the AP that year behind Miami).  What’s probably the most galling of all, though, was the fact that the BCS Poll had the Huskies finishing #4 behind Miami (again!) even though we BEAT them in our second game (which would have been in Week 3 for polling purposes), but I’m getting ahead of myself.

That Miami game was out of this world.  The Huskies jumped out to a big 21-3 halftime lead and held on for dear life to win 34-29.  The Huskies at that point were fairly well-regarded, as they were polling in the teens.  But, beating then-#4 Miami put them squarely on the map, and in the thick of the Top 10 race.  The Huskies then went to Colorado – Rick Neuheisel’s former school – and won an ugly contest 17-14, leaving us #6 in the nation at 3-0 going into our Pac-10 schedule.

And the Oregon Ducks.  Ask any Husky fan who they hate the most, and they will answer unequivocally the Oregon Fucking Ducks.  The 2000 season was a big reason why.

From the moment the Ducks joined the Pac-8 back in 1968 through 1988, they never made a bowl game.  I would try to count how many times in that span the Huskies made a bowl game, but my fingers would get tired.  Then, from 1989 through 1999, the Ducks enjoyed some growing success, even finishing first in the Pac-10 in 1994 (losing the Rose Bowl in pathetic fashion to Penn State).  However, with Mike Bellotti in the mix, you could see that the Ducks were building something special.  In 1999, they finished 9-3 (tied for second in the Pac-10) and won the Sun Bowl.  They were poised for a major leap in 2000.

The game took place in Autzen Stadium on Saturday, September 30th.  The Huskies, for whatever reason, couldn’t get anything going.  Tui threw two picks and only rushed for 10 yards on 8 attempts.  The rest of the team could only manage 101 yards on the ground, while Maurice Morris (yes, THAT Maurice Morris) chewed us up to the tune of 152 yards on 31 carries.  Joey Harrington wasn’t quite Heisman Candidate Joey Harrington (in fact, he wasn’t all that good at all in this game), but he didn’t have to be.  Washington could only muster a field goal through the first three quarters as we took a 23-3 deficit into the final frame.

While this game would prove to be our only loss on the season, it did ignite what would be a mythological run of games where the Huskies came back from late deficits.

In the 4th quarter, the Huskies came alive!  Two touchdowns (and one failed PAT) brought the Huskies to within seven points.  AND, we even had the ball back, on our own 20 yard line, with 2 minutes remaining.  For a team that would be in this situation time and time again throughout the 2000 season, it boggles my mind how we didn’t somehow find a way to drive on them for the tying touchdown.  In fact, we were so inept, Tui threw four straight incompletions as soon as we touched the football on offense.

The Oregon powerhouse was in full effect.  That game marked 18 consecutive home wins for the Ducks.  Meanwhile, the Huskies fell to 3-1 and to #13 in the nation.  The Ducks would eventually lose to an even unlikelier powerhouse in Oregon State later that season, thwarting what could have been something truly special for them … but once again I’m getting ahead of myself.

Washington was home the very next week against those Beavers of Oregon State.  The Beavers were 4-0 coming in, including a home victory over the Trojans of USC, who were ranked #7 at the time.  If the Huskies ever had ANY hopes of making a Rose Bowl this year, they’d have to beat Oregon State.  Falling a game behind each Oregon team would have been an unmitigated disaster.

In the second-most exciting game of the 2000 season, the Huskies and the Beavers showed absolutely zero defense in this 33-30 shootout.  OSU scored first, UW matched.  OSU scored again, UW matched again.  The Dawgs tacked on two field goals to take a 20-14 lead into halftime.  OSU took control of the third quarter, notching a TD catch for T.J. Houshmandzadeh.  The Huskies came back with a TD run in the fourth to re-take the lead, but the 2-point try failed so miserably the Beavers actually took it all the way back for 2 points of their own.   The Dawgs came back with another TD, which the Beavers matched to keep it a 3-point game.  In the final seconds, OSU missed a game-tying field goal to send it into overtime, and the Huskies could finally breathe again.

Oregon State would not lose the rest of the season, finishing with the exact same record as the Huskies.  They finished #4 in the polls, one spot behind Washington, and they famously destroyed Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl 41-9.

So, for those of you counting at home, the 2000 Huskies beat the eventual #2 Miami Hurricanes, the eventual #5 Oregon State Beavers, and their only defeat was to the eventual #7 Oregon Ducks.

Up next was a game in Arizona State where the Huskies toughed out a 21-15 victory.  Then came a home game against Cal.  The Bears took a 24-13 lead into the fourth quarter and people were freaking out in Husky Nation.  So what did the Husky football team do?  They just rattled off 23 unanswered in the final quarter to win it 36-24.  There’s 4th Quarter Comeback #3 (if you count the OSU game, which I do, even though we didn’t technically score the final points of the game).

This brings us to the game at Stanford, the single greatest game of the 2000 season.  It wasn’t quite Tui’s 1999 game against Stanford where he became the first person in college football history to throw for 300 yards and rush for 200 yards in a single game, but it was about as magical as they get.

To set the stage, let’s just skip the first three quarters.  Going into the final 15 minutes of the game, both teams combined to score 23 points (the Huskies led 17-6).  Then, the fun started.  Touchdown Washington, to extend their lead to 24-6 with 5:57 remaining in the game.  After that, the defense (and the special teams) called it a day.  Touchdown & 2-point conversion Stanford, 24-14.  Touchdown Stanford, 24-21.  Touchdown Stanford, 28-24.  Stanford converted TWO onside kicks in this stretch!  Are you kidding me?

I am not, so let me set you up for the final drive.

53 seconds remaining.  Instead of going for yet-another onside kick (which, seriously, why the Hell not at this point; the Huskies surely wouldn’t have gotten it), they booted it deep and the Huskies returned the ball to their own 20 yard line.  First play:  Tui down the middle to Todd Elstrom for 27 yards.  Next play, Husky 47 yard line, Tui down the middle to Wilbur Hooks for 31 yards, down to the Stanford 22 yard line.  Next play, Tui scrambled and hit Justin Robbins for the game-winning touchdown with 17 seconds left in the game.  Bing, bang, boom.

For most Husky fans, they’ll remember that game as the game Curtis Williams was paralyzed.  While that’s a tragedy with no match in the game of football, I’ll always remember that as the single greatest comeback I’ve ever witnessed in any sport.

Riding on that high, the Huskies came home to face the Wildcats of Arizona.  Once again, the Huskies seemed to sleepwalk through the first three quarters, falling behind 25-13.  Once again, the Huskies flipped the switch in the fourth, scoring 22 to their 7 (including the final TD of the game with 1:10 left).  The Huskies would block a 51-yard attempt as time expired, and thus concluded Comeback #5.

The Cardiac Kids couldn’t give us an easy one as they faced off against the Bruins the very next week in Husky Stadium.  This time, however, the Huskies made the third quarter their bitch.  Down 21-14 at half, the Huskies ripped off 21 unanswered in the third to go up 35-21.  UCLA got one back in the fourth to bring it to a 1-score game, but a late turnover sealed their fate as the Huskies held on.

All that stood between the Huskies and the Rose Bowl at this point was a date with the Washington State Cougars in Pullman.  FINALLY, the Huskies had the rout they’d been looking for, dismantling the Cougs 51-3 in what was easily the most lopsided Apple Cup I’ve ever seen.

So, there we were, Pac-10 champs.  10-1.  Tied with both Oregon State and Oregon in the Pac-10 standings, but we held the tiebreaker.  The fourth-best team in the nation according to the polls.  Ahead of us were #3 Florida State, #2 Miami (again, the team we BEAT), and #1 Oklahoma.  In the Part II of this post, I’m going to envision a scenario where – had there been a 4-Team Playoff (which college football is JUST NOW GETTING AROUND TO, after 15 years of sheer Hell under the BCS system) – the Washington Huskies (and NOT the Oklahoma Sooners) would have been National Champs.

Part II

A Fiction.

The BCS poll coming out of Thanksgiving weekend saw 11-0 Oklahoma number 1 in the rankings.  It saw 11-1 Florida State number 2 in the rankings.  The Seminoles, incidentally, lost their game to the Miami Hurricanes, who were 10-1 and ranked number 3 in the BCS.  The only defeat the Hurricanes suffered, meanwhile, was to the #4 Washington Huskies, who were also 10-1.

Now, it’s easy to be all Woe Is Me, Why Did The Huskies Have to Lose That Game To Oregon?  But, you know what?  The Ducks were a Top 10 team that year!  So, yeah, numbers 2, 3, & 4 all lost to Top 10 teams … but the Huskies BEAT Miami who BEAT Florida State!!!  What the fuck?

Before I get into a hypothetical playoff scenario between the top four teams, let me outline just how shitty it is that the Huskies were ranked 4th behind both Florida State and Miami.

In the year 2000, the Big East was a fucking joke.  Miami had to contend with Virginia Tech and NOBODY ELSE.  Virginia Tech finished their season with the same overall record, but their one loss was to Miami because – surprise! – Miami hosted the showdown between the two teams!  And since there was no Big East Title Game, there was no opportunity for the Hokies to leapfrog right back.  Miami’s other big win was over Florida State, which was also played in Miami’s home stadium.  In short, bullshit.

Do you know what Miami’s conference road schedule looked like in 2000?  @ West Virginia (6-5 overall), @ Rutgers (3-8 overall), @ Temple (4-7 overall), and @ Syracuse (6-5 overall).  Their lone difficult road game was @ Washington and they LOST!  Fuck Miami, they had no business being ranked over the Huskies going into bowl season.

You know what was also a joke in the year 2000?  The ACC.  Florida State had Georgia Tech and Clemson to contend with, but both were 2-loss teams.  The Seminoles caught Tech early in their season on the road and narrowly escaped with a 26-21 victory thanks to two 4th quarter touchdowns.  The Seminoles hosted Clemson later in the season and ran all over them.

Meanwhile, you can’t say that Florida State was all that challenged on the road either.  After Georgia Tech, they went to Maryland (5-6 overall), to NC State (7-4 overall), to Wake Forest (2-9 overall), and of course, to Miami where they lost.

Going undefeated in the ACC isn’t necessarily worthy of a #2 overall spot, but I’ll go ahead and give Florida State the benefit of the doubt.  They did, after all, host a 1-loss SEC Florida team and mop the floor with them going into bowl season.  Did they lose to the team who lost to the Huskies?  Yes, but whatever.

In a just world, it would’ve looked like this:

  1. Oklahoma
  2. Florida State
  3. Washington
  4. Miami

But, it didn’t, so with this 4-team playoff we’ve got, it would’ve been Miami vs. Florida State and Washington vs. Oklahoma.

I’m going to tell you right now, I think Florida State kills Miami in that game.  I don’t think the Hurricanes were all that good at all; yeah, they ended up beating Florida in the Sugar Bowl that year, but I don’t think Florida was all that good either!  I think Chris Weinke and company destroys Ken Dorsey and Clinton Portis.

As for the Huskies?  Well, they’ve got Oklahoma to contend with.

Now, I’m not gonna lie to you, the Big-12 was pretty stacked in 2000.  Kansas State won 10 games, Nebraska and Texas both won 9 games.  Hell, even Iowa State won 8 games!

I will say this:  how much were the Sooners tested?  They played a “road” game against the Longhorns at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, where the crowd is pretty much 50/50.  They played a true road game at Kansas State where they won by 10.  Then, they had to go to Baylor (2-9 overall), Texas A&M (7-4 overall) and Oklahoma State (3-8 overall) where they only won by five points with their national championship hopes on the line!  And THEN they had a Big-12 Championship game where they got to play Kansas State AGAIN.

Meanwhile, you want to see a murderer’s row of a non-conference schedule?  How about the vaunted UTEP Miners of the Western Athletic Conference, the mighty Arkansas State Indians (1-10 overall) of the Sun Belt Conference, and the 3-8 Rice Owls, also of the WAC.  You’re telling me that’s a challenge?

I’ll grant you that going 12-0 is pretty impressive, but I don’t think Oklahoma was unstoppable by any means.  Teams could score on the Sooners; two of their opponents racked up over 30 points.

I’d say given the way the Huskies were tested time and time again, with their knack for 4th quarter comebacks, no lead the Sooners generated would be safe.  I also say that our defense, given enough time to prepare, would have more than met the challenge of that one-dimensional offense of theirs.

Granted, I’m not saying this would have been a shootout by any means.  I’m saying a 20-16 victory over the Sooners wouldn’t have been out of the question.

Which would have led to a Florida State vs. Washington National Championship Game.

***

In the first quarter, things are tight early as Chris Weinke leads FSU on two back-to-back touchdown drives to take a 14-0 lead.  Washington’s offense looks ineffective as Tui gets off to a slow start through the air.  To compensate, he busts off a 45-yard run to bring the Huskies inside the 20.  The drive stalls and as the first quarter ends, FSU gets the ball back up 14-3.

On the subsequent drive, the Husky defense stiffens and holds the Seminoles to a field goal.  Washington drives right back, thanks to a couple of 3rd & long conversions (one through the air, one on Tui’s legs), but can only muster a field goal.  The teams trade punts and turnovers and the half ends with FSU up 17-6.

Washington gets the ball back to start the second half and a weakness all year – special teams – stabs them in the back … IT’S A FUMBLE!  Florida State punches it in on the ground and takes a commanding 24-6 lead.

A couple more punts are traded, and before you know it, there’s less than six minutes to go in the third quarter.  That’s when the Huskies come alive.

Tui finds the seam route wide open down the middle.  Five plays later, the Huskies score to bring it to within 24-13.  Then, the Husky defense forces a 3 & out and FINALLY the special teams does right!  A 25-yard punt return, with a shoestring tackle in between him and the endzone, gives Washington the ball on the Seminole side of the 50.  Two minutes into the fourth quarter, on 3rd and short, Tui finds a receiver open in the corner of the endzone.  A quarterback keeper on the 2-point conversion makes it 24-21.

Florida State comes right back on the arm of Weinke, who throws a 68-yard touchdown to give his team a 10-point lead.  The Huskies take over at their own 20 yard line and put together a 7-minute drive, culminating with a touchdown on 4th & goal.  With a little over four minutes left in the game, the Huskies kick it deep and the defense forces another stop.  With two minutes to go, down by a field goal, the Huskies take over at their own 28 yard line.

Out of time outs, Tui engineers yet another miracle drive.  He brings the Huskies down to the Seminole 15-yard line with 40 seconds to go.  The very next play is a fade to the back of the endzone … TOUCHDOWN!  And the extra point … IS BLOCKED!

Up 3, the Huskies kick off and let the Seminoles return it to their own 40 yard line.  25 second left.  Weinke throws a 25-yard out down to the 35 yard line, stopping the clock with 14 seconds left.  They try another quick out, but it falls incomplete, leaving 9 seconds on the clock.  With one time out in their pocket, the Seminoles quickly line up and run it up the middle, gaining 4 yards and centering the ball for a field goal with 1 second remaining.

Tension is at an all-time high as both teams line up.  The snap, the hold, the kick … NO GOOD, WIDE LEFT!  The Huskies win the national championship!!!

***

Believe you me, that’s how it would have happened.  I’ve never been more convinced of anything in my entire life.  That team was pure magic and if only there had been a playoff system, the entire world would have known what we lucky few in the Pacific Northwest were blessed to witness week-in and week-out that football season.

Best football team I’ve ever seen in my life.  They deserved better than their #3 overall finish in the AP poll when all was said and done.  They deserved neverending glory.

As it stands, they’re just the last Husky team to win a Rose Bowl.  I guess I’ll take it; though I hope I don’t have to wait much longer for another.

5 thoughts on “Why The 2000 Husky Football Team Should Have Been National Champs

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  5. Dude, you’re right Washington was awesome that year, and you’re also right about them deserving the #2 spot. They truly did. Miami had an awful schedule. Same with fsu. The conferences they played in didn’t have defenses!! The PAC only had offense. The big 12 was stacked. Tell me, how hard is it to beat a team twice in one season? And a really good top 10 team coached by bill Snyder? Then go on the road to A&M which was good! They had 4 losses but to awesome teams. Ou was down big and came back and won. The point is, if you’re gonna be the champ, when those situations come you have to make the play to overcome it, ou did that an went undefeated. Remember, they beat #1 Nebraska, scoring 31 unanswered after huskers led 14 0 at half. You say Washington was magic that season, true. But oklahoma has sooner magic and was also magic that season. You lost to a team you were better than. Ou didn’t. And in a series of 5 games, yes Washington would’ve won a couple against OU. But that night, I don’t care who they were playing. They weren’t losing that night, no way in hell. Washington deserved to be in the game but give credit where it is due. The sooners earned a national championship because they didn’t choke during the season.

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