The Huskies Won & Now We Have The Apple Cup To End All Apple Cups

The Huskies beat the Beavers 42-23.  I went to that game, thanks to a free ticket from a friend; I’m pretty sure we got there midway through the first quarter and by the end it was 28-3 and I was thoroughly checked out.  We spent, I want to say, most of the second quarter in a beer garden next to The Zone, and I think I was on my way out of the stadium before halftime.

Listen, this game was always going to be a walk-over, and really this was a day to spend with friends at our final tailgate of the season, as well as saying goodbye to the current incarnation of Dubs, WHO IS A VERY GOOD BOY YES HE IS YES HE IS!

This was all a nice little ramp-back-up for the ultimate showdown.  This year’s Apple Cup will decide who plays for the Pac-12 North, which for all intents and purposes means it will decide who plays for the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl (because, as usual, the Pac-12 South is a garbage fire).

The Huskies are 8-3 (6-2 in conference).  The Cougars are 10-1 (7-1 in conference).  With no third team involved, this is it.  All the marbles.

The Cougars are favored, as they should be.  They’re at home, but more importantly, they’ve been FANTASTIC this season.  Every time I think they’re gonna coug it, they turn that notion on its head.  In fact, if it weren’t for the Pac-12 Refs couging it in that USC game, they might be undefeated and in contention for a playoff spot.  Seriously, at the very least – if they were undefeated right now – they’d be ranked 5th, and when Michigan loses to Ohio State this week, that’s their opening!  With 1 loss, even if the Cougs win out, there’s just no way.  Notre Dame isn’t losing, Clemson isn’t losing, and even if Bama loses they’d still get in there.  Either Michigan wins out to take the final spot, or Ohio State leapfrogs everyone to get in there.

But, that’s neither here nor there.  This week, it’s all about the apples.

Washington hasn’t lost this game since 2012.  I can’t even remember the last time this game had so much riding on the line for both teams.  It might be as far back as the 1981 season.  The Huskies, under Don James, were 5-2 in conference at the time, looking to go back to their second straight Rose Bowl.  The Cougars, under Jim Walden, were 5-1-1 in conference at the time, looking to go to their first Rose Bowl in 51 years.  The game was played in Husky Stadium and the Huskies prevailed 23-10.  We’d go on to beat Iowa in the Rose Bowl, while the Cougars lost to BYU in the Holiday Bowl.

Is there a chance history repeats itself?  Boy, wouldn’t that be nice.

For what it’s worth, I know I should be more confident in the Huskies, but this just doesn’t feel like our year.  We’ve struggled to incorporate a brand new offensive coordinator, our senior quarterback hasn’t progressed the way we’d hoped, we have no pass rush to speak of, our defense might be overrated, and I think the coaching in general has been a little suspect at times.  It all boils down to the fact that the Huskies just might not be that good this year.  It’s okay.  They’re not always going to be like 2016.

Fortunes shine on the lucky sometimes, and the Cougars couldn’t be more fortunate with their scheduling.  They played a less-than-nothing non-conference slate.  They got all the best Pac-12 teams to come to Pullman (Utah, Oregon, Washington, Cal) and of their two tough road games, they lost to USC and the only really impressive win of their season game at Stanford a week after their tremendous home coronation against the Ducks.  So, while it’s been impressive to see them not-coug it week-in and week-out, what’s left to wonder is:  How good are the Cougars, really?

If there’s ever been a team built to beat the Cougars, it’s the Huskies.  Since Coach Pete got here in 2014, we’ve been undefeated against them (a point of pride, in that Luke Falk went winless in his entire tenure with the Cougs).  Now, obviously, Gardner Minshew is a million times better than Falk, but the offense is still that of Mike Leach, and we’ve still got one of the best secondaries in the nation.  I don’t remember sacks being a huge part of our game in these last few Apple Cups; what I do remember is a lot of errant throws and Cougar drives ending in punts.

Ultimately, I don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other about the game this Friday.  Gun to my head, I think the Cougs win it in a close one.  But, nothing would surprise me, not even another Husky blowout.  Which, if that’s the case, we’ll get to stop and smell the roses again VERY soon.

Mount Rushmore: Seattle Head Coaches/Managers

Yesterday:  Seattle Sports Announcers

It’s All Star Week in Major League Baseball, which means it’s pretty much a dead week in sports.  I’m not 12 years old, so the All Star Game doesn’t mean anything to me; I’m not 62 years old, so golf doesn’t mean anything to me.  But, a blogger’s job is never done!  Or, I dunno, maybe it’s been done ad nauseam.  Either way, I’ve got nothing timely to write about, and I’ve got nothing else better to do, so I’m doing this.

We’re celebrating some of the local Mount Rushmores in a series of posts this week, because that’s something people do, right?  Sports radio and the like; what’s your Mount Rushmore of Stand-Up Comedians?  Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Dave Attell, Chris Rock, Tig Notaro, and Dave Chappelle, but ask me another day and I might give you four completely different names.

Today, I’m going to delve into the head coaches and managers of the various local sports teams.

In spite of the fact that Seattle is far from Titletown, U.S.A., this was actually a pretty difficult exercise.  Ironically, because there were TOO MANY good coaches to choose from!  I’ll tell you right now, this one is bound to be my most controversial Mount Rushmore of the week, but IDGAF.  Come at me, broseph!

For starters, right or wrong, I’ve put OVERWHELMING emphasis on those head coaches who led their respective teams to championships.  I mean, it’s obscene, which is why I’m going to start this post with my Honorable Mentions, and I’m going to lead off those Honorable Mentions with probably the most glaring omission (but hear me out):  Lou Piniella.

Look, I love Sweet Lou as much as the next guy, and if I were simply ranking managers of the Seattle Mariners, he’s obviously at the top of the list.  And, while much of this isn’t his fault, I would argue he’s not entirely blameless for the fact that the Mariners only made it to the playoffs 4 times in his 10-year career.  And in those 4 years, they failed to get past the American League Championship Series (often never really making it much of a challenge).  Those teams were absolutely LOADED with talent!  Are you kidding me?  Not even a single World Series appearance in the bunch?  I know, the organizational management of those teams was severely lacking; they bungled a bunch of trades, mishandled two of our greatest players (Griffey and Randy) to the point that both wanted out of the organization, and refused to pony up the cash to keep the best player on the planet – Alex Rodriguez – when he became a free agent.  That having been said, I’ve never really had much respect for baseball managers; what do they do besides write a lineup and make bullpen decisions?  Manage player egos?  Ooo!  Big whup!  Head coaches in other sports do that too, and they do a lot of other stuff that has more of an impact.  Naw, I’m not buying baseball and I’m not buying Lou Piniella.  If Mount Rushmore had 5 people on it, I probably STILL wouldn’t have him on it!

Because that leads me to my next omission:  Mike Holmgren.

At least he took the Seahawks to a Super Bowl!  I would argue both he and Piniella have to be credited with changing the culture of losing for their respective Seattle-based teams, but they JUST didn’t quite get it done when it mattered most.  There were some extenuating circumstances with Super Bowl XL and the officiating that I won’t get into here, but alas, Holmgren just misses the cut.

Some other Honorable Mentions include, in no particular order:  Chuck Knox (very underrated as the leader of the Seahawks in the 80s); Nate McMillan (doing a lot with a little in a mis-managed Sonics organization, particularly in the Howard Schultz years); Gil Dobie, Enoch Bagshaw, Hec Edmundson, Tippy Dye, Marv Harshman, and some of those other old-timer Husky football and basketball coaches (who are obviously WAY before my time); Jim Lambright (who somehow held the Huskies together after sanctions and an acrimonious split with Don James); and Lorenzo Romar (whose ignominious end to his tenure should do nothing to tarnish what was a tremendous achievement for Husky basketball).

So, without further ado, I present my Mount Rushmore of Seattle-based head coaches.

At the top of the list was the easiest pick of them all:  Don James.

The Dawgfather.  Head coach of the University of Washington football team, from 1975-1992.  He’s the closest thing we had to a Bobby Bowden, Bear Bryant, Steve Spurrier, or Joe Paterno (without all the child rape).  He led the Huskies to a National Championship in 1991 and was poised to continue to do so for years to come if not for the Lack of Institutional Control scandal that ultimately led to him resigning in protest for the unfair sanctions on the team.  Also, not for nothing, but the Huskies were robbed of a second National Championship in 1984 (to a bum BYU team who played a cupcake of a schedule), but that’s another post for another time.

Don James was the G.O.A.T.  We can only hope and pray Chris Petersen someday ascends to that level.

Next on my list, I’ve gone with Pete Carroll.

Like I said, championships are a premium to me when it comes to my Mount Rushmore of Head Coaches, and Big Balls Pete has one, with another Super Bowl appearance to boot.  He’s 17 wins away from being the winningest Seahawks coach of all time, which should go down in 2 years, tops.  After a couple of 7-9 rebuilding seasons, he’s won no less than 11 games every year (including playoffs).  Overall, he has 4 division titles in 7 years, 6 playoff appearances in 7 years, at least 1 playoff victory every time they’ve made the post-season, and with John Schneider (who certainly belongs on the Mount Rushmore of local GMs) built one of the best rosters in the history of the NFL, in the 2013 Seahawks.  He could retire right now and I don’t think there will be another local head coach that will bump him off my Mount Rushmore in my lifetime.

Third on my list:  Lenny Wilkens.

Oh yeah, here it comes.  I told you, titles baby!  Lenny took over as a player-coach for the Sonics in 1969 before being fired in 1972.  When he returned to the Sonics as just a head coach in 1977, he took a good team and led it to greatness.  Those Sonics teams went to back-to-back NBA Finals against the Washington Bullets in 1978 and 1979, winning it all the second time around.  The Sonics ultimately went another direction starting in the 1985/1986 season, but he still sits at #2 all time in franchise history winning percentage (keeping in mind, of course, that the Sonics died in 2008, and whatever record the head coaches of that team in OKC may have amassed has no bearing on the Seattle Supersonics).

Finally, the fourth name on my Mount Rushmore:  George Karl.

You may take umbrage with Lenny Wilkens’ inclusion on my list, and that’s fine, I understand.  You may take umbrage with the fact that I have George Karl over the likes of Piniella and Holmgren, and again, that’s your right.  But, you know what?  George Karl won a shitload of games in Seattle!  He has the best winning percentage of a head coach by a million miles over the other professional teams’ coaches at .719.  He took the Sonics to the playoffs every year of his tenure, won 4 division titles in 7 seasons, had the Sonics in the 1-seed twice (best regular season record in the entire league once); led the franchise to two Western Conference Finals, and led the franchise to the NBA Finals once (against the best team of all time, the 95/96 Chicago Bulls).  AND, not for nothing, but took the Bulls to 6 games when they probably had no business getting past Game 4.

I could go on and on.  Maybe only the Pete Carroll Seahawks have had more talent than the George Karl Sonics, but for all his greatness, there was a lot of failing.  George Karl led the first #1 seed to lose in the first round in NBA history.  His Sonics teams squandered two Michael Jordan-less years when they were ripe for back-to-back championships (the Houston Rockets, instead, took advantage of that glitch in the matrix).  And, ultimately, George Karl was destined to be run out of here by poor personnel management by Wally Walker (featuring the obscene signing of Jim McIlvaine and the trading of Shawn Kemp for Vin Baker).

Nevertheless, those Sonics teams were beautiful and exciting and ultimately tragic.  They ignited a love affair with sports within me that burns like a thousand suns to this very day.  At a time when the Seahawks were mediocre, and before the Mariners were relevant, we had the Supersonics and nothing else mattered.  There may have been better teams out there in the 90s, but no team was as thrilling to watch on a nightly basis.  When they were on, they were unbeatable!  When they were off, they were combustable; that’s just the way it goes sometimes.  But, George Karl had his hands all over that team, and was the main reason why we were able to take the next step to elite status.  Ultimately, the biggest tragedy of all is that George Karl doesn’t have an NBA title to his credit; he might be the best head coach in NBA history not to have one.

Okay, there you have it.  Agree?  Disagree?  Feel free to let me hear about it.

Monday Morning Long-Snapper: What I Did Over My Christmas Vacation

Almost Famous goes from being the perfect movie to watch on a long, cross-country flight, to maybe one of the worst?  On my way home, I watched it for only the second time in my life.  It should be – and absolutely IS – right there in my wheelhouse, so I try not to watch it too much.  Better to stave off yearnings that I’ll ever be a William Miller, or that I’ll ever find myself a Penny Lane to pine over to my last breath.  Now that I’m sensibly in my 30s, those naive pie in the sky dreams are sucking fumes in the wake of my lost 20s, so maybe I won’t wait another decade or so before watching this movie again.

Hey there blimpy boy, flying through the air so fancy-free …

***

My break started earlier than anticipated, and on much more of a downer as a result, as I had a funeral to attend in the days leading up to Christmas.  The alcohol was endless and my hangover was relentless, but it was a lovely ceremony and it was good to catch up with family I rarely get to see, in snowy Yakima no less.

This led into Christmas Eve, and a Seahawks performance we’d all rather forget.  That night, we played beer pong and listened to Christmas music like our lives depended on it.  A good time would be had by all, if it fucking killed us!

The next few days harbored a lot of sleep, up to 12 hours per day in many cases.  Almost like a year’s worth of working 5 days per week, with diminishing returns on slumber had finally caught up to me.  Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt so refreshed.  Some people need to work or else they feel their lives have no meaning; I just need a fucking paycheck.  I could EASILY spend my days doing absolutely nothing, as long as I can live as comfortably as I do right now.

***

I bought my plane tickets and hotel reservation the day it was announced the Huskies would be playing in the Peach Bowl.  I’d made a promise to myself that I would FINALLY go to a Husky bowl game this year, as long as they made it to either one of the playoff games, or the Rose Bowl.  And, unlike a lot of people, I didn’t want to hedge and say I’d only go if the Huskies made the National Championship Game.  It didn’t matter to me that the opponent was Alabama.  It didn’t matter that we’d be facing probably the best Alabama defense of all time – and maybe the best Alabama team in general of all time – nor did it matter that the game was taking place in their backyard.  It didn’t even matter that every fiber of my being was screaming out that the Huskies would lose this game.  As I’ve said before, this isn’t my first rodeo.  I’ve gone to plenty of Husky road games where we had no chance of winning.  Much worse Husky teams have been blown out by many more points than what would eventually transpire against Bama, against much worse opponents to boot!

None of that mattered.  All that mattered was that Washington was there.  They were in the thick of things.  They were one of four teams remaining in the chase for the college football championship.  They were the talk of the nation (even if the overwhelming majority of that talk was how they had no chance of winning) in the weeks and days leading up to the game.  And, quite frankly, even though I didn’t believe the Huskies would win, I had to acknowledge there was still a chance, however remote.  There’s a reason why they settle these things on the football field.  On any given Sunday Saturday and whatnot.  And IF the Huskies could pull off the upset, I had to be there.  I had to see it in person.  It would be the greatest win in the history of the program, one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NCAA, and the single greatest sporting event in my lifetime.  I’d give ANYTHING to be there in person, to share in the joy with thousands of other die hards who braved the trip.

Well, “ANYTHING” ended up being about $900 for the plane tickets, another $600 for the 3-night hotel stay, $175 for the seat, around $80 for the Atlanta City Pass (so I could get into all of the touristy things I wanted to see while I was there), and various other expenses for food and whatnot while I was in the city.  It should prove to be a pretty lean January when it comes to the ol’ budget.

***

My dad dropped me off at SeaTac the morning of the 29th, where I realized I’d forgotten to pack my ticket to the game.  I knew right where it was:  on the front seat of my car, parked in front of my dad’s house.  But, since I don’t think I ever left the house after Christmas Eve, I never got into my car, and as such I never noticed it was still in there and needed to be packed into one of my bags.  Seriously, I had at least 4 days to do this!

I called my dad when he got home, and he was able to get the ticket and scan it for me.  So, that was one crisis averted.  The flight to St. Louis was uneventful (if a little bumpy upon entry), the layover was relatively short, and the flight to Atlanta was relatively short and uneventful (if a little bumpy upon exit).

By the time I touched down, I was into the 6 o’clock hour.  I flew Southwest, which I haven’t done in quite some time, so I forgot about the whole thing with the groups and no assigned seating.  I gather that some people don’t like this feature, but I think it’s great!  Usually, you have to pay more for a seat in an exit row; with Southwest, you just have to be in the A-group (or at the top of the B-group) and as long as you’re flying solo, you should be able to get the extra leg room you desire.  That was the case from St. Louis to Atlanta, and it was a G.D. delight!

Took a cab to the hotel in Midtown, ordered a room service burger and apple crisp, and called it an early night.  This was always pegged to be a wasted travel day, considering I was losing 3 hours on the flight, and considering we’re talking about a lot of hours on a plane and walking through airports.  Plus, since I was going it alone, I could do what I damn well pleased.

Be it ever so humble …

Travelling alone has its benefits and draw-backs, as you can well imagine.  Having total control of the itinerary is nice, because I can do whatever I want, whenever I want.  But, having someone else do all the planning and logistics is nice too, considering I’m a lazy, lazy man.  But, given the shortness of this trip, I really only had to plan activities for one day, and then I could go with the flow the rest of the time.

Flags and whatnot …

I woke up at 6am on Friday, walked over to Walgreens to pick up some deodorant and a razor that I’d also forgotten to pack, printed off my game ticket at the little office next to the hotel lobby, and settled into breakfast at the hotel restaurant.  From there, it was about a mile’s hike to Atlanta’s Olympic Centennial Park.

Isn’t it Christmassy, you guys …

First stop:  the Georgia Aquarium.  I can’t recommend this place enough (as long as you try not to think of it like an aquatic animal prison).  Lots of different fish exhibits to walk through – including one area with a moving floor, and glass all around, so it’s like you’re moving underneath the sea – as well as a bomb-ass dolphin show.  I spent the most time here, and even had lunch in their little cafe (pulled bbq chicken, spinach, mac & cheese, and corn bread).

Hi guy …

Next stop:  World of Coca-Cola.  Upon entry, they herd you into a lobby where they hand out free mini-bottles of a Coke of your choice.  This is where having the City Pass comes in handy, as I was ushered around the long line of people waiting outside and got right in.  From there, you wait a bit in this giant cluster of people until they open the doors to the next room, which has a ramp and a little open area at the bottom.  There, one of the employees talks you through all the memorabilia on the wall and gives you a bit of a history lesson on all things Coke.  After a few minutes of that, we were led through some more doors, where there was a movie theater.  We sat through, I want to say, a 5-minute Coke commercial.  Once that was finished, more doors, and the rest of the 2-story museum.  Lots of memorabilia, an opportunity to take a pic with a guy in a polar bear costume, a giant gift shop, and probably the main reason to go:  a big room full of soda fountains, with Coca-Cola products from around the world.  It was pretty overwhelming, to be honest, and absolutely jam-packed with people (mostly kids), so it was tough to get to most of the sodas you might want to try.  I did end up trying something called Beverly soda, which is a (discontinued?) European product and tastes like dead asshole run through a puke factory.  I ended up cleansing my palette with some pineapple Fanta before calling it.  I mean, this room would’ve been my jam when I was in my teens; I’m pretty sure I would’ve made it a point to try absolutely everything they had to offer had I been 20 years younger.  As it is, who has the time?  Plus, I had other things I wanted to do that didn’t involve shoving a bunch of kids out of the way as I plowed through the sugar-water orgy.

One of MANY pics I took of all the crazy crap on the walls …

Next stop:  The Center For Civil & Human Rights Museum.  I chose this over the Atlanta Zoo mostly because I find the civil rights movement much more interesting.  Plus, I’d already been to an Aquarium that day, and anything to get away from another giant throng of kids.  Lots of cool info laid out in a really cool way; I highly recommend it, particularly now that we’re fully into Trump’s America.

Next stop:  Coffee.  Because I was fucking exhausted from walking around all day, dehydrated as all hell (got a bottle of water too), and needed some time off my feet to recharge and re-energize.

Next stop:  College Football Hall of Fame.  I chose this over the Natural History Museum because I’ve already been to the New York Natural History Museum, and there’s no way Atlanta’s version would be able to top it.  This was pretty great.  There was a mini-Fan Fest going on, what with the Peach Bowl happening the next day and whatnot.  You could run the cones, kick an extra point, throw footballs through a hole, the whole deal.  They also had all the trophies (from each major bowl, as well as the Heisman, among others), an interactive part that showed each College Football Hall of Fame class, where you could use the giant touch-screens to find the coach/player of your choice and read about their achievements.  They had all the helmets of all the college football teams.  Lots of old memorabilia, you name it.  It was pretty sweet.  Not a lot of Husky stuff there though, which I found odd, considering they were playing in the God damn city’s bowl the next day, but what are you gonna do?

So many helmets …

Next stop:  Stats Sports Bar.  Because I didn’t feel much like doing the CNN Tour (which is the final component of the Atlanta City Pass), which is just another hour or more on your feet walking through their giant building.  Considering I don’t even like WATCHING the news on TV, there really wasn’t a great interest to see how the sausage is made.  Also, let’s face it, I needed a beer and some fried pork dumplings!  I needed to sit down, watch some sports on TV, and gather my thoughts.

I ended up leaving around 4:30pm.  I had many options at that point, one of which was a live broadcasting of Softy’s radio show at the German bar next door to Stats.  But, that wasn’t going to start until 6pm.  Which would have been fine under normal circumstances, but I didn’t totally feel like sitting in a bar by myself getting shitfaced for 90+ minutes.  On top of that, I kinda had to poop, and that’s not really an enticing practice at a sports bar, what with all the piss everywhere on the floor and on the seat and whatnot and so forth.  This really ended up dictating my entire evening, as I had planned on going to a bar/restaurant that was playing jazz music, which was closer to all the touristy stuff I was seeing than it was to my hotel.  Given how tired I was from walking around all day, as soon as I made it back to my room, I knew I wasn’t leaving again the rest of the night.

So, I ordered some pizza from a local place, kicked off my shoes, and watched a lot of football and South Park in the room.

***

I opted to sleep in and eat leftover pizza for breakfast on gameday.  Considering the damn thing cost $40 with tip, I was going to make sure that large pizza lasted me a few meals the rest of the way.

When I was finally ready, about two hours before kickoff, I hailed a cab, who got me close to the Georgia Dome.  From there, it was relatively painless getting in.  Frankly, I’d expected more of a hassle getting through security.

I got my ticket through a friend who has season tickets and wasn’t going to the game.  I had no idea where it would be or how much it would cost until it arrived at his home in the days before Christmas.  It ended up being in the Club level, 3rd row, just above the Husky band.  I opted to keep it sober at the game, primarily because I wanted to actually REMEMBER the game, but also because stadium beers are fucking expensive as hell and they were cutting off beer sales at the end of halftime.  Not having to get up to pee and buy more beer every 30 minutes was also a nice little draw.

I guess you could call where I was sitting the “Husky section” of the stadium, but there were still plenty of Alabama fans scattered throughout.  If I had to pull an estimate, I’d say it was 75/25 Alabama fans in attendance overall.  It’s really interesting to see how they watch a game, compared to what I’m used to.  Now, this might have been a result of them playing a Washington team they had no fears for whatsoever, but they were pretty quiet when Bama was on defense.  I’d say if anything, they sort of got it up whenever the Huskies were faced with a 3rd down, but other than that, the atmosphere wasn’t really overwhelming.

That is, until Alabama scored, at which point the place erupted and my eardrums throbbed.

I didn’t run into any unruly or rude Bama fans.  They were mostly friendly and chatty and generally curious about a Washington team they knew absolutely nothing about.  What can you do?  They’re an SEC team whose entire world revolves around the SEC.

The funniest part of the game was listening to the Alabama fans bitch about Lane Kiffin.  “God dang it, Lane!” was shouted whenever Bama went away from the run game.  Suffice it to say, they like Lane Kiffin about as much as any other fan base who has had to have him as their coach/coordinator, or any other fan base who has had their team go up against his, or just anyone else in general, because Lane Kiffin seems like he’s really unpleasant as a human being.  I’m sure Florida Atlantic will regret hiring him in no time.

***

So, all right, let’s get into the game itself.

To start, I couldn’t be prouder of this team and especially this defense.  The 2016 Huskies have, without question, a world championship-calibre defense.  Are they better than Alabama’s defense?  Probably not; that was probably the best defensive effort I’ve ever seen in my life.  What Alabama was able to do with five and six-man fronts in stopping the run, while doing what they did to shut down our passing attack, was legendary.  Nevertheless, Washington’s defense wasn’t that far off.  Had our offense come to play, we had a legitimate shot at winning this game.

I’ll always wonder “What If” with this one.  I mean, it’s absolutely remarkable how we were able to march right down the field in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead, followed by how we were totally and completely shut down the rest of the way!  We went 64 yards on 8 plays, in just under 4 minutes, and at that point – when Pettis made the fantastic catch in the endzone – it looked like the Huskies had the blueprint to beat this Bama team!

Then, Alabama showed everyone why they’re so highly regarded.  On the very next drive, they ran on 8 of their 9 plays, moving the ball at will to tie the game at 7.  From there, you had to wonder if we’d ever stop their run game.  I mean, they did it like it was nothing!  Like we weren’t even standing there!  If they would’ve replayed that game and just ran the ball on every down, you could’ve talked me into Alabama winning by 50 points, just based on that one drive alone.

But, it’s a testament to how stubborn Lane Kiffin is that he’d continuously go away from the one thing that was working for his offense.  Alabama’s quarterback, Jalen Hurts, wasn’t able to do much through the air, completing 7 of 14 for 57 yards; and we even held him in check on the ground, with 50 yards on a whopping 19 carries!  If you’d told me he’d have that type of output before the game, I would’ve bet on the Huskies shocking the world.

This game came down to field position and 3 key plays.  There wasn’t much we could do about the field position.  Our offense couldn’t do a damn thing to flip it, and even the few times we did, Alabama was able to get enough yards to get to around mid-field, where their punter was able to pin us inside the 10 yard line more often than not.  I mean, I get that Alabama gets all the best high school players from around the country, but how is it fair that they also have the best punter in college football to boot?

On a related note, the one thing the Alabama fans around me were impressed with when it came to Washington’s football team was our own punter.  They were mesmerized with how many yards he was able to get – with his rugby style of punting – on the bounce, when their return man kept coming up short on the fair catch.

The field position thing could’ve been overcome – I’ll always believe that – had we not suffered the 3 key plays I referenced above.

Play 1 – The John Ross Fumble.  We’ve since come to learn what was plainly obvious all year:  John Ross has declared for the NFL Draft.  It was pretty brutal how much of a non-factor he was in this game, considering he’s the best player on our team (I was honestly shocked it didn’t come out that he’d already declared for the draft midway through the first half of the game).  Compared to all the athletes on the Crimson Tide, John Ross looked slow as shit on his kick returns; no impact there.  He ended up with 5 catches for 28 yards on offense; no impact there.  And, with Washington once again moving the ball near the end of the first quarter, immediately after the Alabama touchdown to tie the game, near midfield, Ross caught a short pass and had the ball knocked out of his 1-handed grasp.  It was obviously pretty demoralizing – because all anyone is thinking about if you’re a Husky player or a Husky fan, is that you CAN’T CAN’T CAN’T turn the ball over against Alabama if you expect to win (indeed, you probably have to play a perfect game, and even that might not be enough) – but our defense was able to hold Bama to a field goal, so it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.  At that point, as a Husky fan, all I was thinking was, “John Ross will make this up to us somehow.”  Of course, he would not, but I don’t know how much of that was his fault necessarily.

Play 2 – The Pick Six.  This was the back-breaker.  I’m going to have nightmares about this one for a good, long while.  The Husky defense had settled into their dominating performance, having forced three punts on the last three Alabama possessions.  You had to believe, from a Husky standpoint, that if we’d just kept it a 1-possession game, we’d be able to break through at some point.  Then, Jake was pressured, and threw out into the flat before taking the sack.  Unfortunately, he was throwing to Lavon Coleman, who isn’t an ideal target in that scenario.  And, he was wildly off-target on top of that, throwing it right into the waiting arms of the defender who had an easy touchdown in front of him.  When you factor in we were under 2 minutes left to go in the half, and we had a little momentum with a couple of first downs to that point in the drive, and there aren’t any words to describe my despair at that moment.  Scoring on that drive would’ve been huge, but going into halftime down just 10-7 would’ve at least given us hope for a second half run!  But, going into halftime down two scores felt like the game was over.  I wanted to go home right there.  At that point, it felt over to me.  Alabama’s defense had hardly given an inch aside from our lone scoring drive, there was no way we’d be able to make up the difference unless there was some freaky defensive score on the horizon.  But, I mean, Bama could’ve just knelt down three times and punted on each of their second half drives and let their defense do all the work and it would’ve ended up with nearly the same result.  Nevertheless, I stayed all the way to the bitter end, which was made all the more difficult after Play 3.

Play 3 – The 68-Yard TD Run.  Bo Scarbrough was the offensive MVP of this game without question.  He had 180 yards on 19 carries and 2 TDs.  Even without this run – where he broke about a million tackles en route to crushing our hopes and dreams – he still averaged over 6 yards per run the rest of the day.  And, mind you, that’s a day where – as I said before – the Husky defense played out of their minds!  At this point in the game, we still had most of the 4th quarter left to go.  Had we stopped him, I don’t think the Huskies could’ve come up with the 10 points they needed to tie the game.  But, we didn’t stop him, and with that it was decided.  A 17-point lead for Alabama with a little over 11 minutes to go is absolutely insurmountable.

I should’ve left right there and gotten a jump on the nearly 2-mile walk back to the hotel, but I sat and suffered.  I mean, when would the Huskies ever get back to this point again?

***

It’s at this point that I’d like to take a minute to address all these Husky fans who keep saying that we’re “ahead of schedule” in this thing.  Look, I’m as guilty as anyone of “just being happy to be there” when it comes to being in the final four and in the College Football Playoffs.  I could never honestly believe that Washington was going to beat Alabama, and quite frankly it was hard to even imagine a way we’d win this game without the Crimson Tide starters suffering simultaneous heart attacks on the way to the stadium.  And, aside from that, I can appreciate how far we’ve come from how low the program was after the 2008 winless season.  Chris Petersen has done a PHENOMENAL job in his three years, and I absolutely believe he’s the right man for the job.

We came into the 2016 season hoping for some improvement – maybe even an outside shot at the Rose Bowl – but we never expected all this.  We set our sights – probably wrongly – for the 2017 season as the target season to start thinking about national playoffs and whatnot.  In that sense, sure, you could say we’re “ahead of schedule”, but the thing is:  there IS no schedule.  There’s no guarantee the Huskies will even be within a game or two of the Pac-12 Championship next year!  There’s certainly no guarantee we’ll be better next year than we were this year!  Sure, you figure the guys we’ll still have around – particularly Browning, Pettis, and Gaskin, among many of our young studs on defense – will be improved with another year’s experience.  But, do you realize the impact we’re going to face with all of the guys leaving for the NFL draft?  On top of John Ross, and the obvious outgoing seniors, we’re also talking about almost the entire starting secondary!  That’s the strongest part of the team we’re going to have to fully refurbish!  In a conference that prides itself on its high-flying passing attacks!

The 2016 Husky defense is the best defense we’ve had since those early-90s Don James teams.  It’s certainly the best one we’ve had since I’ve been a fan, and it might be the best defense Chris Petersen EVER has!  Which is why it’s so frustrating to have to look forward to next year, when our chance was NOW!  It’s fine to be pleased with the direction of the program and look forward to the coming seasons.  Husky football should be in the national conversation for at least the next two years, if not much longer (however long Coach Pete wants to stick around, anyway).  But, these playoff appearances don’t grow on trees.  You have to grab your opportunity by the horns when it comes, regardless of whether or not you’re “ahead of schedule”.  Even if the Huskies win the Pac-12 next year and even if they somehow manage the same record in the process, there’s no guarantee we’ll be invited back, considering it’s still a committee of human beings who decide the top four teams.  This might be the ONLY team Coach Pete ever takes to the college football playoffs; we won’t know for many years probably!

That’s why I’m taking the loss as hard as I am.  Even though this Alabama team was a lot like the 1996 Bulls and our Huskies were a lot like the 1996 Supersonics, this still may have been our only opportunity for a National Championship in my lifetime, and to get so close, only to have three plays dictate your defeat … it’s just a lot to take in as a sports fan.

***

In the closing minutes of the game, a couple of Huskies were taken out by some cheapshots from a couple Alabama players during an interception return.  I didn’t see what happened, but it looked pretty shitty to see a couple of our players on the ground in a game that was clearly over.  It was doubly shitty when the majority of Bama fans in the stadium were chanting something afterward (S-E-C, I would come to learn later).  I was too demoralized to really get in much of a huff about it, though.  It was pretty funny to see a very large individual, with a very large red beard, in a Husky jersey with the number 69 on it, and his very large father, with very large white hair, both standing in the first row of our section, saying nothing, but holding two furious middle fingers in the air towards the Alabama bench.  I don’t know what they were hoping to accomplish – getting on the jumbotron maybe? – but I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen two people quivering with so much rage.

It should probably come as no surprise after the clock reached double-zeroes, and the confetti started blowing around the stadium, when a drunken Alabama couple ran down the steps of our section, waving their red & white pom poms around, dancing next to the large front row seat dwellers, when the younger one – like a rampaging rhino – bulled into the couple, knocking the female over in the process, as he ran up the stairs and out of the stadium.  It happened in an instant, and I was too flabbergasted to turn around and see if anyone stopped him, but if I’m being honest, I don’t know if anyone – or even a group of anyones – could’ve slowed the beast.  It was quite the spectacle, to be sure.

I didn’t stick around much longer after that, so I don’t know what came of him or his father.  It was a long, cold, hilly walk back to my hotel.  By the time I got there, the Fiesta Bowl was on and Ohio State was in the process of getting blown out twice as worse as we did.  So, you know, at least they knocked the Huskies off the front page.  And, in the end, more people came away impressed with our defensive performance than they did rubbing it in about how we “didn’t belong”.  Considering Michigan and Penn State both lost their bowl games as well, it’s hard to make much of an argument for the Big 10 this year.  Were they the nation’s best conference?  Hardly.  They just had the most highly-ranked batch of over-rated losers come bowl season.

I spent New Years Eve in the room, with two bottles of wine and more leftover pizza.  I couldn’t move.  Not after all the walking the last two days.  Not alone in a strange city, where quite frankly there were more nearby police sirens going off on the reg than I like to hear.  But, it’s okay.  I wasn’t really in a partying mood, and New Years Eve is the Big 10 of holidays.  Plus, I had a flight to get up for the next day.

I was up by 8am, no worse for the wear from the wine, and I left shortly after to get to the airport for breakfast and sitting.  A short flight to Baltimore and an insanely long flight to Seattle later, and my dad was picking me up.  They DVR’d the Seahawks game for me, so I got to see us settle for the 3-seed while enjoying a few holiday Bud Lights.  Not much of a consolation, but it’s better than nothing, I guess.

The 2016 Washington Huskies Are Pac-12 Champions!!!

Honestly, I didn’t know if I’d ever see this day come.  Part of that is from being a heavy drinker and liking to run around in traffic, but most of that is just looking at how far the program had fallen, and the landscape in college football.

Washington’s not a power school.  We like to think it is, as we look back at the good ol’ days of Don James and whatnot, but we’re not Alabama.  We’re not Ohio State or USC or Texas.  Ours is not a destination school; we’re not going to draw coaches like Urban Meyer or Nick Saban.  We can pull from smaller schools, or we can elevate up-and-coming coordinators to their first head coaching gigs, but ours is just a stepping stone school.  Come here, turn the program around, get a better job somewhere else, as Sark did.  Or, come here, make the program worse, and never coach in college football ever again, as Tyrone Willingham did.  Oh sure, you might get lucky and have everything click for a season, but that’s when you strike!  When the iron’s hot!  You parlay that to your dream job where you can compete for national championships every year, as opposed to once in a blue moon!

I would try to console myself from this line of thinking, by pointing to Oregon.  They rose from the ashes of nothingness to be a perennial college football powerhouse!  That’s true, but they also had a head coach with a gimmick system that it took the rest of college football too long to adjust to.  And a benefactor in Phil Knight who doesn’t mind pouring all of his riches into the school.  What are we talking about here, a one in a million confluence of wealth and genius?  Unlikely to be in the cards for a school like Washington.

And yet, here we are.  In Chris Petersen’s third year since coming over from Boise State.  He doesn’t strike me as a guy who would cut and run for a bigger job at a bigger school (but, then again, I suppose Boise State fans thought the same way).  In Washington, he’ll be able to earn the same as anywhere else; he’ll be the highest-paid coach in the conference at a minimum.  And, it’s so early in his run, he can really build a dominant program over the next decade and really bolster his resume!  He’s done it without a billionaire putting his name on the stadium and paying for recruits (allegedly).  He’s done it without a gimmicky offense that – oh by the way – won’t help you one bit in raising your NFL draft stock, because they’d rather go with guys who’ve run a pro-style offense.  I mean, this is as old school as it gets!  Solid recruiting on a foundation of recent success, building your team up in all areas, and then going out there and beating the snot out of everyone you play.  This is how Alabama stays so good every year!

WE’RE PAC-12 CHAMPS!!!

I just can’t say enough how cool that is.  Started from the bottom in 2008; now we’re here in 2016.  I couldn’t be more proud and more happy that I was so wrong about all of that I wrote above.

Last night, we beat Colorado 41-10, in spite of the fact that Jake Browning had a God-awful game.  Nevertheless, we were able to run the ball at will, gobbling up 265 yards on the ground, including 100-yard games for both Gaskin and Coleman.  Sheer domination up front, with some smart, powerful running by those two backs.

John Ross had one of the most impressive TD catches I’ve ever seen.  Browning was about to be sacked, trying to throw the ball away, and Ross ended up jumping as high as he could, snagging it with one hand, breaking a tackle, and scampering for 19 yards to paydirt.  Darrell Daniels had the other receiving TD on a nifty little catch inside the 10 yard line, breaking a bunch of tackles on the way to the endzone.

Game MVP Taylor Rapp had two interceptions right after halftime, one returned to the house.  The rest of our secondary played to their usual brilliance as we held Colorado’s QBs to a combined 81 yards passing.  Our guys up front were just as good, as we held their ground game to 82 yards and a 2.9 yards per carry average.  Just a totally dominating performance from a world-class defense.

The Huskies are 12-1, 12-game winners for the first time since our national championship in 1991.  I just want to sit here and bask in this for a while, as we only have until tomorrow morning at 9am before we know our fate.  Playoffs or Rose Bowl.  The Huskies are back!

Pretty Crazy About Sark, Huh?

When Steve Sarkisian bolted from the University of Washington for USC, I’ll admit I was pretty damn bitter.  That’s not totally unexpected, but what’s a little shocking is the level of naiveté I was working with.  As far as Husky fans are concerned, I’m something of a n00b.  I was never into college football, whatsoever, when I was growing up.  I attended the University of Washington because it was close to home, and because it accepted me.  Had I not made the cut, I was well on my way to being a Washington State Cougar, and my whole life would be radically different right now.

I enrolled as a Husky in 1999, the same year Rick Neuheisel was hired.  Neuheisel was a dramatic shift away from past Husky leaders, Don James (the immortal, from 1975-1992) and James’ defensive coordinator, Jim Lambright (1993-1998).  Lambo took over under the harsh scrutiny and penalties of the NCAA, and for the most part held the program together through some pretty dark times.  But, the university was looking for a change, and made a big splash in wooing Neuheisel away from Colorado after some successful years.

So, for all intents and purposes, Rick Neuheisel was my first Husky coach.  Of course, history hasn’t been kind to the Neuheisel regime.  Many argue he had his greatest successes with Lambo’s players (particularly superstar quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo), finishing 3rd in the nation in his second season as the Husky head coach, followed by another Top 20 finish the very next year.  Neuheisel’s fourth and final year was something of a disappointment, and as it turned out, 2002 was just the beginning of a long, slow death of a football program.

At the time, I thought Neuheisel got a raw deal with his termination – I mean, come on, a football coach can’t participate in a friendly NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket contest?  But, who knows?  Maybe it was for the best.  If he didn’t destroy this program with shoddy recruiting, he either would’ve left for a better-paying gig, or even possibly gotten us saddled with more sanctions than we ended up getting.  Much like the mighty oak tree, Rick Neuheisel was shady as all get-out.

But, that didn’t help things from a football perspective on the field.  Keith Gilbertson was hired as Neuheisel’s replacement.  He was a throwback to the Don James days, and he should be commended for taking a no-win situation.  As one might expect, he struggled to get us to .500 in his first year, before totally collapsing with a 1-10 record in 2004 (including going 0-8 in conference play).  After that, in an attempt to clean up our reputation, we hired Tyrone Willingham – recently fired from Notre Dame after having great success in Stanford years prior – and thus began our final bottoming out.

Throughout that whole decade, from 1999 through 2008, I followed the program, but I wouldn’t say I followed it as ardently as I do now.  I’m sure I didn’t watch all the games, for instance.  I certainly didn’t go to all the games, or even a high percentage of games.  In fact, if I had any memory at all, I may have gone to MAYBE 10 games total in that time period.  Part of that had to do with not having a ton of money, part of that had to do with spending a year and a half out of state, but the Husky football program was more of an excuse to hang out with friends and party than it was actually appreciating the product on the field.

In 2009, all of that started to change.  We hired Sark with the express purpose of getting back to winning football games.  Fuck graduation rates, fuck our reputation in the NCAA, now it was time to produce on the field.  In a lot of ways, my Husky fandom was reborn with the hire of Sark.  And, in his first couple of years, Sark didn’t disappoint.

  • In his first game, the Huskies fought hard & lost a close one at home to LSU
  • In his third game, we beat 3rd-ranked USC at home
  • In his sixth game, we beat Arizona in a thriller, 36-33, which still stands as the best football game I’ve ever seen in person
  • In his first Apple Cup, we shut out the Cougs 30-0
  • In his first season finale, we destroyed 19th-ranked Cal 42-10
  • In Year 2, we went down to 18th-ranked USC and beat them again
  • In the final three regular season games of 2010, we swept UCLA, Cal, and Wazzu to earn our first bowl game since 2002 with Rick Neuheisel
  • In that Holiday Bowl, we beat 16th-ranked Nebraska, who had slaughtered us earlier that same season

After those first two years, Sark was our adopted heir apparent to Don James.  The Dawgfather Part II.  While we all knew there was a great possibility that he’d eventually leave us for USC whenever they came calling, many of us couldn’t help but dream of a scenario where Sark brought us back to the Don James glory days of contending for national championships, building an empire in the northwest for the next quarter century.

That naiveté I talked about earlier.  It was there in spades.  I mean, why WOULD you trust anyone who played at BYU, who was from Southern Cal and who got his first coordinating experience with USC, when he said that the Washington Husky Football head coaching job was his “dream job”?  It’s ludicrous!  Those are empty words that you hear from practically every single head coach upon being hired by a new team!

Nevertheless, when he left, it stung.  It stung worse than when we lost Neuheisel.  I just had the feeling that he’d go on to USC, bring them back to national prominence, and we’d be up here looking like the fools who gave away the golden goose.

Sark’s first year at USC was pretty solid.  9-4 record, 2nd place finish in the Pac-12 South, important wins over ranked Stanford & Arizona teams, and a Holiday Bowl win over 25th-ranked Nebraska.  They finished in the Top 25 in both polls; all in all, not a bad start to a tenure.  Meanwhile, Chris Petersen struggled in his first year as Sark’s replacement.  We finished the regular season 8-5, losing to all five ranked opponents, including an unforgivable botch job in that Arizona game; then we lost our bowl game to a not-very-good Oklahoma State team.  We had four players on defense get drafted in the first two rounds, yet as a unit, our defense couldn’t have looked more mediocre.  There were definitely some growing pains as holdovers from the Sark regime tried to adjust to Coach Pete’s expectations, and in the end it all resulted in one of the more unsatisfying seasons we’ve had around here since our winless 2008.

2015 didn’t appear to be trending much better, with the Huskies going with a true freshman at quarterback, while trying to patch together a defense that lost a lot of starters.  Through four games, the Huskies were 2-2 and things were as expected.  We’d coast through the rest of a losing season and PRAY some of the young guys showed real, tangible improvement.  On the flipside, USC looked pretty ordinary in their own right through four weeks.  Starting the year as a pre-season Top 10 program, the Trojans let one slip away against an unranked Stanford team.  On top of that, there was the pre-season flap where Sark had too much to drink and made an ass out of himself at a school function.  A lot of Husky fans had a lot of fun at his expense, not realizing the full extent of the problem.

Were there rumors that Sark was something of a partyboy when he was head coach of the Huskies?  For sure!  But, we’re talking about a relatively young guy, promoting a youthful, fun atmosphere.  And, you can say what you want about his on-field playcalling, but he certainly got the job done in the recruiting department (maybe not in the offensive line, but you don’t get a player like Shaq Thompson to come here if you’re not a guy who knows how to recruit – players, and fellow coaches/recruiters).  Does he like to have a good time, and occasionally allow himself to consume too much?  Sure, but who doesn’t?

Everything seemed to come to a head last Thursday, as the Huskies made their way down to USC.  No one gave us a chance in Hell.  Yet, our defense was as good as I’ve seen it since the Neuheisel days, and our offense did just enough to get us the W.  Husky fans rejoiced, we poked more fun at Sark, and this season has since taken a wonderful turn towards the positive.  Maybe we’ll beat Oregon at home this week, for the first time in ages!  MAYBE, we’ll even win enough games to get into a bowl game, thereby giving our true freshman quarterback some extra practices to hone his craft!  Limitless possibilities!

Not so, down in Trojanland.  Apparently, Sark came into practice last Sunday while still drunk, or at the very least at the end of a long bender.  He was placed on leave, and later terminated for cause, because having an erratic lush as your head coach will NOT do wonders for your recruiting it turns out.

When I wrote that post above, in the days/hours following Sark’s abandonment of the Husky program, as I said before I was pretty bitter.  I wished him ill will.  I wished he’d be ridden out of Southern Cal on the rails like Lane Kiffin had before him.  This moment, this happening, SHOULD bring me great joy!  I should be wallowing in the succulence of sour grapes like a pig in shit.  But, honestly, I can’t help but feel bad for the guy.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this.  He was supposed to be crushed under the impossible weight of USC expectations, and watch miserably as his teams faltered on the football field.  He wasn’t supposed to let that misery affect his personal life and drink himself out of a job!  I mean, I’m not a monster, after all.  I am capable of having sympathy, apparently (who knew?).

I have a different take on quote/unquote alcoholism than I think most others.  I think the textbook definition – and most people’s definitions – of alcoholism is greatly exaggerated.  It dates back to this country’s puritanical origins for all things “sinful”.  Sex out of wedlock is naughty, marijuana is a gateway drug that will ruin your life, and more than four beers makes you an alcoholic.  It’s insane!  Before I learned all these stories about Sark being drunk on the job – at practice and even during games – when we only had the story from that pre-season USC function, and some bar tabs from recruiting trips and such while he was head coach of the Huskies, I thought that Sark was no different than myself.  I like to tie one on during the weekends.  I work all week in an office, I should be allowed to have as many fucking beers as I want on Friday and/or Saturday nights!  As long as I’m not driving while drunk, getting into fights, or otherwise being an asshole while drunk, then who cares?

My take on alcoholism is this:  when it starts infringing on your regular, everyday life, then you’ve got a problem.  Like, when you’re drinking a fifth of vodka every single day, just to get through the day.  Like, when you’ve got so many DUIs that you lose your license and need to be chauffeured everywhere by family or friends.  Like, when you turn into a raging dickhead when you’re drunk and start alienating everyone around you.  Or, when your drunkenness starts affecting your ability to hold down a job.  Among, I’m sure, other reasons I can’t think of right now.

I think the term Functioning Alcoholic, or High-Functioning Alcoholic, is dismissive and patronizing.  Alcoholism shouldn’t be reduced to how many drinks you have in a day, or how many you have in a week.  If you drink to unwind after work, and you’re not hurting anybody, then who cares?  You’re not a High-Functioning Alcoholic, you’re just a person, making it through what can be – at times – a long and shitty life.

Sark, it appears, went off the deep end, though.  In almost any job, you have to be aware of your abilities and limitations.  I don’t know of any employer who’s going to tolerate you coming into work while sauced.  But, that dynamic increases 100-fold when you’re in a public position like head coach of a major college football program.  Without knowing him personally, or even the intimate details of his private life, Sark strikes me as someone who needs help.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of; we all need help at one point or another.  It’s good that he’s finally at a point where he’s willing and able to get that help.

As a Husky fan, more than anything I feel sorry for the guy.  Yes, he brought it upon himself.  Yes, he’s a famous, white millionaire with the epitome of First World Problems.  But, he’s still going through a lot of emotional shit right now, and as much as I want to enjoy him falling on his face for leaving the Washington program, I just can’t do it.

The stark truth is, Sark did have his dream job, when he was hired by USC.  He’s since lost that job, in a painfully embarrassing and premature way.  And, he’ll never have that opportunity again.  He can go to rehab, he can get his addiction under control, and he can be in a position to be entrusted with another bigtime college football program.  He can do almost anything he wants with the rest of his life, and he can live that life in comfort and financial security.  But, he’ll never have his dream job again.

Is it better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all?  I tend to have my doubts, especially in cases like this, where that love was ripped away all too soon.  So, if you’re looking for a reason to feel bad for a guy you may have resented for leaving the Huskies, I’ll present exhibit A.

Tell Me Why We Were So Excited About Chris Petersen Again

I guess when your team gets a new head coach, you’re supposed to be all blindly excited and hope for the best, right?  That’s all part of being a fan.  When we brought in Sark, we were just elated to finally be out from under Tyrone Willingham’s winless thumb, it didn’t matter WHO we brought in.  Sark was a young, up-and-comer from a Pac-12 rival, and we were giving him his first shot at a head coaching gig.  He couldn’t be any WORSE!  And, in the end, he wasn’t any worse.

With Sark going back to USC – this time to be their head coach – the Huskies figured they needed to make a splash.  But, these are the Washington Huskies of the 21st century.  The odds of the next Don James walking through that door are slim-to-none.  If you want to make a splash, you’ve got to go out and bring in a big name.  Chris Petersen, we all figured, was that big name.

But, is he?  He was head coach of Boise State for eight years.  In that time, he won five conference championships:  four Western Athletic Conference titles, and one Mountain West Conference title.  He went 92-12 at Boise State, going down as the all-time leader in overall wins and winning percentage.  Unquestionably, he was great.  He led them to two Fiesta Bowl victories and four Top 10 finishes.

I would point out that there is something to be said for playing the bulk of your games in the WAC and the Mountain West.  If you string together enough 1-loss seasons – as his predecessor Dan Hawkins did, before taking a job with Colorado – you’re going to get some national recognition.  Sprinkle in a few high-profile, early-season victories over ranked opponents in your non-conference schedule, and look at you!  You’re in the BCS discussion!

I would also like to point out that Chris Petersen’s best team – the undefeated 2006 squad – was unquestionably Dan Hawkins’ team, as he left Boise State after the 2005 season.  What’s Petersen’s claim to fame?  A few trick plays in that Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma that netted them a 1-point victory in one of the most exciting college football games of all time.  I’d also point out that their other Fiesta Bowl victory was over TCU, another Boise State-esque mid-major and darling of the BCS era.

It’s nice that Chris Petersen was undefeated against Oregon when we hired him, but all I care about is WASHINGTON’S record against Oregon, which is now 0-1 with Petersen as the head coach.

It’s also neat that Chris Petersen was so highly coveted by all these other nationally-prominent schools all these years, but that doesn’t mean anything.  Sometimes, coaches just catch fire in a bottle.  Sometimes, coaches ride the coattails of the really successful head coaches who preceeded them.  Dan Hawkins was highly coveted as well.  Colorado nabbed him and what happened?  The Buffaloes went 19-39 and never had a winning record.  Ever since then, he’s coached exactly 5 football games in the CFL before being fired again.

Sometimes, coaches aren’t really that great at all.  Sometimes, they just luck into an impossible situation.

The point of all this is:  it’s more Wishful Thinking than Making Good Sense to get your hopes up over a new hire like Chris Petersen.  What do we know about his abilities as a head coach?  He’s never done it at this level, in a BCS conference!  It’s almost like taking the very best high school head coach in the country and giving him the keys to your college program; you’re not necessarily in for the time of your life just because he won a million games at a low-level football factory.

I’ve had MULTIPLE days to sleep on last Saturday’s bungling, and I’m still just as irate as I was when the clock hit all zeroes.  I wasn’t even all that disgruntled at the time, when he decided to hand the ball off to Deontae Cooper instead of just kneeling on the ball three times.  But, the more I’ve thought about it, and the more people have pointed out the Wildcats would’ve had all of 10 seconds left to try to go the length of the field to take the lead, the more idiotic he sounds for saying that his “chart” says that he needs another first down there.

YOUR CHART IS BULLSHIT!  USE SIMPLE MATH!  TAKE A CHANCE ON GIVING THEM THE BALL BACK WITH 10 SECONDS IN THE GAME!

Then, when we finally stopped them on the ensuing drive, instead of calling a timeout to preserve around 30 seconds of clock, he let them run it all the way down.

YOU CAN’T TAKE YOUR TIMEOUTS WITH YOU!  YOU HAVE TO GIVE YOUR TEAM A CHANCE TO DRIVE DOWN AND SCORE WITH THAT MUCH TIME LEFT!

And then he does the numbnuts head coaching move of “icing” the kicker by calling a timeout right before the snap.  He apparently wanted to call the timeout before they snapped the ball, but if they’re all lined up, they’re GOING to snap the ball and take the practice kick whether you want them to or not!  You have no control over it!  And, expecting the refs to do their job in a timely and competent manner means you haven’t been paying attention to what the Pac-12 Refs have been about for the last decade.

DON’T LEAVE IT IN THE HANDS OF THE REFS, AND DON’T FUCKING GIVE A COLLEGE KICKER TWO TRIES AT A GAME-WINNING FIELD GOAL!

This was it.  This was our chance at a signature victory this year.  Now, we’ve got two meaningless games against two bottom-feeders, followed by the A Pizza Mart Who Gives A Shit Bowl.  But, more importantly, this game is going to taint my impression of Chris Petersen for a LONG time.  He’s got A LOT of work to do to win back my trust as a head coach.

Middling programs who want to rise to the ranks of the elites need more than your standard, conservative, by-the-book head coach.  And, I don’t care how many Statue of Liberty plays he ran in a bowl game nearly 8 years ago, Chris Petersen is an average, by-the-book head coach.  The only thing is:  that book was written about 70 years ago, and the game has changed since then, in case you haven’t noticed!

Instead, why not go out and do what Oregon did to get great?  Hire the next creative offensive mind!  Not Just Another Guy from Po-Dunk State University who had a good run of coattail-riding against the dregs of Division I college football.  If his tenure doesn’t end in a blaze of mediocrity, I’ll be SHOCKED.

2014 Will Be The Most Important Season In A Generation For Huskies

We’re jumping the gun here a bit, but that makes it no less a pressing concern.

As the Huskies prepare for their bowl game next week – the primetime, post-Christmas, Friday night spot against BYU – know that we’re seeing the end of an era.  An era that beat the hell out of the previous era, for sure!

It’s interesting to look at the ebbs and flows of the history of the University of Washington football team.  If you go all the way back to the Jim Owens era, you see a team in the late 50s and early 60s that was one of the best in the nation.  His first seven years brought with it three Rose Bowl appearances (two victories), before a long descent into mediocrity.  The Huskies of the mid-60s to the mid-70s weren’t terrible, but they weren’t all that good either.  Just sort of okay.

Then, Don James came in, and the mediocrity continued for the first two years.  His third year was probably the most important season in Husky football history, and we were all rewarded with a Rose Bowl victory.  Thus began the next great era of Husky football, lasting through the early 90s.

Once Don James left, the team fell back to the pack again.  Part of that was losing a legend, but most of it was due to the sanctions that really wiped out our ability to recruit the proper talent we needed to maintain our stay as one of the nation’s premiere football programs.  Just as we were starting to recruit, Lambright was replaced by Rick Neuheisel, who reaped the rewards and took this program back to the Rose Bowl in 2000.

Ever since then, it was a long, slow, brutal decline, culminating in the 2008 winless season.

So, if you’re keeping track, the Jim Owens era started off great, then went mediocre.  Then, greatness returned with Don James, and immediately went mediocre once he left.  Greatness returned briefly under Neuheisel, then the program plummeted to its nadir.  Sark came in here and brought us back to mediocrity, and that’s where we sit today.

Coach Pete’s first year will be the most important year for the program since Don James’ third season.  Any regime change is going to automatically see a hit in recruiting; that just comes with the territory.  How bad we’ll have it largely depends on where the assistant coaches end up.  If we’ve got Wilcox and Lupoi going to USC, that really puts us in a bind.  If they end up at Boise State, it’s not AS bad, but they’ll still be going after a number of the same players they recruited to Washington.  If they left the west coast, it would be ideal (but that’s probably not going to happen).  Just figure, this recruiting class won’t be as highly rated as some of Sark’s last classes.

Which, fine.  Long term, it could be a problem, but we can also make up for it by redoubling our efforts in our 2015 class.  However, that 2015 class will hinge on how well we do in 2014.  Of course, you can say that about literally every year, but the importance of this year outweighs any other.

You always want to put a good product on the field to show kids that if they choose Washington, they’re choosing to play for a winner.  No one wants to come to college and get their shit kicked in.  However, kids are going to be watching this team to get a sense of Coach Pete’s style and how they might fit.  We all know that Coach Pete is great when it comes to getting the best out of the talent he’s able to bring in.  Will that translate with a program that currently houses a number of blue-chip prospects – kids who never seriously considered playing for a “lesser” school like Boise State?  It’s one thing to coach up some kids who are just happy to be there; but does he have the ability to coach up kids who already expect to be great?

The Huskies, right now, are a team on the rise.  Sark brought us Top 25 & Top 30 recruiting classes the last few years.  We have A LOT of talent on this team.  But, we’re also losing some critical pieces.  Keith Price, Sean Parker, most likely Bishop Sankey & ASJ, maybe even Danny Shelton (among others, who I can’t remember off-hand right now). 

Whenever you’re looking at a quarterback change of this magnitude, you can’t help but think that the next year will be a year of transition.  Fortunately, Cyler Miles had a chance to get some meaningful reps this year, so we won’t TOTALLY throw a greenhorn into the fire.  Still, there will be growing pains.

And, on top of that, Coach Pete doesn’t get to work with the kids right now.  That’s falling on Tui and the rest of our M*A*S*H unit of interim coaches.  Just as Miles and the rest of our quarterbacks are fighting for the starting job in spring, they’ll also have to contend with learning a new offensive scheme.  That’s BOUND to set us back, especially when you consider this will be the third scheme-change in three years (from traditional pro style, to the HUNH-hybrid, to whatever Coach Pete installs).

Even under normal circumstances, with Sark and the rest of our coaches returning, I wouldn’t have been shocked to see this team to take a bit of a step back.  But, under these freak circumstances, a step back is almost expected!

And yet, we can’t have it.  If we want this program to be one of the elites not just in the conference, but in the nation, we need to continue with the momentum we built under Sark.  And THAT means:  not having two or three down recruiting years in a row.  2014 will already be down, because Coach Pete won’t have the time he normally would as an incumbent head coach, saying nothing of the players who will be poached.  To avoid a repeat down recruiting class, though, we’re going to have to show people we not only have the best head coach in the conference, but we’re already surrounded by the best talent in the conference.

There are a lot of reasons to come to Washington.  New stadium & facilities, located in a major city, most beautiful gametime setting in the nation, a premiere head coach, lots of player talent already here, we’re in a major conference and play against some of the best teams in the nation.  Now, we just need to win.  That’s it.  Sure, it starts with this bowl game next week, but there’s going to be a major asterisk next to this game.  The real fight will be next season.  If we’re able to show the kind of improvement I know we’re capable of, then it’s off to the races after that.  We should have kids banging down our door to come to UW.

Fuck You, Sark

If I take my allegiance for the Huskies out of it, then I understand.  USC has the broader national spotlight.  He will be able to recruit players to that school he just couldn’t hope to bring here.  USC will have an easier road to a national championship because all the major media drones already have that respect for the Trojans.  They’re more likely to be ranked higher in pre-season polls, which dictate how programs are perceived throughout the regular season (until you lose a few too many games and become downgraded accordingly).  If you start the season as a Top 10 school and you win a bunch of games, your road to the Top 4 in the BCS (or whatever they’re going to call it) is a lot easier than coming from the unranked and winning a bunch of games.  USC also certainly has more money to offer.  They’ve got nicer weather down there.  Prettier girls.  And he has a history with that school.  We gave him his first opportunity to be a head coach in major college football, but USC gave him his first opportunity to be a coordinator (which, in turn, led to his being offered a head coaching job).

I get all that.  If this were the Minnesota head coach getting hired away by Ohio State, I wouldn’t think twice; “Yeah, that sounds about right.  Who wouldn’t want to be the coach of Ohio State?”

And make no mistake, that’s a pretty apt analogy.  Minnesota used to be an elite school.  Now, they’re just kind of middle-of-the-road.  That’s Washington.

But GOD DAMN IT, it doesn’t have to be!

Just, fuck off Sark!  I hope you fucking fail miserably and are run out on the rails just like Kiffin!

Do I appreciate what he’s done for us?  Of course.  He took an 0-12 team and made us respectable.  Yes, he has us trending upward, but that was with the assumption that he and his coaches would stick with the program indefinitely!  You can’t say we’re still trending upward when we’re losing our entire recruiting base!  When we’ve got to start over again with a brand new staff!  Granted, they won’t be starting over at the nadir Sark was starting over with, but now we have that stigma again:  “Washington Isn’t Good Enough”.

We’re not USC.  We’re not Ohio State.  We’re not Alabama or Florida or Texas or Michigan or Oklahoma.  At best, we’re a stepping-stone to one of those schools.  Maybe we can aspire to be a Wisconsin or a Stanford or an Oklahoma State or a Nebraska – if everything breaks right.

What’s worse?  Sark proved us all right.  All of us with that inferiority complex.  All of us who feared from day one that he’d leave us for greener pastures just as soon as humanly possible.  His allegiance was never with Washington; it was always with the next big opportunity.

Could I blame him?  Yeah, I think I could.  This isn’t a situation where someone like A-Rod was a free agent and was blown out of the water by an infinitely bigger contract.  This was a guy currently signed, currently making millions of dollars, who will still be making millions of dollars, and probably not that many MORE millions of dollars.  He could have levereged USC into getting a raise at Washington and I would have respected the move.  But, dumping a program he built from scratch just when we were ready to take those next steps towards being elite again is just a selfish, chickenshit move.

I don’t understand people with Sark’s mentality.  Yeah, USC is probably a better opportunity, but it’s not THAT much better!  You could do here what they do there.  Believe me, it’s possible.  It’s been done before, under a much better man in Don James.

You know what happens when you succeed in a place like USC?  When you take that team to Rose Bowls and contend for championships?  Yawns.  The expectations are so high in a place like USC that something so enormous as going to back-to-back Rose Bowls is met with disappointment (see:  the been-there-done-that attitude of many players at Oregon this year).  You know what happens when you succeed in a place like Washington?  You’re adored for life and spend your twilight years on our Mt. Rushmore of Awesome People.

Do you think USC fans lionize Pete Carroll the way Husky fans worship Don James?  Fuck no!  Pete Carroll simply did what was expected of him!  Don James, however, did the impossible, turning a middling program into a national powerhouse.  Don James made it so current Husky fans can demand the best out of our program, because we’ve been there before.  We can be hard on our coaches and expect better than a 5-4 conference record, because we know we deserve better!

With Pete Carroll, I bet they look back with a bit of disappointment.  Not for the way things ended, but because he didn’t win them MORE games.  With Washington, if someone was able to do what Pete Carroll did down there, Husky fans would never shut up about how amazing he was!

Bottom line:  Sark just doesn’t want to put in the work.  He wants all the heavy lifting done for him.  In this case, the heavy lifting is the locale and the tradition.  He’s got an over-abundance of talent in SoCal and that talent is inherently aware of how great of a school USC is.  When you coach for Washington, you have to out-work your opponents to get the type of players you need (conversely, when you coach for Oregon, you can just out-spend your opponents, but that’s neither here nor there).

I was disappointed and saddened for about two minutes when I heard about Sark leaving for USC.  Now, I’m pissed.  Yeah, he seemed to be one of the good ones, and I had all the faith in the world that he’d get us where we wanted to go.  But, his leaving this way will not have me looking fondly on his time here, whatsoever.  He can eat shit.

Sark did a lot of good here, but let’s not forget he did a lot of mediocre as well.  7-6 comes immediately to mind.  0-5 against Oregon is right up there.  Our pathetic road record, getting blown out by the elites, having this team look absolutely un-coached at times.  Don’t forget that we were one blown Apple Cup away from shit-canning his ass after this season.  Sometimes, people can just see the writing on the wall.  He staved off execution for one year, but what would have happened next year if our record declined in the face of guys like Price, Sankey, and ASJ leaving?  He probably got out of here at the exact right time.  Nevertheless, even if he stayed and then was fired after next year, I would have been against it.

Sark is merely a footnote, Husky fans.  A 5-year intermission between being the worst and being the best.  Hopefully, the people in charge will poach from the right schools to get us going again.  I wouldn’t mind seeing anyone from the SEC (coordinators included, obviously) get wooed away to the Pacific Northwest.  I also would be heavily in favor of Jim Mora getting his shot at returning home.  If USC can do it, why can’t we?  At least we’ll know that Mora won’t constantly be looking for his next big opportunity.  #HuskyForLife

Husky Football Is Don James

In this age of college football, all anyone ever wants is to hire the next Don James.  But, let’s face it, that’s not the way the game works anymore.  No one sticks around for 18 years with the same program!  To do so, first you have to be successful with that program.  That knocks out well over 50% of head coaches right there.  You’re lucky to last FIVE years in this What Have You Done For Me Lately world.  Then, you have to be secure enough with yourself to not be constantly looking elsewhere for a “better opportunity”.

I’ve never really understood this line of thinking.  If you’re a head coach for a major BCS-conference school, then you automatically have a chance at greatness.  If your program is worthwhile, the kids will come.  You shouldn’t treat a place like Washington or Washington State or any of these other middling BCS schools like they’re stepping stones to better jobs.  You don’t HAVE to be a coach in the SEC to have your shot at the national championship!  Hell, 20 years ago, who ever would have thought that a school like Oregon would be a perennial Top 5 school in the nation?  And yet, here we are.

It doesn’t take a lack of ambition to want to stay in one place for 15+ years.  It takes confidence and strength of convictions.  You have to believe that YOU are the reason why your teams are winning.  Not because your school is located in a hotbed of football greatness, or because your program has this “tradition of winning”.  Oregon sure as shit didn’t have a tradition of winning!

It really takes a special type of person.  Someone who succeeds within the early window with which he’s given, someone with a secure sense of job satisfaction, someone who gets along with the administration.  And, quite frankly, someone who avoids scandal.  Certain college coaches are remarkably successful, but never stay long in any one job.  Because every time they build a program up, they leave it in tatters 5-10 years later thanks to rampant corruption and cheating.  Now, I’m not exactly 100% familiar with what went down at the end of Don James’ run at the University of Washington, but this isn’t really the time or the place for that anyway.

This is the time and place to celebrate a brilliant man.  The best head coach and person ever affiliated with the UW football team.  He came into a situation in 1975 where things were kind of rough, and he turned this program into a national power.  The Pac-10 in those days, as far as football was concerned, consisted of USC and UW.  From 1975-1992, he led the greatest sustained success in the modern UW era, punctuated by a national championship 1991 season.  There surely would have been more where that came from, but UW was left hung out to dry by the conference.  It’s no coincidence that after he left, we saw a slow, but dramatic decline in the program’s quality, bottoming out with a winless 2008.

Ever since he left, we’ve been looking for The Next Don James.  It hasn’t been easy.  In fact, it’s probably impossible.  There can only be one Don James.  Only one Dawgfather.  We may never return to the type of sustained success we enjoyed during his tenure, but at least we have the memories of what was.  Most schools don’t even have the memories!  Not every university or college can have a Don James, and when you do, you cherish him for as long as you can.

This is truly a sad time for Husky fans.  But, Don James had a great life.  Probably the best life.  Rest in peace, Dawgfather.

Seattle Sports Hell Goes To Stanford

My boy down in San Fran is turning 30, so my friends and I are making a weekend of it, centered around the UW/Stanford showdown on Saturday at 7:30pm.  If it’s anything like the last tailgate we put on in Stanford two years ago, I’ll be the genius who invented Disposable Coolers (take one ForceFlex garbage bag, insert one case of beer + one bag of ice) and we’ll all have a great time trying to find a secluded bush to pee on.  If the game is anything like the game we watched in Stanford two years ago, the Huskies will lose by a million, I will have the worst time of my life, my button will break off of my shorts, and I’ll spend the rest of the night stumbling around drunk with my shorts around my ankles on the streets of Palo Alto (or, you know, your average Saturday night).

As such, it’s time to bombard you with a weekend’s worth of links.

If you haven’t already done so, pretty please, with sugar on top, VOTE FOR ME in Evening Magazine’s Best of Western Washington, Best Sports Blog catagory.  I don’t really expect to win (unless you people love me much more than you’re letting on, you coy beasts), but I’d like to keep my status of being in the Top 10.  A Top 5 finish might cause me to bust a load in all of your honors, so … something to look forward to.

These AV Club movie marathon features are usually worth a read.  Scott Aukerman is one funny fuck and one of the guys behind Comedy Bang Bang!  If nothing else, you’re bound to find some movies you’ll want to see.

You probably saw this, but if you didn’t:  it’s not just me who loves the Seattle Seahawks to win the Super Bowl.  And this ESPN The Magazine feature is solid as well.

John Clayton is a boss.

Had enough of Breaking BadNEVER!  I still haven’t read this one, because it’s long as shit, but if you do, please let me know if it’s worth my time.

I want to fuck you like an animal.

Get well soon, Don James.

The next time you refer to me, you can toss in, “As featured on Deadspin” … of course, it would’ve been nice to know this at the time, back in July of 2012 when it was originally posted.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “Angry Seattle Blogger” has a nice ring to it.