Historic is a pretty heavy word to describe Nebraska’s visit to Seattle on Saturday.
Although ABC will televise the action to slightly more than half the country – welcome to the magnifying glass, Jake Locker – the game soon will be recalled as Washington’s final tuneup before beginning Pacific-10 Conference play. Nothing that transpires Saturday, good, bad or otherwise, figures to mean as much as the Oct. 2 conference opener at USC.
And yet, thanks to Nebraska’s No. 8 ranking in The Associated Press and USA Today polls, historic is a word that fits the inter-regional matchup: Since college football poll ratings were implemented in 1936, nonconference teams ranked among the Top 10 have appeared in Husky Stadium only 15 times.
The first such opponent, during World War II, was the 4th Air Force, a service team then based in San Francisco. I’ll make a wild hunch that you don’t remember the Huskies’ 28-0 defeat on Nov. 11, 1954.
The most recent Top 10 team to travel to the UW for a nonconference game was Oklahoma, in 2008, when Sam Bradford torched Washington with the sort of passing performance (18 of 21, 305 yards and five touchdowns) that won him the Heisman Trophy – and cleared out most of the crowd at halftime.
Including those blowouts, the Huskies’ home record against Top 10 teams outside the conference is 3-11-1. Which brings us to the notion of history in the works: Should Washington buck the modest odds established in Las Vegas – Nebraska is favored by a field goal – it’ll represent the Huskies’ fourth nonconference home victory against a Top 10 team in 85 years.
• Washington 25, No. 8 Michigan 24, in 1983. The euphoria lasted all of a week, until the Huskies got clobbered at LSU. Don James’ team ended up in the Aloha Bowl, where it lost to unranked Penn State.
• Washington 40, No. 10 Ohio State 7, in 1986. The Huskies followed up that rousing season-opening statement with a 31-point drubbing of 11th-ranked BYU, only to begin their conference schedule with a 20-10 defeat at, yep, USC. They ended up in the Sun Bowl, losers to Alabama.
• Washington 34, No. 4 Miami 29, in 2000. While not as renowned as the 1994 “Whammy in Miami,” the Huskies’ upset of the Hurricanes was every bit as remarkable. Starting 17 seniors, Miami was, literally, a football factory. (It would eventually send the likes of Santana Moss, Clinton Portis, Bryant McKinney, Jeremy Shockey, Ed Reed, Dan Morgan and Ken Dorsey to the NFL.)
Washington, led by quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, was nobody’s pushover – the Huskies would go on to beat Purdue in the Rose Bowl – but in terms of talent, no team compared with the ’Canes, who would go on to win 34 straight games after committing too many execution mistakes in Husky Stadium to recover from a three-touchdown deficit at halftime.
“It wasn’t the defense that made the difference,” Portis told reporters afterward. “It was the crowd that played a major part in this game. The crowd was great. They stayed with them.
“Every time we started to build some momentum, the crowd would get us to jump offside or have a delay of game. The crowd played a big role.”
This was 10 years ago. More specifically, this was three fired head coaches ago, 72 defeats ago, the longest-era-of-futility-ever-associated-with-a-UW-football-program ago. It would be foolish to draw any tangible relevance from the Huskies’ victory over Miami on Sept. 9, 2000, and the Huskies’ date with Nebraska on Sept. 18, 2010.
But the intangible force that ganged up and rattled Miami 10 years ago? The Husky Stadium crowd whose sheer volume “played a major part” in the outcome by depriving the visitors of their momentum?
Aside from the fact the red representation in the stands will be tantamount to a typical Red Sox-Mariners game at Safeco Field – some 15,000 out-of-towners are expected because they’re fanatical and, besides, what is there to do in Nebraska except leave it? – the crowd still is capable of making a difference.
Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini raised some eyebrows the other day when he suggested quarterback Taylor Martinez (a redshirt freshman making the first road start of his college career) was not likely to be fazed by the decibel level at Montlake. But, really, what else is the head coach supposed to say? Pelini’s task is to instill confidence in young minds, not plant seeds of fear and loathing.
As Pelini does what he has to do, Huskies fans should do what they need to do. In case anybody needs a primer on how a raucous crowd can keep a visiting offense out of sync, consider the chaos the San Francisco 49ers encountered last Sunday.
Amid the din at Qwest Field, quarterback Alex Smith, a sixth-year NFL veteran, was visibly flummoxed by the disconnection between the play the coaches wanted and the play he was able to call.
If a crowd is capable of distracting and disrupting professional athletes who regard football as a full-time job, then surely a crowd can distract and disrupt a redshirt freshman in his first road start.
So the challenge Saturday is on you, Huskies fans. By creating hysteria, you can help make some history.